Why conservatives foolishly embraced Roseanne
Let's face it — we on the right have a pop-culture inferiority complex. The left has a bounty of A-list celebrities who will endorse liberals' entire agenda and even campaign for their candidates, giving them the patina of The Cool Kids from high school. The right, meanwhile, spends much of its time opposing and rebutting the political activism of Hollywood, but part of that argument includes calls for parity in representation. When we get that, or even get a hint of that kind of celebrity embrace, many on the right will rush to put that celebrity on a pedestal.
Thus we had Roseanne Barr, star of her eponymous television series for ABC, feted as a spokesperson for the silent majority outside of the Hollywood-New-York-D.C. bubble despite a long history of attacking much of what the right believes. Thanks to her portrayal of her Roseanne character as a full-MAGA supporter of President Trump, Barr became an icon for the populist right, someone who forced Hollywood to confront its biases against working-class America. And it worked ... right up until the moment Barr had an epic meltdown on social media and got her show canceled.
Barr actually went after multiple targets on Twitter, including Chelsea Clinton and George Soros, but her racist attack on former White House adviser Valerie Jarrett prompted the biggest backfire. In what Barr later tried to write off as a joke, she tweeted that Jarrett looked like the result when "muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby." The so-called "joke" recalled racist tropes of comparing people of color to primates, the specter of which eclipsed Barr's other (false) accusations of Soros being a Nazi collaborator and Clinton of marrying one of Soros' nephews.
Barr later deleted the tweets and apologized, but the damage was done. Cast members from the rebooted Roseanne series castigated her on social media, and commentators piled on. Within a few hours, ABC announced the show's cancellation, branding her tweet "abhorrent, repugnant, and inconsistent with our values."
Barr's firing set off a torrent of criticism from supporters of Trump, some of whom questioned ABC's values and the consistency of their application. After all, Barr has often indulged in tasteless stunts and provocative behavior, long before they rebooted her series to take advantage of the popularity of Trump among her fanbase. Other conservatives and right-leaning populists accused ABC of political correctness in firing her rather than accepting her apology. Some defenders drew comparisons to other performers who committed provocative acts and still kept their jobs after a single incident.
To some extent, that's understandable. Barr has given the populist right an entrée into pop culture with her rebooted network sitcom that they have entirely lacked. At some level, it does represent a middle finger to Hollywood elites who many feel look down on "flyover country" and people who live "in the middle of nowhere," with "somewhere" being defined as the West Coast and the New York-D.C. Acela Corridor.
However, it's a mistake. Barr is no conservative, and she's no right-leaning populist either.
I have some personal experience with Barr, after having cautioned conservatives against embracing her as an exemplar for the right. In March 2015, I (somewhat unkindly) quipped, "In matters of culture and taste, I usually bet on the side that doesn't include Roseanne." In response, Barr demanded to know whether I "believe that Priests who molest kids should b arrested & tried," a reference to my Catholicism. What followed for the next couple of hours was a "bizarre anti-Catholic rant," as described by NewsBusters' Matthew Balan, coupled with accusations of anti-Semitism for having criticized her. If nothing else, the lengthy and bizarre sparring match proved my initial point.
That's hardly the only data point in support of this argument, however. Just a few years ago, Barr was stumping for Occupy Wall Street, the extremist-progressive commune movement that erupted in the wake of the Great Recession bailouts. At one rally, she proclaimed that both populism and socialism would prevail in America. Barr was also a 9/11 Truther who believed that George W. Bush was behind the terror attacks, and that his father killed JFK as well. Six years ago, she attacked Chik-Fil-A and its customers over its social-conservative leanings, tweeting that "anyone who eats S--- Fil-A deserves to get the cancer that is sure to come from eating antibiotic filled tortured chickens 4Christ."
Not all of the problems are strictly ideological, either. Five years ago, well before the reboot of the TV show was even envisioned, Barr attacked another Obama administration adviser in a similarly racist manner as she did Jarrett. "Susan Rice," Barr tweeted, "is a man with big swinging ape balls."
Barr's long history of bizarre rants and hostility should have taught ABC a lesson about embracing her. This latest eruption should have conservatives thinking twice about it, too. The impulse to defend the indefensible speaks much more to a desperate yearning among conservatives and populists on the right to find celebrity heroes to make into their own, rather than argue for their principles and policies and attract committed conservatives in Hollywood or elsewhere organically. Shortcuts are usually disasters, and in this case an entirely avoidable one.