One of the more satisfying moments of an underwhelming sixth season season of Mad Men came in the final episode two weeks ago, when Don encountered an evangelist in a bar. It wasn’t the encounter that was so memorable, but the bar: it had two political posters hanging on the wall: a vintage Nixon’s the One poster, and one for Roy Goodman, who was the Republcan state senator for the Upper East Side of Manhattan from 1969 to 2002. It was great to be reminded of Roy, a liberal Rockefeller Republican with a long face and big smile who was a reliable presence at community meetings in his district. We used to deride his tepid liberalism; now we see him as a paragon of enlightenment, at least for his kind. Paragonish, anyway.
Which brings us to the question, whatever happened to Mad Men‘s Republicans? One of the show’s most original insights was that Cooper and Sterling were Republicans, old time Tom Dewey, Wendel Wilkie, Kenneth Keating Republicans, players in a big business party that liked Ike very much. During the first season, we learned that the firm worked for Nixon in 1960, and that old Bert Cooper was part of old money, board-sitting Manhattan Republican establishment that was beginning to disappear. The appearance of Henry Francis, an assistant to Nelson Rockefeller, promised to be a continuing window into this developing story line. It was kind of exciting when Henry left Rocky for a job with Mayor Lindsay, but as the show lost interest in Betty it lost interest in Henry, and a whole fruitful dramatic path was back-burnered. Now Henry is planning to run for office, which means he probably won’t be around for Lindsay’s remarkable David Garth-engineered, Amazing Mets-fueled re-election in 1969, when a 43 percent plurality won him a catastrophic second term.
Instead, we’re watching Don and the gang as they mark the liberal Stations of the Cross of the late sixties. But while we generally think of the sixties as a period when things went to hell, they didn’t go to hell for everybody: Nixon won, and he won with the help of Haldeman and Ehrlihman and Roger Ailes and Ron Ziegler, all of them products of the Mad Men milieu. Too bad that Weiner has let this story line slacken. I had hoped that by the end of the final season, as 1969 drew to a close, we would be seeing Pete Campbell taking the first steps that would eventually lead him to his indictment for obstruction of justice in the Watergate conspiracy. (On the other hand, Pete is moving to Los Angeles!)
I had hoped that by the end of Mad Men‘s final season, we would see Pete Campbell taking the first steps toward his eventual indictment for obstruction of justice.