Thank goodness for Richard Nixon.
Now those are five words I never thought I’d say.
And because I just did, my dyed-in-the-wool, United Paperworkers’ International Union card-carrying, straight-party-voting, Democrat of a dad is rolling in his grave.
Sorry Pops, but it’s true.
If Nixon hadn’t thumped Hubert Humphrey in the 1968 presidential election, Ted Hake and his wonderfully fun, pop-culture-oriented Hake’s Auctions might never had brightened our collecting days.
It’s as if a killer asteroid was whizzing straight toward Earth, threatening our very existence, and at the last possible moment it zigged instead of zagged and we were saved. With Hake, it was just that close.
Tricky Dick and a simple twist of political fate saved the collecting world from a deadly asteroid of boredom by giving us Hake and all the political buttons, Disney characters, toys, and fantastically kooky collectibles. And I’m not even exaggerating about any of this. Mostly.
It’s the fall of 1968, just months before the fateful presidential election. Humphrey is the incumbent vice president and Nixon is the Republican nominee who lost to JFK in the 1960 presidential election mostly because he looked sweaty during the first nationally televised debates. Americans will put up with a lot from their political candidates, but flop sweat is a deal breaker.
Anyway, Hake is working one of those wonderful jobs only Big Union Money can create in the 1960s. Autumn finds Hake with a UAW-CIO subsidized job as the assistant to the Vice Chairwoman of the Michigan Democratic State Central Committee. Clearly a high-powered gig with an obvious path to a cabinet position if his man, Humphrey, wins. “I could see myself in D.C.,” Hake says now.
And, if you squint hard enough and let your mind wander just far enough, you can see it too.
Hake would have been a perfect Washington bigwig, a regular Beltway Insider dazzling everyone within earshot with his wit and charm and fascinating stories about Teddy Roosevelt – his hero – at swanky White House ambassador dinners. He probably would have even passed along vintage political buttons – his passion – just to impress the Ambassador from Guam. Or someplace.
But Nixon won. And Humphrey returned home to Minnesota to become a senator.
As for Hake?
“What I saw was the unemployment office, I think on Woodard Avenue,” he says.
Fortunately for him – and us – Hake was turning out bi-monthly auctions on the side, laying the groundwork for an incredibly entertaining and fruitful career.
So instead of hobnobbing with The Elites, Hake was amusing himself, and others, with buttons, Disney collectibles and all sorts of toys during a marvelous auction run. You tell me which sounds like more fun?
Let’s face it, the Nixon years were not great.
Watergate and the whole obstruction of justice, abuse of power and contempt of Congress stuff was lousy. Spiro Agnew was no treat. And of course, Nixon’s resignation was embarrassing and caused even more angst and doubt in a country already grappling with political angst and doubt.
But hey, we got Ted Hake and Hake’s Auctions out of the deal, so it wasn’t a total loss.
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