Sunday, October 30, 2016

They Say Every Vote Counts

"Salvatore, Feldman, O'Reilly, Nelson. That's an Italian, a Jew, an Irishman and a regular American there. What I call a balanced ticket."

Archie Bunker (Carroll O'Connor)

As we approach the finish line for Election 2016, it is appropriate to observe the 45th anniversary of the All in the Family episode "The Election Story," that first aired on this night in 1971.

The episode was about a local election, and, as it is in this year's presidential election, one of the candidates was a woman. Mike (Rob Reiner) was supporting her and Archie (Carroll O'Connor) was opposed, setting up inevitable fireworks.

The big story in those days was the fact that the voting age had been lowered from 21 to 18 with the approval of the 26th Amendment earlier that year. Now an election in an odd–numbered year like 1971 would be considered an off–year election, and they certainly are rare, but some places do have them — and they have them in New York. In fact, a mayoral election was being held the day of the terrorist attacks that brought down the Twin Towers in 2001.

Did they have off–year elections in New York in 1971? I don't know, but in order to use the lower voting age angle in an episode, it was necessary to have one in the plot, whether one was scheduled or not.

And I guess the temptation to use it as a plot angle in an episode of All in the Family was simply too great.
If you think this year's campaign has had sexist overtones, go back and watch this episode of All in the Family. Sexism was much more blatant in the '70s than it is today. By comparison sexism is more of an implied — rather than overt — thing today.

When Archie learned that the candidate (played by actress Barbara Cason, who appeared in two other All in the Family episodes) Mike and Gloria were supporting was going to come by, he said he wanted her to "turn around on her broomstick and fly the hell out of here." Imagine, if you will, the reaction such a remark would receive today, whether in a TV show or on the stump.

When she arrived, Archie called her the "queen of the liberals."

Near the end of their conversation, Archie told the candidate that instead of running for office she should be running for a husband "because from where I sit you've got some running to do."

Now Archie was never what could be called politically correct — but many of the things he said in the '70s simply would not make it on the air today — even though many of George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" have become almost commonplace on television.

Resolve that one if you can.

Archie remarked that "Women and politics is like oil and gasoline. They don't mix." That would be a pretty volatile comment today.

Times certainly have changed. Women had been allowed to vote for half a century when this episode was made, but women running for office was still somewhat rare. Women being elected to office was rarer still.

In those days presumptive presidential nominees would dangle the names of women as possible running mates strictly to draw the attention of female voters. It was window dressing, nothing more. It wasn't until Walter Mondale in 1984 that a woman was actually nominated to run for vice president.

And it wasn't until this year, 45 years after All in the Family's "The Election Story," that a major political party nominated a woman for president.

The idea of a female nominee for president was likely little more than a fantasy in 1971. Only about a dozen or so women probably held seats in Congress at the time — and Congress seemed to produce most of the plausible candidates for president in those days.

Of course, a person's gender does not automatically make that person a good choice for public office. There are other factors that must be considered. Sometimes the female candidate is the better choice; sometimes the male candidate is the better choice. And sometimes the race is between two female candidates, just as for decades most campaigns featured two male candidates, which renders the whole subject of gender politics null and void — at least as far as that race is concerned.

As I say Congress tended to produce the front–runners for presidential nominations in the 1960s and 1970s. State governors have become more popular choices for the presidency in the last 40 years (even though no sitting governor has been nominated for president since George W. Bush in 2000). There were no female governors in 1971; there are six today.

So, yes, American politics has changed considerably since 1971 — even though there are those who continue to wage a battle against sexism, whether real or perceived.

One thing that hasn't changed is human nature. In this episode, it turned out that Archie wasn't planning to vote. Gloria (Sally Struthers) confirmed that for her astonished husband.

Archie insisted that he saved his vote for "the biggies""I don't waste it on these little meatball elections around here," he told Mike and Gloria.

He claimed that he "cherished" his vote — but most of the people I have known who would not exercise their right to vote were just plain apathetic. Not voting was not an act of patriotism for them. It was an act generally born of selfishness.

Apathy is a real problem in American politics, but it is a part of human nature — an unattractive part, to be sure, but a part nonetheless. And, to an extent, it is understandable. If polls suggest that a candidate is headed for a big victory, some voters may be discouraged from voting, figuring they can put the time to better use. People are so pressed for time these days.

Early voting has all but eliminated that concern in two–thirds of the states in the 21st century. It was not an option in 1971. Apathy needs a different excuse.

Anyway ...

Few things chase away apathy better than a desire to defeat a candidate, and Archie was filled with that desire after he met the candidate. So he and Edith (Jean Stapleton) headed off for the polls on Election Day — only to be told by Louise Jefferson (Isabel Sanford), who was working the polls, that his name wasn't on the list of registered voters.

Archie couldn't believe it. He had lived in that neighborhood his whole life. In fact, he told Louise, he voted for Nixon for president. Louise said he must still be on the list because Nixon had been elected just three years earlier.

Then Edith interjected. The election that Nixon won was in 1968. Archie didn't vote in that election. He voted for Nixon against John F. Kennedy in 1960.

Louise was astonished that Archie hadn't voted in 11 years. Archie insisted he'd been busy. "Something was always coming up," Edith said. "One time he had a bad toe spasm."

Archie was not permitted to vote. He had been inactive too long, but he tried to talk Edith into voting his way since he couldn't vote. Whether she would or not was left undetermined when she went into the polling booth.

Later, when Mike and Gloria tried to get Archie to switch the TV channel to election coverage, he tried to discourage them by telling them their candidate couldn't win. Mike said turnout had been heavy. "She might squeak through," he told Archie.

"Yeah, how would you feel if Claire won by only one vote?" Gloria asked.

"Or two," Edith piped up.

And everyone knew how she had voted.

I guess the moral of the story was that there are some things that are too important to be left to someone else. Voting is one of them.