Bare Chairs and Ham

In 1980, in response to the great disaster that was the Carter administration, a crowded field of Republicans ran for the GOP’s presidential nomination. When it became as clear to liberal Representative John Anderson as it was to everybody else that he couldn’t defeat Governor Ronald Reagan, he picked up his marbles and ran as an Independent. President Carter recognized the threat posed by another liberal in the race and warned, “A vote for John Anderson is a vote for Ronald Reagan.” Rep. Anderson responded with the soaring political rhetoric: “A vote for John Anderson is a vote for John Anderson.” His policy advisors were as adept as his speechwriters; the cornerstone of his campaign platform was a 50 cents per gallon gasoline tax. Amazingly enough, he didn’t win.

One group that took Rep. Anderson’s campaign seriously was the League of Women Voters, which invited the Independent candidate to participate in its presidential debate. A miffed President Carter stayed in the Rose Garden, refusing to benefit Rep. Anderson’s campaign with the credibility that the President felt his presence would bestow. In President Carter’s stead, the LWV placed an empty chair on the debate dais. Saturday Night Live responded with a skit about the how the chair went on to win the election.

Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Ebert is facing a dilemma similar to Jimmy Carter’s. The incumbent’s write-in opponent, Hamilton “Ham” Sandwich, has challenged him to a debate. Will Paul Ebert debate Ham Sandwich? Or will he follow Jimmy Carter’s strategy, and refuse to acknowledge Ham Sandwich as a worthy opponent? How did that legitimater-than-thou position work for President Carter? Just some food for thought.

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