Skip to content

Who is America’s ‘Lonesome’ Rhodes?

Voters have an understandably low view of economy, elected officials

Andy Griffith stands next to a television in the 1957 film “A Face in the Crowd,” playing media provocateur “Lonesome” Rhodes.
Andy Griffith stands next to a television in the 1957 film “A Face in the Crowd,” playing media provocateur “Lonesome” Rhodes. (John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

“Well, I wish you wasn’t so bitter.”

That line was uttered by “Lonesome” Rhodes in the 1957 film “A Face In The Crowd.” Perhaps President Joe Biden should consider naming a “national morale officer,” a fictional position described in the movie to which Lonesome wanted to be the first American appointed.

But it’s not a morale honcho in the mold of the film’s main character, played by Andy Griffith, a sharp-tongued Arkansas drifter-turned-media provocateur, that the country needs.

“This whole country’s just like my flock of sheep!” Rhodes declared in the movie. “Rednecks, crackers, hillbillies, hausfraus, shut-ins, pea-pickers — everybody that’s got to jump when somebody else blows the whistle.

“They’re mine! I own ’em! They think like I do,” he said. “Only they’re even more stupid than I am, so I gotta think for ’em.”

Perhaps we have enough Lonesome Rhodeses already. Too many, really — just read Fox News’ internal communications about spreading former President Donald Trump’s false “big lie” about a “stolen” 2020 presidential election.

It’s not hard to understand why Americans’ views of the economy and their leaders are so poor. The price of everything remains high, making sticker shock a new national affliction. Trains cannot stay on the tracks. The financial system suddenly is being described as “fragile.”

So who could blame voters for being a bit prickly?

The Federal Reserve’s strategy of regularly hiking interest rates just isn’t bringing down prices. Visit your local grocery store or look into booking a flight or hotel room. Yet, onward Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and his band of interest rate-hikers have trudged. Until, perhaps, several large regional banks went belly-up, bringing predictions the Fed will leave rates alone for a while.

Finally freed from their COVID-19 isolation, Americans are again out and about, only to be met with staggering prices in the service sector. Their checks at restaurants rose 0.6 percent from January to February, according to Labor Department data released Tuesday. The cost of car insurance increased 0.9 percent month-to-month.

Tried booking a flight recently? Air travelers forked over 6.4 percent more in February than the previous month — and a staggering 27 percent more than February 2022. Maybe a staycation is your best bet. Then again, the price of a hotel room jumped a whopping 2.3 percent in February.

America is hopping from crisis to crisis like a spooked swamp frog jumping from lily pad to lily pad.

Banks are closing — should we withdraw our savings and line the bottom of the cat’s litter box with Ziplocked greenbacks? Home energy costs are up. China is playing matchmaker with Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Russia-Ukraine war drags on, sending all kinds of ripples across the globe. Some major corporations are laying off thousands of employees, making private sector workers understandably paranoid. Everything is more expensive.

In the wake of the Silicon Valley Bank collapse, CNBC felt a need to dedicate an entire segment Monday morning — with some of its heavy hitters, including Jim Cramer — basically pleading with people to opt against driving to their local bank branch and taking out all their money.

We’re not quite back at the “malaise era” that was Jimmy Carter’s presidency — at least not yet. But even if things get that bad, team red and team blue would not be able to agree those gloomy 1979 vibes had returned.

Inflation remains stubborn, with the consumer price index rising by 6 percent over the 12 months ending in February, and by 5.5 percent after stripping out food and energy prices. That’s a slower pace than in the year that ended in January. The figures were mostly in line with analyst expectations — except that “core” inflation in February rose slightly faster than expected on a one-month basis.

‘Battle cry’

Polls continue to show voters holding a bleak view of the state of the economy, Biden’s handling of it — and how members from both parties on Capitol Hill are doing their jobs.

When asked to describe the state of the economy, 73 percent of registered voters responded “not so good” or “poor,” according to a Quinnipiac University survey released Wednesday — 24 percent said “good.” Fifty-five percent responded “worse” when asked to assess how the economy is trending, with 14 percent saying “better” and 30 percent saying it is staying about the “same.”

Over half (55 percent) said they disapprove of Biden’s job performance, with 39 percent saying they approve. Sixty-five percent of respondents disapprove of how congressional Republicans are carrying out their duties, with 28 percent approving. Fifty-eight percent disapprove of congressional Democrats’ performance, with 36 percent approving.

So it’s not hard to understand why Americans could use a pick-me-up.

Biden tries to play the national morale officer from his presidential bully pulpit. He attempts to give the country a pep talk multiple times a week via his public remarks, often saying Americans can still do hard things — if we stick together. But the words are an odd fit in this oppose-the-other-side-at-all-costs era.

Trump also is ill-suited for such a role. He is signaling his third — and, likely, final — White House bid could rival his bare-knuckle 2016 campaign. He is revving up his MAGA base by describing the race as their collective “final battle,” something his campaign organization has called “a rousing battle cry.” That is striking, if not troubling, messaging for a candidate under federal investigation for his role in the violent Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection, carried out by a mob of his own supporters.

For now, all Americans can do is wait — and pay, a lot, for eggs, gasoline and summer vacations.

“I will continue working to lower costs for hard-working Americans so they have a little more breathing room at the end of the month,” Biden said in a Tuesday statement.

What the Biden administration and Fed have tried, though, just is not working. As Lonesome Rhodes might say, tangible results from their collective inflation-fighting policies have proven “slower than molasses running uphill in the winter.”

Editor-at-Large John T. Bennett writes a weekly column for Roll Call, parts of which first appeared in the subscription-based CQ Senate newsletter.

Recent Stories

At Aspen conference, a call to prioritize stopping gun violence

Appeals court rules preventive care task force unconstitutional

Key players return to Congressional Softball Game, this time at the microphone

Bannon asks Supreme Court to keep him out of prison

Her family saw the horrors of the Holocaust. Now Rep. Becca Balint seeks to ‘hold this space’

Supreme Court clarifies when a gun law is constitutional