- - Tuesday, August 7, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

For people of a certain age (well, my age), the mere mention of educational children’s television programs immediately brings back fond memories. This includes “Sesame Street,” “The Electric Company” and “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

The latter program was the brainchild of Fred Rogers. Trained as a Presbyterian minister, this unlikely TV star was a gentle, kind-hearted soul who cared deeply about a child’s growth and development. He used language, music and compassion to discuss everything from tying your shoes to Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination. He made every viewer feel special, and an integral part of his Neighborhood of Make-Believe.

When my wife and I recently saw “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” Morgan Neville’s wonderful documentary about Mr. Rogers, those same warm childhood thoughts came flooding back into my middle-aged brain. It seemed impossible to come out of the movie theater and not feel upbeat and inspired by this incredible life and career.

Yet, it appears some people did.

An unusual tidbit of information was revealed in this documentary: Mr. Rogers was a “life-long Republican.” It’s been confirmed by credible sources, including his wife, Joanne.

This revelation drove his left-leaning fans up the wall. How could someone who supported public television, opposed war, promoted civil rights and became a vegetarian because “I don’t want to eat anything that has a mother,” be on the conservative side of the aisle?

Some have even attempted to change the narrative by suggesting Mr. Rogers couldn’t have ever been a Republican and/or wouldn’t have been one today. As Michael Long, author of “Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers,” wrote in a June 28 Chicago Sun-Times op-ed, “When the documentary shared that tidbit, I wanted to stand up in the theater and shout, ‘Yes, but he was a really bad Republican!’”

We’ll never know whether Mr. Rogers was a bad, good or in-between Republican. Nevertheless, when his political ideology was revealed, I honestly wasn’t shocked in the slightest.

Mr. Rogers wasn’t a radical, as some have suggested. His personal philosophy was much closer to today’s GOP.

His belief in the importance of faith and family represented not only core Christian values, but Republican values. While Mr. Rogers never pushed religion down people’s throats, he used thoughtful spiritual themes in his messaging. “I believe that appreciation is a holy thing,” he told the graduating class at Marquette University in 2001, “that when we look for what’s best in a person we happen to be with at the moment, we’re doing what God does all the time. So in loving and appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something sacred.”

He regularly spoke out, like other Republicans, against increased violence on television and the silver screen. While Mr. Rogers never named any specific individual, it’s understood that Hollywood liberals played the largest role in this unfortunate uptick. Hence, it wouldn’t be too difficult to figure out which political group most frustrated the man who once said, “I went into television because I hated it so.”

He also viewed “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” as a vehicle to create a better society with strong morals and values that Republicans treasure. Building blocks such as community, friendship and neighborhood created a sense of belonging. Tolerance and understanding of different people and points of view were emphasized. Children learned about great art and music to gain an early appreciation of history and achievement.

Mr. Rogers would have, therefore, been classified as an old-style liberal Republican, in the mold of former Massachusetts Sen. Edward Brooke, New York Sen. Jacob Javits and New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. They believed in moderate government intervention, public spending on social services, regulation of some industries, a solid working relationship with labor unions and cultural issues such as arts funding and yes, public television.

Liberal Republicans have gradually morphed into moderate Republicans like Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Maine Sen. Susan Collins. It may be a small group these days, but someone like Mr. Rogers could have still felt at home.

Yes, Mr. Rogers could have had some disagreements with today’s GOP. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” had a short clip from a 1968 episode showing King Friday XIII temporarily ordering a barbed-wire fence be placed around his castle and installing border guards, until he realized his mistake. It’s an eerily similar scenario to President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico, to be sure.

But when you put it all together, there’s no reason why Mr. Rogers couldn’t have been a Republican then, and now. Even a “bad” one.

• Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and political commentator, is a frequent contributor to The Washington Times.


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