Rebecca Traister, at Salon, says “Republicans aren’t just nostalgic for 1950s-style social barriers. They want to rebuild them“:
… None of the stories of ye olde American achievement actually jibed with the convention’s “We Built It” theme. The tales were of white men whose class mobility and moon-walks were boosted by G.I. Bills, state-school educations, government-funded space programs and unions. These guys and their unconditionally loving wives were part of a white American middle class that was able to expand thanks to the kinds of post-Depression financial regulations and government-goosed infrastructure and housing programs that modern Republicans are keen to obliterate.
But the incoherence of message didn’t matter, because what all these stories were really flicking at wasn’t the size of the government, but the whiteness and the maleness of those who were helped along with their businesses and wealth and broods of straight-parented families. Just listen to Romney’s assertions about this “nation of immigrants” who came here seeking freedom, a sentiment that is both disingenuous from someone who wants this nation’s current immigrant population to self-deport, and that does not even bother to acknowledge those Americans whose forebears were brought here against their will in an exercise of freedom’s opposite. Romney didn’t include those people because they don’t exist — in a meaningful, threatening way — in the America Romney and his party are trying to bring back.
The keening desire to be back there, to be back then, was responsible for the presence of Clint Eastwood, an actor who came to prominence as a star of the cowboy show “Rawhide,” which aired from 1959 to 1965. People may disagree about whether Eastwood’s vertiginously awful appearance at the RNC on Thursday was intentionally aggressive or just loopy, but there’s no question that his creepy intonation of the phrase “We own this country” came off like a segregationist-era, George Wallace-inspired catchphrase – one the crowd went wild for….
Meanwhile, as Republicans vehemently affirmed their love for women – see Ann Romney’s enigmatic proclamation, “I love you, women!” – they presented a version of femininity mostly recognizable to contemporary eyes by its dental records…
Which reminded me: There was an audience-reaction shot during Eastwood’s performance, and I got a weird flash of deja vu. Janna Ryan looked like the photo-negative version of Marilyn Quayle at the 1988 RNC — an icy blond in a white-trimmed black outfit echoing an icy brunette in a black-trimmed white suit, both with the same dead eyes & piranha smiles. And she’s got the background to match, as another fiercely ambitious lawyer from a ‘good family’ embracing a 1950s-era public image as the Happy Homemaker. (One important factor that’s not parallel: Paul Ryan got a big jump on his career ambitions when he married the multi-millionaire daughter of a state-level powerful political family. Forty years ago, Marilyn Quayle was the hypergamist, marrying the good-looking but unambitious son of a very rich & ambitiously powerful family.)
In fact, both Anne Romney and Janna Ryan seem like weirdly blurred imitations of Barbara Bush and Mrs. Quayle. The thing is, while the originals were rather defiantly promoted as ‘old-fashioned’ back in the 1980s, today’s versions just seem grotesquely out of date. When Barbara Bush dropped out of college to marry her boyfriend-from-a-good-family and follow him around the country running a household totally dedicated to supporting his career, that was very much the norm… not least since Bar’s career options would have been both severely restricted and underpaid. But by the time Anne Romney was “welcomed” to the Romney compound in the 1970s, normal young women (even those who inherited and/or married wealth) were expected to show some kind of interest in being sufficiently credentialed, or experienced, to support themselves. Marilyn Quayle was a proudly vocal standard-bearer in the Schafly-era “feminist backlash”, when rightwing women made a point of “renouncing” their own hard-earned achievements (Quayle bragged that she’d had her first child induced early so she’d be able to take the bar exam on schedule) because being a wife, a mom, and a homemaker were more important, to her fundamentalist God as well as her husband’s political ambitions. It’s early days, but while there’s been a certain amount of style-section hoopla about how Janna knows “being with her children while they’re young is just too precious to waste”, even the lady-gushers acknowledge that she had a real-world career before those babies emerged, and she’ll have an active membership in the tax bar association once the kids are no longer adorable full-time props.
It’s one more facet of this year’s angry, off-putting Repub messaging — Gordon Gekko as Miss Havisham.