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How Arrested Development Explains the Republican Party

June 10, 2013

The arrival of season four of Arrested Development on Netflix may have been one of the most hyped developments in entertainment in recent years. But whether you loved it or hated it--or just didn't care--it's hard to dispute the lasting impact of the show. As Ben Yagodo explained in Slate, the tale of the Bluth family redefined the comic catchphrase, as laugh lines, themes and even props unexpectedly reappear during the show's sometimes labyrinthine twists.

Just as important, as Mother Jones documented, "Arrested Development was the best TV satire of the Bush era." Its mockery of the Iraq war and the search for weapons of mass destruction, its prescient send-up of the Patriot Act, the Abu Ghraib jabs, the display of "Mission Accomplished" banners and even the uncomfortably funny reenactment of the Terri Schiavo affair all hit their targets. And in season four, conservatives politics are still ripe for parody, as the building of a miles-high Mexican border wall and an ersatz Herman Cain character's "Low-High" tax plan (as in low rates for high incomes) among the running jokes show.
But the power of Arrested Development's social, cultural and political commentary hardly ends there. As it turns out, many of the Bluth family's trademark laugh lines go a long way towards explaining today's Republican Party.
Here are just some of the examples.

They Blue Themselves. In 2012, the GOP was well positioned to take Senate seats in Missouri and Indiana. But thanks to their nominations of Tea Party extremists Todd Akin ("legitimate rape") and Richard Mourdock (rape-induced pregnancies are a "gift God"), Republicans ended up painting both states blue. Combined with its 2010 experiences with Christine O'Donnell and Sharron Angle, it's no surprise the GOP is now trying to lock that down.
Operation Hot Mother. Since 2008, some Republicans have believed their path to winning women voters and the White House requires following the likes of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann. For example, Matthew Continetti described the former as the "attractive, and pro-life conservative mom who connected with ordinary Americans...If you had gone into a chemical laboratory to concoct a politician whose background and manner would sound liberal alarms, you probably would have come up with someone like Sarah Palin." Heading into the 2012 GOP primaries, Tucker Carlson quipped that Palin "maintains lead to become supreme commander of Milfistan," which prompted Erick Erickson to reply, "I laughed then got out my passport."
Sadly for these mother boys, the Tea Party queens weren't going to the White House. Sadly for the rest of us, we can't say goodbye to these, because it's not the last time we'll be seeing them.

The Winking Eye. Palin's failure to launch must have been particularly hard for National Review editor Rich Lowry. Because while Lucille Bluth's winking eye always prompted revulsion, for Lowry Palin's produced something else:

I'm sure I'm not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, "Hey, I think she just winked at me." And her smile. By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America.

Unfortunately for Lowry, most Americans shared Michael Bluth's nauseated reaction to the winking eye. Or to put it another way, "Her?"
"I've Made a Huge Mistake." Gob Bluth's trademark line has become Mitt Romney's. Ever since he reappeared following his Election Day beat down, Romney said he "regrets" his "mistakes," including his infamous 47 percent remarks, calls for "self-deportation" and failure to connect with minority voters. Of course, that's what tends to happen when you slander "victims" bought off by "free stuff" and "gifts" from President Obama. But while his wife Egg similarly protested that "every campaign makes mistakes," the RomneyBot's were features, not bugs. It's as Ann as the nose on plain's face.

"The World's First Analrapist." In its perpetual quest to manufacture and disseminate Republican propaganda, conservative media have even deployed an on-air psychiatrist to opine on the issues and personalities of the day. (Whether or not that is an ethical role for any psychiatrist is for the American Psychiatric Association to evaluate.) I'm speaking, of course, about Dr. Keith Ablow, Fox News analyst and practicing therapist. That makes him the world's first Analrapist on cable news.
The Aztec Tomb. The $18,000 multi-chambered box may have been magician Gob Bluth's greatest illusion. But metaphorically, the Aztec Tomb is where Republican White House hopes go to disappear. Insulting Hispanic voters in general and Mexican-Americans in particular--for example, by comparing the undocumented to "dogs" (Steve King) or "goats" (Trent Lott), or suggesting providing free condoms to Mexicans (Mark Kirk) or advocating the construction of an electrified border fence which will "kill you" (Herman Cain)--is rightly killing the GOP among Latino voters. Eight years after George W. Bush narrowly lost the Hispanic by just 9 points, Mitt Romney got walloped by a 71 to 27 margin.
"A Trick is Something a Whore Does for Money." Instead, Marco Rubio is trying to create the illusion that he supports the kind of immigration reform package needed to win over skeptical Hispanic votes in the 2016 general election, while still appealing to the immigrant-bashing conservatives who make up the Republican primary base. So like John McCain in 2008, Rubio is now pledging to vote against his own immigration bill.
White Power Bill. The late neo-Nazi was the nemesis of George, Gob and Tobias in Warden Gentiles' prison. But the term is also a fitting description for the draconian voter ID laws pushed by the Republican Party and its ally, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Nominally intended to prevent nonexistent voter fraud, these bills are designed to keep lower-income and minority voters (that is to say, Democrats) away from the ballot box.
They May Have Committed Light Treason. In 2011, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham declared, "Let me tell you what's involved if we don't lift the debt ceiling: financial collapse and calamity throughout the world." House Speaker John Boehner agreed, warning that failure to raise the U.S. debt limit would produce "a financial disaster, not only for our country but for the worldwide economy." Nevertheless, House Republicans are once again pledging to hold the full faith and credit of the U.S. hostage, unless Democrats pay their ransom of more spending cuts, new abortion restrictions, repealing Obamacare and God knows what else. As former Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill described this Republican gambit in 2011, the first time one party had both the intent and the votes to trigger a U.S. default, "The people who are threatening not to pass the debt ceiling are our version of al Qaeda terrorists."
Buster Bluth, who studied 18th century agrarian business, would probably ask the GOP leaders, "Are you at all concerned about an uprising?"

They Got a Crocodile in Math. Just as we learned from Maeby Funke's alternative school report card, math is not the Republicans' friend. Rather than balancing the budget in 10 years, the House GOP Ryan blueprint produces trillions in new debt in part because Republicans won't name a single one of the $1 trillion plus in tax breaks, credits or loopholes they would close. And when the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) forecast that the Affordable Care Act would reduce the U.S. national debt, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) called it "budget gimmicky." With other studies showing that tax breaks favor the rich, that high end tax cuts don't produce economic growth and that immigration reform will save the U.S. money, it's no wonder some Republicans want to abolish the CBO altogether.
Addicted to the "Forget Me Now" Pill. Republicans are suffering from an acute case of selective amnesia. These symptoms include forgetting that the Obamacare individual insurance mandate was a conservative idea touted by the likes the Heritage Foundation and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and their call for the prosecution of New York Times reporters over its 2005 revelations of illicit domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency. But the GOP blackout is most profound when it comes to Ronald Reagan, the man who exploded the size of government, raised taxes 11 times, signed pro-choice legislation as governor and traded arms for hostages with Iran. Reagan also tripled the nation debt, a hemorrhaging of red ink almost match by George W. Bush and the Ryan budget. The Republicans' serial forgetting is starting to look a lot like one of Gob's roofie circles.
Marry Me! Maeby's famous deflection is now being uttered--earnestly-- by Americans straight and gay. After last year's defeats, it's not just Asterisk Republicans like Dick Cheney, Ken Mehlman and Rob Portman now calling for marriage equality. Polling shows that the majority of Americans not only support same-sex marriage, but see its legal recognition as inevitable.
Meanwhile, Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council are left muttering, "Look what the homosexuals have done to me!"
"I Don't Want No Part of Yo' Tight-Ass Country Club, Ya Freak Bitch!" The findings of a new report by the College Republicans could well be summed up in those immortal words of Franklin Delano Bluth. After their drubbing in the 2012 elections, these young Republicans concluded that what many millennials don't like is the "closed-minded, racist, rigid, old-fashioned" GOP.
They Do Have a Type. Those results echo the Republican National Committee's much-hyped post-election "autopsy." The GOP, the post-mortem concluded, is seen as the party of rich, white old men. (Like Buster's fondness for turtles, Republican Senators apparently also "love those leathery little snappy faces," which may explain why they elected Mitch McConnell their Minority Leader.) , As the New York Times reported, "Formerly loyal voters gathered in focus groups describe Republicans as 'scary,' 'narrow-minded' and 'out of touch' and that we were a party of 'stuffy old men.'"
Those Are Balls. Balls, that is, attached to the stuffy old men who would eviscerate the reproductive rights of American women. In Washington and in state house across the country, it is largely Republican men limiting access to contraception, requiring unnecessary and invasive ultrasound procedures, mandating impossible-to-meet clinic facility standards, promoting personhood amendments, pushing fetal heartbeat bills, redefining so-called "fetal pain" and even demanding every woman report every miscarriage to the police. When Rep. Darrell Issa held hearings last year on the Obamacare contraception coverage requirement, not a single woman was allowed to testify. (Rush Limbaugh might have supported Sarah Fluke's appearance before the committee, but only if she borrowed Lindsay Bluth's "Slut" t-shirt.)
Apparently, these Republicans are Milford Men who believe women should be neither seen nor heard.
"Family First!" Like Michael Bluth, that's what Republicans always say is the most important thing. But GOP adulterers like John Ensign, David Vitter, Mark Sanford and Scott DesJarlais must have been eating breakfast when that message was announced. (Apparently, the members of the C Street family couldn't resist the ways of the secular flesh.) As it turned out, when the patients/mistresses of the pro-life Dr. DesJarlais got pregnant, he made sure they didn't stay pregnant. Unfortunately, in 2012 Tennessee voters nevertheless made sure he stayed in Congress.
Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani proved that marriage is an institution between one man and three women in rapid succession. No doubt Rudy would claim, "I don't want to blame it all on 9/11."
As for those conservatives like Ed Schrock, Mark Foley and Ted Haggard whose same-sex trysts ended their careers, they may take some solace from Tobias' words: "For there's a man inside me, and only when he's finally out, can I walk free of pain." Just not in the GOP.
"There's Always Money in the Banana Stand." If, that is, the banana stand is incorporated in the Cayman Islands, has magical overseas subsidiaries or was acquired in a leveraged buyout by a private equity firm like Mitt Romney's Bain Capital.
"I Hear the Jury's Still Out on Science." That's Gob Bluth's response after learning that the results of a DNA test identified him as Steve Holt's father. He must have been listening to most of the Republicans in Congress. After all, the likes of Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) not only reject climate change as "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." Much of their party rejects evolution and is still grappling with the basics of the female reproductive system.
"We Lost Him." Arrested Development's too literal doctor got a lot of laughs when he clumsily informed the Bluths that George had escaped from the hospital. But the Republican states rejecting the Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid are no joke. Millions of Americans--1.5 million just in Texas, 1 million more in Florida--will needlessly be left without health insurance. As the estimated 45,000 people dying annually due to a lack of coverage show, Republicans like George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, Mitch McConnell and Phil Bryant are wrong to declare, "People have access to health care in America...after all, you just go to an emergency room."
The Stair Car. If you have a ladder of social mobility to the middle class, you're going to hop-ons. But if you move the stairs once the corporate jet has taken off, the middle class will atrophy. With their calls to reduce already low federal nondefense discretionary spending (which include educations, transportation, food stamps, child care, research and more) to its smallest percentage of the economy in generations, Republicans are pulling the ladder up behind them.
"After all these years, God's not going to take a call from you." Like Lucille Bluth after her son Buster lost his hand to a loose seal, Republican White House hopefuls learned that the hard way in 2012. After all, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Herman Cain all said they were chosen by God. Governors Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee, too, attributed their political successes to the hand of God. Back in 2004, Baptist Minister turned Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee even pretended to take a phone call from God during a 2004 GOP governors' meeting. Like God would waste His time calling up the guy with the multimillion dollar talk show.
Come on!


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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