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The riotous behavior outside in Chicago moved indoors in Miami. Under McGovern Commission rules, activists playfully nominated for vice president migrant-worker organizer Cesar Chavez, Yippee Jerry Rubin, anti-corporate crusader Ralph Nader, Communist dictator Mao Zedong, and sitcom character Archie Bunker. The joke was on them. The not-ready-for-primetime convention pushed its nominee’s acceptance speech to 2:48 a.m. Eastern time, too late for the morning papers but peak viewing hours for a ten-year-old boy in Honolulu. McGovern began his acceptance speech by joking, “I assume that everyone here is impressed with my control of this Convention that my choice for vice president was challenged by only 39 other nominees.” But the chaos reflected his control in that the commission he had chaired enabled the pranksters to derail the process.
Whereas the former law professor promised “hope” and “change,” the history professor pledged “hopeful change” in his acceptance speech. McGovern, a veteran of the Henry Wallace presidential campaign influenced by the writings of Owen Lattimore, and Obama, an Alisnkyite organizer during his twenties, both emphasized America’s defects and “change” as a panacea. Just as Democrats advanced a “fifty-state strategy” in 2008, McGovern told the throngs, “We’re not conceding a single state to Richard Nixon.” But Nixon ultimately conceded just one state to McGovern—hence the ubiquitous Watergate-era bumper-sticker: “Don’t blame me—I’m from Massachusetts.” America wasn’t ready for George McGovern in 1972. They were in 2008.
McGovern recalled, “I opened the doors of the Democratic Party and 20 million people walked out.” But a smaller party, with fewer of those pesky Southerners and blue-collar workers, proved easier to co-opt than those diverse coalitions that had elected Democratic presidents to sit in the White House for 28 of 36 years between 1932 and 1968. George McGovern lost an election. He created a party.
The quota system he implemented still reigns. Dividing America into groups, not uniting them in one big group, was McGovern’s forte—and Obama’s too. The Democratic Party of California, for instance, which had made the wrong kind of news in 1972 when almost one in five of its delegates was on welfare, this year calls for an equal division between male and female convention proxies, and for a delegation 16 percent African American, 29 percent Hispanic, 12 percent lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, and ten percent handicapped to achieve “a representative balance.”
The mania for representation leaves many traditional Democrats without much representation. “All pretense of trying to win a majority of the white working class has been effectively jettisoned,” Thomas Edsall reported in the New York Times late last year. In its place, Obama’s reelection campaign will forge “a center-left coalition made up, on the one hand, of voters who have gotten ahead on the basis of educational attainment—professors, artists, designers, editors, human resources managers, lawyers, librarians, social workers, teachers and therapists—and a second, substantial constituency of lower-income voters who are disproportionately African-American and Hispanic.” What was once the party’s base is now a constituency that goes uncourted.
Obama’s is not your grandfather’s Democratic Party. It’s George McGovern’s Democratic Party.
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