Saturday, December 9, 2017

Remembering John B. Anderson

SimonSezback Saturday today pays tribute to John B. Anderson, who died this week in Washington, D.C. at the age of 95. The Republican Congressman from Illinois was the first person I voted for in a presidential election, first in the 1980 Minnesota Republican caucuses, then in his Independent candidacy for the presidency.

We college students for Anderson were a devoted bunch, and I've seen a lot of Facebook comments from people my age who are still proud to have voted for him, and have never voted for a Republican candidate since. In the small town where I went to college, we vastly outnumbered supporters of all the other candidates —put together!— at the local caucuses, held on the same day as the New Hampshire primary.
John Anderson campaigning at UW-Parkside, March 27, 1980.
But by the time of the Minnesota Republican Convention to select the state's actual delegates to the National Convention, representatives from non-college districts had the votes to send a delegation committed entirely to the presumptive nominee, Ronald Reagan.

What endeared Anderson to us brand new voters was his earnestness and his willingness to go against a politician's instinct to say exactly what the people in the room might want to hear. From his New York Times obituary:
Mr. Anderson refused to pander, telling voters in Iowa that he favored President Jimmy Carter’s embargo on grain sales to the Soviet Union after it had invaded Afghanistan. He called for a gasoline tax of 50 cents per gallon — when a gallon cost $1.15 — to save energy.
Early on, when all six of his rivals for the Republican nomination assured the Gun Owners of New Hampshire that they firmly opposed gun control legislation, Mr. Anderson said, “I don’t understand why.”
“When in this country we license people to drive automobiles,” he added, “what is so wrong about proposing that we license guns to make sure that felons and mental incompetents don’t get a hold of them?”
He was roundly booed.
My cartoons of John Anderson in 1980 betray the humorless earnestness of a dewy-eyed supporter of a doomed cause (and the difficulty I've always had with drawing hands). My characters were stiff and two-dimensional in more ways than one.

Anderson's campaign left me with a lasting dislike of media coverage that focuses on the poll du jour. But for third-party candidates like Anderson, popularity polls have a real and practical effect on whether the League of Women Voters allow them to participate in televised debates, or even whether they can get on the ballot at all.

So too election rules crafted by the two major parties to safeguard their own interests. Anderson had to fight to get on the ballot in Ohio, where the deadline for an independent candidate to get on the November ballot was in March, well before either major party's nominee had been decided. In Anderson v. Celebrezze, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Anderson's favor, reasoning that
"Not only does the challenged Ohio statute totally exclude any candidate who makes the decision to run for President as an independent after the March deadline, it also burdens the signature-gathering efforts of independents who decide to run in time to meet the deadline. When the primary campaigns are far in the future and the election itself is even more remote, the obstacles facing an independent candidate's organizing efforts are compounded. Volunteers are more difficult to recruit and retain, media publicity and campaign contributions are more difficult to secure, and voters are less interested in the campaign. It is clear, then, that the March filing deadline places a particular burden on an identifiable segment of Ohio's independent-minded voters."
Mainstream cartoonists who had welcomed Anderson as a breath of fresh air in February were dismissing him as a quixotic kook in October. Still, I desperately clung to the prospect that The Issues were more important than The Polls. I even let the candidate of the Libertarian Party (which had a small but vocal presence on campus) in on the act.

President Carter in the above cartoon alludes to the brand spanking new Stealth Fighter planes (the F-117 and B-2 Spirit) announced by the Carter administration earlier that year.

This last cartoon was an extra wide oeuvre which you probably need to beclickify to embiggen to eulegibilitous size. I expect most readers to recognize the poem (itself a parody) and the song parodied by Ronald Reagan and John Anderson in this cartoon; the James Russell Lowell hymn parodied in the Jimmy Carter panel is more obscure today (my Lutheran denomination dropped it from its hymnals after 1978).

Ah, the zeal of youth! Been there. Voted that. Bought the t-shirt.
Thought I still had the bumper sticker, too.

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