Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Wisdom of Howard Cunningham

Happy Days was a pretty formational television program for me when I was a kid. In 2nd grade my friend Todd Light and I used to pretend to be Richie and Fonzy. I was Richie because Todd made a decent Fonzy. To this day I've not told him that.

I own the first three seasons on DVD because they were all of the shows that aired before they began filming in front of a live studio audience. The early episodes maintained the look and feel of the movie that inspired the series, American Graffiti.

In Season 2, Richie began to take an interest in politics when a cute blonde girl he liked was a huge Adlai Stevenson supporter. Richie began researching Stevenson to be able to spout off facts about him to impress this girl and he finds himself giving a big rally speech in favor of Stevenson. The typical 30 minute TV show conflict was that his father, Howard Cunningham, supported Eisenhower and routinely voted Republican.

This could be a pretty typical story line. Conservative father frustrated by his more liberal kids and the show closes with Bob Dylan singing "The Times they are a Changin'" but that's not at all how this episode went. In an argument with Richie their dialogue went like this:

Howard: What I'd like to know is how in your right mind could you even consider supporting Stevenson!

Richie: I did research!

Howard: You did research huh? Well, did your research tell you that the Democrats solve problems with war and that Republicans are the party of peace and prosperity?

I have to hand it to the writers of this show for this small tidbit of historical accuracy. For right or wrong the Republican Party of the 1950's had peaceful conservatives like Robert Taft who was known as Mr. Republican. Taft hated overseas meddling and resented the United Nations for dragging America into the Korean War.

Democrats hated taking the rap for wars and foreign intervention so they would always try to paint Republicans as eager to use the bomb. Anyone who remembers the 1964 race, even if just from a history book, remembers Goldwater portrayed as an extremist hothead who could not be trusted with atomic weapons. At the same time Goldwater was running ads condemning his nation's policy of intervention in a country nobody had heard of at the time, Vietnam. His commercials talked about not sending our boys to "fight in no-win wars."

Ultimately the episode ended the way you would expect. Richie didn't get the girl. Stevenson lost. Fonzy supported Ike. And we all learned an important lesson:

We should listen to Howard Cunningham and cute girls eventually ruin politics for everyone at some point.


Robert the Grump said...

Old TV shows helped raise the last 2 or 3 generations of Americans. That is why civilization will end shortly.

I did enjoy the Adlai Stevenson plot.

Did you hear about the White House intern in 1965?

She went all the way with LBJ.

Tracy said...


You, me and maybe one other person got that joke.

Gino said...

i guess i'm the other person. :)

my grandfather used to use the Mr C line on a regular basis. he used it to justify NOT voting for Carter in 76. and he was a loyal democrat and labor leader his whole life.