Radio Free N.H.: The Uncle Gus Rule and Forced Birth Laws

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Michael Davidow, Radio Free New Hampshire

By MICHAEL DAVIDOW, Radio Free New Hampshire

The Supreme Court opinion that overruled Roe v Wade was a masterpiece of grudge-holding. The outcome was pre-ordained (sorry, Senator Collins of Maine, who claimed to be surprised that a person nominated for a very important office might not be fully honest about what he or she intends to do with that office) (what happens in Maine, anyway?) and I would imagine that Sam Alito has been keeping that thing in his sock drawer for decades.

As an attorney, I can assure you that its logic was specious, its history was full of holes, and its contempt for modernity was matchless. There is nothing to learn from it except how to hate. As an exercise in pure politics, though, it will be studied for a long time.

That women in huge pieces of our country will now be subject to forced-birth laws (I prefer to limit the term “pro-life” to its more common-sense meaning, so I only apply it to those in favor of getting assault rifles off our streets) might be bearable if those politics were honorable, but they weren’t. Alito and his lockstep colleagues came to their majority on our country’s highest Court because a minority in the Senate was able to put them there. And that minority itself only has power because of the Uncle Gus Rule.

For those of us who are old enough to remember these things, Uncle Gus, who also used a rotary phone and wrote letters to his loved ones, hosted a kid’s television show in the afternoon on good old Channel Nine, and in one of his favorite games, some kid would stand in front of a map of the United States, Uncle Gus would point somewhere, and the kid would have to name the state in question. Do it three times and you won the prize. In my memory there were always three kids, there was only one prize, so those first two kids always had to lose.

And Gus would make that happen with a ruthless efficiency learned either in the US infantry or maybe the Cosa Nostra (Mitch McConnell was doubtlessly a fan).

He would always fake out the kid at first – he would point somewhere easy, like Texas or California. The kid would get cocky. But then, invariably, that pointer would go to one of those empty box states out west somewhere. “Montana,” the hapless kid would guess. While the answer would be West Dakota, or whatever. Angry buzzer. Sad child. And so it went until it was time to give out the prize: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine. Here’s your stuffed animal, Susie, and please go back to your seat. Thus, the Uncle Gus Rule: those empty states that look like squares decide our fate out here.

If that sounds less than democratic to you; if that sounds like we no longer live in an actual democracy, but rather simply a country that plays one on tee-vee; if that sounds like an arrangement that makes you uncomfortable because you would like to settle your own moral hash without help from someone whose religion you might not share: you are right to be scared, this has not escaped notice abroad, and you will need to settle in for a long ride, because those self-righteous prigs who care less about safeguarding our laws than they do about obsessing over your wife’s private parts will be running our Supreme Court for decades. And aside from voting against their enablers in every possible election, I am not sure what else we can do about it.

One interesting question, though, is what the right wing will do with its new power. Our friends on the Supreme Court recently ruled against allowing the EPA to fight air pollution, for instance (that little opinion came in the wake of the Roe reversal, so it didn’t make as much noise – reminding me of the old ward heeler who told a man running for Congress, worried about his chances because nobody knew his name, “ever see an ocean liner pull into the dock, and all that garbage on the ocean comes slapping up against the side, too? Think of Roosevelt as that ocean liner, and you’re a bit of the garbage.”).

Last I heard, the Republican party’s plan to fight global warming was this: pretend that it doesn’t exist. Interestingly, that’s the same plan it has to fight economic inequality, racism, cancer, Covid, gun violence, world-wide hunger, and why the Yankees keep winning in the AL East. America might have failed as a democracy, but it’s even worse at being an autocracy. Why, if things get bad enough, we might even try majority-rule again.

He is the author of Gate City, Split Thirty, and The Rocketdyne Commission, three novels about politics and advertising which, taken together, form The Henry Bell Project,  The Book of Order, and his most recent one, The Hunter of Talyashevka . They are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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