When I was about thirteen years old, I used to faithfully watch the TV series Leave it to Beaver. The series centered on a family, the Cleavers, who, according to Wikipedia, exemplified “the idealized suburban family of the mid-20th century.” I, however, watched because I thought Beaver’s big brother, Wally, was the cutest boy ever. My crush didn’t last too long, but I can still remember all the characters on the show. Which is why I had a real aha moment when Jonathan Bernstein noted the resemblance between a character on the show, Eddie Haskell, and GOP Veep candidate Paul Ryan. After some thought, it occurred to me that both Eddie and his sidekick on the show, Lumpy Rutherford, foils to the too-good-to-be true Cleaver boys, have a lot in common with many members of today’s Republican Party.
For those of you who are too young to have watched Leave it to Beaver, which aired between 1957 and 1963, this description of Eddie captures the critical points:
Eddie’s two trademarks are his unctuous politeness to adults and his weasly, sharp-tongued meanness to everybody else. He is a model white-collar delinquent, a creep who goads people into trouble rather than perpetrating the crime himself. He was a born shirker, not worker, and a strain on any parent, especially his own long-suffering mother and father, Agnes and George. […] but really, when it comes to Eddie, when you’ve said “creep,” you’ve said it all.
Just think of Ryan trotting his 78 year old Mother out before the old folks in Florida, talking up the need to keep Medicare safe from Obama, with nary a word about his plan to destroy the program in all but name. Or think about all his smarmy lies during the Republican convention. Pure Eddie. Missouri’s Roy Blunt also has his Eddie Haskell moments, kissing up to rich, corporate types, sidestepping the hard questions with GOP talking points and pious bromides, delivering a swift kick in the behind to those who have nothing he wants, while pretending, after years as a Washington socialite, that he’s still a down-home boy. Romney, himself, the etch-a-sketch king of mendacity, surely qualifies as the archetypal Eddie.
Clarence “Lumpy” Rutherford, the second Leave it to Beaver character that comes to mind, is an equally common type in the GOP. Lumpy has been described as follows:
… he is the first bully that the Cleaver boys must deal with. Pretty soon his true cowardly, lumbering self shows through, and they see him for a kind of harmless buffoon. As he continues to “swell up,” everybody gets a good laugh at Lumpy’s expense, but as long as he’s getting his three squares and a few snacks in-between and his father is not yelling at him to much, he’s a happy enough boob, sporting a silly sort of dodo’s grin. When things are going poorly, which is most of the time, he still whines for his “Daddy.
Although Lumpy happily carried out Eddie Haskell’s mean-minded schemes without a thought, he never really understood the goals of the underlying plan. He just wanted to hang with the guys and be accepted.
We’ve got lots of Lumpys here in Missouri. If Ed Martin were fictional, I’d have suspected that the author based his character on Lumpy. Jim Lembke? Maybe. Brian Nieves is perhaps a tad too angry, potentially violent and unstable, but otherwise he fits the criteria – although on second thought, he’s actually more like a Lumpy who thinks he’s an Eddie.
On the national scene, I’d suggest politicians like Joe Walsh, who thinks the way to answer Sandra Fluke’s critique of the GOP is to tell her to get a job, and Steve King. They’re both mean, not too bright, and more than willing to do the dirty work that comes their way. King actually tried to come to Todd Akin’s rescue until he figured out that the big guys weren’t heading in that direction and it was wiser to back off. Romney recently endorsed his re-election effort, declaring that “I want him as my partner in Washington!” Eddie and Lumpy, together again.
There are, of course, folks in the Republican Party who aren’t conniving or bullies, people more like the Cleaver boy’s parents. They’re conventional, kind, if a bit smug, not at all evil, but just somewhat blinkered when it comes to reality. For example, just like Wally and the Beaver’s dad who was always kind to the hapless Lumpy, elder GOP statesman John Danforth endorsed Ed Martin. While these folks seem to find the Eddie Haskells and Lumpy Rutherfords in their party distasteful, they are also mostly unwilling to risk the wrath of these new GOPers who have usurped the more genteel Republican party of yesteryear.