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Forty years ago, the Democratic Party stopped being a democratic party. Race and sex, rather than votes, determined who determined the party’s nominee at its 1972 convention. That the most egregious instance of quotas trumping the will of voters involved the Illinois delegation underscores the convention’s repercussions on our current polarized politics.
Barack Obama four years ago, like George McGovern forty years ago, waged an antiwar campaign against a more establishment Democrat associated with that war. The senator from Illinois, like the senator from South Dakota, was his party’s second-leading vote-getter during the primary season. Both 2008 and 1972 were strangely dubbed watershed years for democratizing the political process. Yet Hillary Clinton in 2008, like Hubert Humphrey in 1972, won the popular vote during the primaries only to lose the delegate count during the Democratic National Convention. Meet the new party bosses, same as the old party bosses.
The seeds of victory for the two most radical nominees in major-party history were sown by rules imposed as a result of 1968’s tumultuous convention. In response to the Windy City’s convention commotion, a committee chaired by George McGovern made it easier for the rioters outside the gathering in 1968 to influence the party inside the gathering in 1972 and beyond. That they did. Outside the ill-fated Chicago convention, Bill Ayers targeted policemen with marbles fired from his slingshot and Tom Hayden got arrested for deflating a squad car’s tire. The former subsequently served with Barack Obama on numerous Chicago-area boards and the latter was one of the four founders behind Progressives for Obama. Other radicals in the Second City’s streets included Mike Klonsky, who blogged on an Obama campaign’s website, Carl Davidson, who organized the event where Obama first publicly spoke against the Iraq War, and Bernardine Dohrn, who hosted the first fundraiser of Obama’s political career along with her husband Bill Ayers. The mob rules.
For a sign of the symbolic, and substantive, changing of the guard, the example of Richard J. Daley, who opened the 1968 convention and was stripped of his credentials at the 1972 convention, suffices. The Chicago mayor’s Cook County slate won election as delegates to 1972’s Democratic National Convention. But in Miami, the convention recognized a slate led by Jesse Jackson, who hadn’t even cast a ballot in Illinois’ Democratic primary. The 59 Daley-led delegates had won their place at the convention via the voters of Cook County. But the credentials committee found the victorious slate lacking in women and minorities. So, duly elected delegates were replaced with ones who had been defeated or had never appeared on ballots in the first place. The forces of George McGovern invoked a quota rule devised by the McGovern Commission to disqualify delegates hostile to George McGovern.
“There won’t be any riots in Miami because the people who rioted in Chicago are on the Platform Committee,” writer Ben Wattenberg quipped. Indeed, the Democrats crafted a platform aimed more at provoking Middle America than at winning them over. The document called for prisoners’ rights, federal funding for local food cooperatives, the adoption of an Ethnic Studies curriculum bill, and for the public to “refrain from buying or eating non-union lettuce.”
Were these the demands of a national political party or a splinter group holed up in the student union?
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