With tomorrow’s vote looming over us, we decided to direct our readers to Errol Morris’ thoughtful Op-doc video “11 Excellent Reasons Not to Vote,” from last week’s New York Times.
Click here for the Video. Morris’ full text appears below.
And to loosely tie this post together with our collection, we’ve thrown in a few pieces of political ephemera from the Democratic National Convention held in Baltimore 100 years ago. To reward our faithful readers we’ve included a very obvious clue for our Movember contest.
Don’t forget to GO OUT AND VOTE!
“11 Excellent Reasons Not to Vote” by Errol Morris. NYT, Oct. 30, 2012.
It doesn’t look good for the United States.
We are proud when Iraqis and Libyans dodge bombs to vote in their first free elections in decades, and then, when it’s our chance, we barely exceed their turnout rates. Often, we do worse. Roughly half of us vote, and the other half don’t.
It made me wonder: What’s stopping us? Do we have reasons not to vote? How can we hear so much about the election, and not participate? If hope isn’t doing it, isn’t the fear of the other guy winning enough to brave the roads, the long lines?
In the middle of October, I spoke to more than 50 people between 18 and 40, almost all of whom are planning to go to the polls on Nov. 6. That made them exceptional: only 51 percent of young people voted in 2008. A smaller group is expected this year.
Before asking why they will vote, I asked why most young people won’t. They told me that many of the issues they care about — climate change, civil rights, the war on drugs, immigration, prison reform — are not discussed by Democrats or Republicans. That there is such a gulf between what candidates say they will do, and what they do, that it’s impossible to trust anyone. That apathy is actually supported by the evidence.
Voting is a leap of faith. Calling it a civic duty is not enough. Either you believe that the system is both changeable and worth changing, or you don’t — and most new voters are not convinced.
The arguments against voting have been persuasive to many Americans. But what about the flip side? Why bother? Here I think the arguments are better. War and peace. Equal rights for women and same-sex couples. My personal favorite, the balance of the Supreme Court. The prospect of meeting the love of your life at the polling place. Several people argued that if you don’t vote, you lose your right to complain about the results of an election. But I respectfully disagree. In our society, the right to complain is even more fundamental than the right to vote.
I don’t know what, in the end, forces me to vote. It could be fear; it could be guilt. Although my mother died over 10 years ago, I feel that she is watching me, and I don’t want to disappoint her.
I would like to thank everyone who volunteered to be interviewed. I would also like to thank Doug Abel, Bob Chappell, Steven Hathaway, John Kusiak, Isaac Silverglate, Nick Rondeau, Dan Mooney, Jeremy Landman, Julie Ahlberg, Robert Fernandez, Amanda Branson Gill, Dina Piscatelli, Eric, Lori and Jessica Lander, Bina Venkataraman, Linda Carlson, Angus Wall, Jennifer Sofio Hall, a52, Kim Bica, Kirsten Thon-Webb, Arcade, Dana May, Patrick Regan, Ronnie Lee, Zoey Taylor, Adam Picchietti, Timothy Collins, Josh Kearney, Max Larkin, Drew Beirut, Reid Savage, Karen Skinner, Ann Petrone and Julia Sheehan.
This Op-Doc video was produced in collaboration with two creative agencies, CHI & Partners NY and Moxie Pictures, and with the I CAN. I WILL. Campaign for Our Time, a nonprofit organization that advocates for young voters and consumers.
Errol Morris is an Academy Award-winning filmmaker (“The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara”) and author of the recent book “A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald.” His first film, “Gates of Heaven,” is on Roger Ebert’s list of the 10 best movies ever made, and his latest, “The Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld,” will open in 2013. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., with his wife and two French bulldogs.
This week, with the final Obama-Romney debate bearing down on us, we thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the more bizarre political and election-related items in our holdings. In doing so we set our sights on Maryland’s own Spiro Agnew, the Nixon administration, and the many products Agnew’s likeness and political legacy inspired, as reflected in our collections. Please note that we are leaving the library collections this time out, with the exception of one item, and venturing into MdHS’s museum collection to explore these curious pieces of political and material culture.
Baltimore County native Spiro T. Agnew (1918-1996) began his political life as a Democrat but then switched parties when he discovered few opportunities for advancement. He was elected Baltimore County Executive in 1962 and Governor of Maryland (R) in 1966. Agnew’s legacy as Governor will be remembered by many Marylanders for his excoriation of African-American leaders in the aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Others may remember him for his higher profile exploits later in his career.
The Spiro Agnew wristwatch pictured here was purchased at Hutzler’s department store on November 5, 1970. According to the receipt, it cost $20.75—not a small chunk of change. According to the Inflation Calculator this is roughly the equivalent of $123.00 dollars today. (Currently, original Agnew watches go for $50-100 on eBay.)
The Agnew wristwatch reflects a nationwide trend in the 1960s and ’70s to popularize political figures in a variety of media. Agnew’s selection as the VP candidate by Richard Nixon and election victory in 1968 made him a national figure and subsequently tied him to the most infamous administration in U.S. history. Entrepreneurs wasted no time capitalizing on both men’s likeness from the moment they took office. The first Spiro Agnew watch was designed by Dr. Hale E. Dougherty’s Dirty Time Company ca. 1970 and by July of that year at least 50,000 were on order at department stores across the nation.
At least two other manufactures of the Agnew watch went into production in 1970. The watch became wildly popular. According to vintage wristwatch blog HODINKEE, Elizabeth Taylor, John Lennon, and Republican and Democratic Congress-members owned Agnew watches. “Dougherty even sent an early watch to Agnew who wrote back that the watch was ‘both attractive and clever,’ before later changing his tune and threatening legal action over the use of his likeness and invasion of his privacy,” reports HODINKEE blogger Eric Wind. Dougherty was the only manufacturer not to comply with the Vice President’s demand to donate a portion of the profits from the watch to “Agnew-designated charities.” The physician refused on the grounds that the watch was a sort of political cartoon and complying with the demand would set a dangerous precedent for artistic freedom of expression.**
A complicated moderate not afraid to change his position, Agnew supported Maryland’s first open housing laws, helped repeal its anti-miscegenation law, stood as an alternative to state Democrats wishing to distance themselves from the racist sloganeering used by his ’66 gubernatorial election rival, Baltimore contractor-turned-politician George “Your home is your castle” Mahoney, and was an outspoken critic of antiwar demonstrators. Despite all that, by the early 1970s Agnew literally became a joke. The Baltimore Sun reported that a popular joke in 1970 went, “Did you know that Mickey Mouse wears a Spiro Agnew watch?” Forced from office by accusations of extortion, tax fraud, bribery and conspiracy, he was the first Vice President to resign from office.**
Along with the watch also came the T-shirt of the wristwatch. Why, you may wonder, would a wristwatch need its own shirt? Because T-shirts were the internet memes of the 1970s and ’80s.
Another variation of the Agnew wristwatch was the Agnew alarm clock. According to our provenance records, this clock was designed and illustrated by Baltimore attorney Zelig Robinson, who appears to be one of the other two manufactures of the Agnew watch. Robinson can be seen in an AP Wireservice photo from July 16, 1970 standing next to his wife and the Vice President who is proudly wearing the watch made in his own image. The photo’s caption notes that Robinson was able to meet with the VP because he—unlike Dougherty—was willing to pony up 25 percent of the proceeds to a charity of Agnew’s choice.
Finally, we have this little gem from MdHS’s ephemera collection. One could not have purchased any of the above items at any store we know of and been given this bag to tote away their collectibles, but here it is, and nonetheless it exists: the Democrats for Nixon tote bag. This bit of propaganda was aimed at siphoning votes away from Senator George McGovern (D – South Dakota), who unlike his ’72 election rival Nixon did not keep his plans for ending the Vietnam War a secret.
McGovern ran on a platform promising withdrawal from Vietnam, amnesty for draft evaders, and a 37 percent reduction in military spending over the next three years. It’s worth pointing out that two thirds of his platform came to fruition within the next five years. (George McGovern passed away as this post was being prepared on the morning of October 21, 2012. R.I.P. Sen. McGovern.) The video that follows the bag provides some more context behind the concept of Dems for Nixon. The toy soldier and secret plan jokes practically write themselves. (Joe Tropea)
Democrats for Nixon TV ad ca.1972
*”2 of 3 Spiro Wristwatches Windup with His Approval,” The Baltimore Sun, July 17, 1970: p.C11. http://www.hodinkee.com/2010/8/3/the-spiro-agnew-watch-a-gag-that-united-elizabeth-taylor-joh.html
**”Spiro Agnew Watches,” The Baltimore Sun, July 12, 1970: p.SD15.
White Knight: The Rise of Spiro Agnew, Jules Witcover, Random House, 1972.
“Spiro T. Agnew and Middle Ground Politics,” Justin P. Coffey, Maryland Historical Magazine, Vol. 98, No. 4, Winter 2003.
“Spirogate: The Washington Post and the Rise and Fall of Spiro Agnew,” Charles J. Holden and Zach Messitte, Vol. 102, No. 3, Fall 2007.
“‘A Veil of Voodoo’: George P. Mahoney, Open Housing, and the 1966 Governor’s Race,” Richard Hardesty, Maryland Historical Magazine, Vol. 104, No. 2, Summer 2009.
Eighty years before Governor Martin O’Malley was attending conventions, enjoying the national spotlight, and entertaining thoughts of a presidential run, another Democratic governor from Maryland was poised to make a run at the presidency. Albert Cabell Ritchie (1836-1936) ran the state for 15 years and was the first Maryland governor to be re-elected by popular vote. By 1932 he had won four gubernatorial elections, been a leading voice of opposition to Prohibition, and become a major contender for the Democratic party’s nomination for President, again. Four years earlier, he lost his party’s nomination to West Virginia’s John W. Davis who previously lost the 1924 election to Republican incumbent Calvin Coolidge. (Ritchie also had an eye on the presidency in ’24.)
On June 23, 1932 before a reported throng of 80,000 supporters, Ritchie told the crowd gathered at Mount Royal Station to see him entrain for the DNC, “I am still just one of you… subject to all the same impulses and fallability.” The following day the governor was greeted “like a conquering hero” by thousands in Chicago, according to The Baltimore Sun.*
Barely a week had passed before Ritchie ran into the force that was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In Chicago, Ritchie contended with the likes of New York’s Al Smith and Texas’ John Garner for his party’s nomination. Despite not getting that nomination, Ritchie supported FDR and was even rumored to have his name thrown in the hat for Vice President. It was thought that he would make a good counterbalance to Roosevelt. But it was Garner, who was then serving as Speaker of the House, who prevailed and received the VP slot. By the end of the first New Deal (1934), Ritchie was denouncing FDR as a radical set to overthrow the American way.
Things only got worse for the governor. An outspoken opponent of the New Deal, Ritchie began losing support from within his own state party. With many Marylanders suffering the effects of the Great Depression and a widely publicized lynching on the Eastern Shore that further tarnished his reputation, Ritchie began to lose popularity throughout his state. In 1934 he lost a fifth bid for Governor to Republican Harry Nice, who exploited the rumblings within the state’s Democratic Party and attacked Ritchie as the boss of a corrupt machine who had overstayed his welcome.
Today some Marylanders may only know the name Ritchie as that of a highway or coliseum, but the “Ritchie Era” in Maryland (1919-35) is fertile ground for researchers of all stripes. MdHS’s Special Collections department holds the strongest collection of Ritchie materials in existence: the Ritchie Papers, 1915-1936, MS710 (over 75 scrapbooks, notebooks, and diaries, notes for speeches, etc.), pamphlets, printed addresses, position papers penned by Ritchie, and more. (Joe Tropea)*The Baltimore Sun, June 24 & 25, 1932. p.1.
Brown, Dorothy. “The Election of 1934: the ‘New Deal’ in Maryland,” Maryland Historical Magazine 1973 68(4): 405-421.
Chepaitis, Joseph B. “Albert C. Ritchie in Power: 1920-1927”. Maryland Historical Magazine 1973 68(4): 383-404.
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“Election Recollection” is a series we’ll run from now through January’s Presidential inauguration (or so). Here we’ll feature political/election-related items from MdHS’s photograph, manuscript, and ephemera holdings.
This first installment takes us back to the Roaring Twenties, a time when Marylanders were, for the most part, as committed to state’s rights as they were committed to their opposition to the Eighteenth Amendment, which established Prohibition.
Staunch supporter of the wet cause Albert C. Ritchie was sworn in for his third term as Governor of the state of Maryland on January 12, 1927. He did not wait long to start campaigning for the office of President as evidenced here in this photo from MdHS’s Hughes Company photo collection. (Joe Tropea)