The Push-Pull of Andy Griffith’s Onscreen Politics

The death of Andy Griffith will bring in all the expected and well-deserved tributes, but I’m especially interested in the way his political legacy pulls in different directions.

Many doubtless associate Griffith with “The Andy Griffith Show” and later “Matlock,” both series that cast him as down-home country characters. Moreover, the Mayberry featured in the former and its spinoff is often referenced as an image of idyllic small-town America — and cited as an example of the kind of wholesome programming for which people offended by the coarseness of modern media pine.

Before that, though, Griffith indelibly played the character of Lonesome Rhodes in Elia Kazan’s 1957 classic “A Face in the Crowd,” a movie which focused on a homespun huckster with a dark side. The film is considered so relevant and resonate even today that Keith Olbermann regularly referred to then-Fox News host Glenn Beck as “Lonesome Rhodes” Beck, seeing parallels between Beck’s populist TV ravings and those of Griffith’s character. (If you’re interested, there’s an interesting Atlantic piece about the Beck-Rhodes connection.)

Adding one final (and more recent) ingredient to the mix, Griffith participated in a “Funny or Die” video before the 2008 election in which he and former co-star Ron Howard were reunited on behalf of Barack Obama.

Wait, Matlock and Sheriff Andy Taylor endorsing a potentially Kenyan-born, America-hatin’ socialist? Say it ain’t so.

Frankly, it’s kind of nice to think of people fondly remembering Griffith for whatever role they choose — either the folksy lawyer, kindly sheriff and single dad, or the raving TV demagogue. Or maybe a little of both.

For once, something the Left and Right can get together on, even if they come at it from different angles.

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