1972 Pt. 1

TV’s Archie, Amos, Andy and Alda

Harry Welty

Pat Oliphant’s depiction of Young Republicans, strings and all, at Richard Nixon’s Miami coronation at the 1972 Republican Presidential Nominating Convention.   

My first column about 1972 was going to be: “Snowballs on the Window” about losing my virginity to an older woman. That will save for another day.  

For my purposes a better starting point is the American television landscape leading up to 1972 back when there were only three channels and all Americans were tuned in to the same stuff. The critic Newton Minnow called it a “vast wasteland.” Wonder what Newt would think about the Internet?  

Say what you will about it but that wasteland, from Dobie Gillis to Bonanza, held America together as everyone locked eyes on the same 50 shows listed in the TV Guide magazine. That’s nothing compared to the million distractions of today’s omnipresent cell phones. Its estimated that the average person looks at their cell 2,000 times a day. I’ve seen kids on dates at restaurants with eyes glued to their palms. That’s one way to see every sling or arrow headed to or ricocheting off of Donald Trump.  

The Smother’s Brother’s show, which aimed slings and arrows at the Johnson and Nixon administrations, debuted in 1967 my junior year in high school. That year my family hosted an Ethiopian exchange student who integrated Mankato High. Google “Bedru and Welty.” 

Tommy Smothers, the wackier older brother, was the brains behind this affront to Nixon’s foot dragging on a promise to pull America out of Vietnam. Tommy’s taunts only hurt worse the following year after the Mai Lai massacre undermined America’s sainthood. Bonanza was a safer show to watch on Sunday nights.  

Ultimately it wasn’t a comedian who soured American on Vietnam. It was weekly body bags and the nation’s most trusted newscaster, Walter Cronkite or “Uncle Walter,” who declared that Americans weren’t getting the straight dope from our Government on the war.

Walt had street cred. As a young reporter Cronkite had risked his life flying over Hitler’s Germany to report on suicidal B-52 bombing runs.  

Cronkite and others had a hell of a year to report in 1968: LBJ announced he wouldn’t run for reelection. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated leading to the burning of dozens of Inner Cities like the Baltimore I described in one of my DC columns. Bobby Kennedy was assassinated while my guest Bedru was watching. Richard Nixon began imitating “segregation now segregation forever” George Wallace as Nixon meddled behind the scenes to make sure the war wouldn’t end before his election. Hairy young peaceniks surged into Chicago to rally for peace during the Democratic Convention ending in a night-stick wielding police riot ordered by hippy hating Mayor Daley. No one attacked Congress with zip ties and nooses but even so, it was a hell of a year.  

Perhaps the most significant television show; one intent on mirroring America was All in the Family, which first aired in 1971 after huge anti-war marches and my summer as a Republican Congressman’s summer intern in Washington DC. Before I got my ID badge I was sent through my first metal detector which had been put a few weeks earlier after a bomb blew up a Capital washroom.  

I probably  sang the show’s theme song to my Mother in memory care. It starts “Boy the way Glenn Miller played” which leads to the lines: “Those were the days, And you knew who you were then, girls were girls and men were men, Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Ho0ver again.” Democrats loved spoofing Herb.  

Played by Carroll O’Connor Archie Bunker was beloved despite his stereotypical blue collar insensitivity and prejudice. Overbearing but generally outfoxed by liberal ideals he was eagerly watched by real blue collar workers who only had three channels to pick from on prime time. They may not have enjoyed seeing themselves made fun of but Archie was must-see TV.  

In this it resembled one of TV’s earliest shows,  Amos and Andy, that stereotyped the hell out of black inner city residents. A & A debuted on TV in 1951 when I was still in diapers and three years before my parents could afford a television. Amos was hardworking. Andy gullible. Both got sucked into big talking, word befogging “Kingfish’s” get-rich-quick schemes while tipsy-toeing on eggshells not to set off wife Sapphire’s sharp tongue.  

First performed nationally on radio by white performers in 1928, the year my Mother was born, black audiences were glued to Amos and Andy. Hungry to see themselves depicted in any fashion they endured the condescension just as blue collar Americans tolerated Archie’s regular comeuppances. There were still a lot blue color workers in the '70s. That was before the Republican Party won the battle to send their jobs abroad to make corporate stock holders richer.  

This was the television landscape before I became a Republican but one more show staring Alan Alda should be mentioned. Ostensibly about my Uncle Frank’s Korean War of the '50s it was a veiled commentary on Vietnam. It ran 11 seasons until 1983 two years longer than Vietnam.  1983 was seven years after America abandoned the conflict leaving the North Vietnamese to clean up rice paddies soaked in napalm and agent orange.  

That was the background as I brought my Dad’s anti-war sentiments to a party that was so desperate for southern votes that it sacrificed its history as the Party of Lincoln. The humiliation of Watergate would only turbocharge this desperation. Meanwhile, I had a new summer gig protecting Vice President Spiro Agnew and driving the Minnesota College Republican’s Econoline van, the “Electomobile,” into an innocent family just east of Brainerd.  

Harry Welty barely proofreads the Blog he encourages Reader readers to check out at lincolndemocrat.com