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Mad Men Disses George Romney; Is It Historically Accurate?

Submitted by on April 3, 2012 – 8:09 am5 Comments
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Mad Men took an unexpected turn into contemporary politics on Sunday evening when a man working for the mayor of New York called Romney “a clown.” Not that Romney though– the episode took place in the summer of 1966, and the Romney in question was Mitt‘s father George Romney, the former governor of Michigan. Given creator Matthew Weiner‘s obsessive commitment to historical detail, I had to wonder: is there historical truth to bad blood between Romney and NYC Mayor John Lindsay?

On Twitter, Mitt’s son Tagg Romney scolded the “lib media” for “mocking [his] dead grandpa.” But John R. Bohrer at Capital New York says that the rift between Lindsay and Romney was very real. Romney, who at the time was the presumed Republican presidential nominee for 1968, consolidated the support of almost every major New York Republican, including Governor Rockefeller and Senator Javitz– but not Lindsay:

Lindsay remained conspicuously neutral throughout Rockefeller’s pleas for moderates to unite behind Romney. They sowed dissension through the dime-dropping of an anonymous aide explaining to newspapers and magazines that Lindsay was waiting for Rockefeller to make his move. And then there was the humiliating episode picked up by Time.

It was the New York leg of Romney’s 1967 tour of American ghettos. Lindsay agreed to meet with the Michigan governor in private at Gracie Mansion, but declined to walk with him through Bedford-Stuyvesant and Harlem. A reporter jokingly asked whether the mayor was worried he might ‘brainwash’ the governor like the generals and diplomatic corps did on his visit to Vietnam. Lindsay laughed and called the reporter “naughty.”

The snub—and the laugh—were heard around the country.

Of course, the “brainwashing” slip would come months after this episode is supposedly set.

In all, I was bothered in an artistic sense that the “Romney” line wasn’t entirely necessary to the plot or themes (unless George becomes a guest character later on in the season), so this seems more like a grab for attention (albeit a very small one coming from a single line of dialogue).

Anyway, Tagg, don’t be too upset: the character bashing your grandfather was Harry Francis, the guy stupid enough to be Betty’s future second ex-husband. Being insulted by him is practically a compliment.

Instead of being upset, I think we should be more scandalized by the fact that 45 years ago, the Republican presidential frontrunner could be a Mexican-born, government-expanding, income-tax-instituting, self-described moderate who went out of his way to explore the ultra-poor slums of the US. Is that the America everyone’s talking about restoring?

What do you think? Did Mad Men disrespect George Romney?

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