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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

Tag Archives: Rick Santorum

Dr. Doom’s time machine premiered in Fantastic Four #5 back in 1961. Doom flings the FF “centuries into the past” to retrieve Merlin’s gems from Blackbeard’s treasure chest. His evil plan was “mastery of all the world.” The same as any politician. The plan didn’t work (will Dr. Doom never learn?), but, more importantly, it turns out the FF didn’t really return to the age of pirates. Doom’s machine doesn’t travel to other time periods. It creates them. Parallel worlds pop into existence whenever a traveler from our timeline invades the past.

A time traveler like, say, a Republican Presidential candidate.

Rick Santorum describes state education in America as “anachronistic.” Which is funny coming from a guy beaming in his campaign from the 1950’s. He wants to return to a simpler time when wives stayed at home and homosexuals stayed in the closet. Though for his education agenda that means the 1850’s. He wants to live in pre-industrial America, when there was no government oversight or funding and children learned at home or in “little neighborhood schools.”

I’m picturing the one Laura Ingalls attended in Little House on the Prairie. That 1970’s show was based on novels written in the 1930’s about a childhood set in the 1870’s. It premiered in 1974, same as Happy Days, another hit show about another golden age. Change time machine channels and you’re in Santorum’s magical 1950’s again.

But Happy Days wasn’t about the 1950’s any more than Little House was about the 1870’s. Ingalls’ novels sold because her Depression era readers needed an escape. They wanted to live in a time before the problems of their modern world existed. It’s the same today. In their heart of hearts, Republicans are wannabe time travelers. They want to return to the way things were.

Unfortunately, the GOP plan for world mastery relies on a time machine that, like Dr. Doom’s, doesn’t work. You can set the dials for whichever golden age is highest on your nostalgia meter, but you will never get there. Instead, like Dr. Doom, you’ll just create a parallel universe. An imaginary world where everything once was wonderful.

For George W. Bush, that was the 1920’s. And not just because of all the sex and drugs. The top tax rate for the wealthiest Americans was only 24%. The Bush tax cuts were modeled on the Revenue Acts of 1921, 1925 and 1926. Income inequality hit its highmark in 1929—just before the bubble burst and the planet plunged into Depression.

But that’s the magic of the Dr. Doom time machine. You don’t actually go anywhere. You selectively beam in what you idealize about some past moment and then pretend the rest of history won’t repeat itself.

Mitt Romney and today’s Republican establishment have their Doom dials set to 1913. When federal income taxes were first enacted, the top rate was only 7%. Romney had to pay a whopping 14% on the twenty million he made last year, but with him in the White House, the GOP should be able to half that in no time.

While Republicans scour parallel timelines for lower taxes, their Doom Machines are calibrated for a range of golden ages. Newt Gingrich best articulates their cold war nostalgia. Republicans miss Communism. So now they’re busy dressing up the Muslim world in Moscow’s retired gear. Gingrich claims the U.S. is “about where we were in 1946” against the Soviet Union. Those are big boots for Iran to fill, but Gingrich still warns of “another Holocaust” and loves the apocalyptic phrase “if we do survive.” The cold war wasn’t fun but it was fulfilling. Who doesn’t miss the clarity of Ronald Reagan’s evil empire? Things are so much simpler when there’s a supervillain to rally against. As Senator Lindsey Graham recently observed: “Iran has done more to bring us together than anything in the world.”

Santorum figured that out too. Instead of post-war 1946, he set his dial to pre-war 1940’s. Forget Communism. He’s aiming for the greatest supervillain of them all, Adolf Hitler. Iran may look silly in Soviet footwear, but that’s nothing compared to President Obama with the dictator mustache Santorum’s doodled under his nose. He says the President is like “that guy over in Europe” and Americans are sitting on the sidelines like they did while Britain was being “bombed and leveled.” It’s quite a leap, even for Dr. Doom, and Santorum knows it. He lamented how it will be “harder for this generation to figure it out” because there’s “no cataclysmic event.” He’s thinking 1942. His time machine is searching for Pearl Harbor.

It’s no coincidence that the golden age that Conservatives most love is also the golden age of comic books. World War II created the modern superhero. Men dressed in primary colors battling forces of undeniable evil. For once the world could simply be black and white, good and bad, right and wrong. For one moment in American history there were no gray areas. The cold war and Marvel’s guilt-burdened mutants were half-measure imitations. The 40’s Superman, Captain America, Wonder Woman, they were the cartoon embodiment of a unified nation acting with moral clarity.

It never happened before and it’s not happened since. But the GOP’s political machine remains marooned in that magical moment. It’s the gem they want to pull from Bluebeards’ chest. Never mind that all time travel schemes are doomed. Happy Days and Little House on the Prairie made for great escapist TV in the 70’s, but have you tried to sit through a rerun lately? They’re unwatchable. Have you ever read a 1940 comic book? My eleven-year-old thinks the golden age Superman is a jerk.

Times change. Barack isn’t Adolf. Muslims aren’t Commies. Also, state-funded education isn’t anachronistic, gay people aren’t sinners, and massive income inequality isn’t safe. Instead of trying to relive its selective past, our country could learn from it instead. Step one means shelving the time machine. Even Dr. Doom figured out it didn’t work.

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Newt Gingrich wants to be Superman.

In fact, most of the Republican Presidential contenders want to be Superman. Mitt Romney. Rick Perry. Even Herman Cain. To his credit, Rick Santorum only wants to be Superman knock-off Mr. Incredible. But since Santorum’s national polls have never left the single digits, kryptonite is the least of his worries.

Darren Garnick and his nine-year-old son, Ari, recently asked each Republican: “If you could be any superhero in the world, who would you be and why?” (If you haven’t seen the six-minute documentary, you should:Republicans in Tights.)

The question mostly reveals the politician’s age. Santorum was born in 1958, but Gingrich, Cain, Romney, and Perry are all late Superhero Golden Agers, born between 1943 and 1950. They admitted to “showing their age,” naming the first (and possibly only) superhero they remembered growing up. Ron Paul, the one candidate to snub the nine-year-old interviewer, was born in 1935, and so also the one candidate to predate the birth of the comic book.

When Obama was asked a similar question (by Entertainment Weekly, not Ari) back on the 2008 campaign trail, he named Batman and Spider-Man because “they have some inner turmoil. They get knocked around a little bit.” That’s Silver Age talk. Barack was born in 1961, the year the Fantastic Four launched themselves to the moon and Marvel Comics into pop culture. His opponent John McCain said Batman too, but because he pursues justice “against insurmountable odds,” a good ole Golden Age rationale. McCain was born in 1936, the same year as Detective Comics.

Gingrich is the oldest of the Superman pack, born as the Allies began to retake Europe from the Nazis. I’ll admit the idea of a Gingrich White House frightens me more than a Romney White House (The New York Times Magazine recently dubbed Mitt “All-Business Man, the world’s most boring superhero”). A Gingrich White House would be more like Lex Luthor winning the Presidency back in 2000. An event eliminated in the recent DC universe reboot.

I’m sure Newt would like to reboot a few facts in his timeline too. Like that affair he was having while his first wife was dying of cancer. Or that other affair he was having while trying to impeach Bill Clinton for hiding his own extramarital activities. If the guy’s going to wear a letter on his chest, it’s Hester Prynne’s, not Superman’s.

But Professor Gingrich doesn’t need a comic book to rewrite history for him. Superman spun the earth backwards on its axis to reset time. Newt does it with a pen. He’s published two alternate universe novels. One reboots the Civil War so the South wins at Gettysburg (thanks, we needed that). The second prevents the U.S. from entering World War II so that Germany can conquer Russia and face the U.S. in a new cold war.

And where would Newt be without a cold war? If elected, he plans a return to a comic book universe of pure good vs. evil. Instead of battling the nefarious Soviet Union, he’s casting the entire Muslim world as his new arch nemesis. Even Israel endorses a two-state peace with Palestine. Not Newt. On Earth Gingrich, Palestinians are a fictional people, no more deserving of self-determination than molemen, doombots or any other subset of evil minions.

President Obama’s other reason for endorsing the “Spider Man/Batman model” (his term) was his dislike for Superman’s lazy privilege: “The guys who have too many powers — like Superman — that always made me think they weren’t really earning their superhero status. It’s a little too easy.”

Isn’t that what Occupy Wall Street’s been shouting all year?

Leave it to the Republican field to emulate the ultimate 1%, Superman, the superhero of all superheroes. George Bernard Shaw (the guy who coined “superman” from Neitzsche’s “ubermensch”) prophesied that “the real Superman will snap his superfingers at all Man’s present trumpery ideals of right, duty, honor, justice, religion, even decency, and accept moral obligations beyond present human endurance.”

In other words, Superman’s sense of right and wrong will have nothing to do with what the rest of us think. Superman is only worried about his fellow Supermen.

Sounds like the Republican party to me.

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