Longing for Non-Scripted Conventions
The last spirited national political convention occurred in Chicago. That 1968 national Democratic meeting led to the scripted and arguably non eventful conventions of today. Full of pomp and circumstance, conventions today focus on the coronation of the presidential nominee.
Up to then, the delegates won by presidential candidates in the primaries were important - if not critical - in determining the approach the party would take on the issues. Planks (various positions on issues) of the Party Platform were determined in great measure during the debate at these national conventions. Although not always pretty, many voters would watch the action gavel to gavel.
In 1968 the anti-war sentiment was strong in regard to the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Prior to the convention Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy had been assassinated in separate and unrelated incidents. Both were leaders in the civil rights and anti-war movements.
Tom Hayden, the founder of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) along with Abbie Hoffman, Allen Ginsberg, Jerry Rubin, was encouraging young people to get involved in politics.
These people, along with three others, were arrested after the convention and became known as the Chicago 7 when they went to trial on a charge of crossing state lines to incite a riot.
The platform battles that occurred within the convention center took a back seat to the tear-gas-filled streets and baton wielding policemen with dogs, whose actions in controlling the crowd were captured on film for TV for all to see.
Inside, Sen. Eugene McCarthy (MN) addressed the convention and Sen. Hubert Humphrey (MN) would cement his support in achieving the party nomination for president. He would choose Sen. Edmund Muskie (ME) as his vice-president running mate.
The SDS was demanding an anti-war plank and Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago was busy using his influence to try to put the best face on a horrific situation.
Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon would go on to win the election. Although the 1968 convention scarred the memories of many, it was not the first time uncontrolled events had occurred during a Democratic National Convention.
In 1948 then South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond staged a walk-out over a split on a plank in the platform between states' rights and civil rights.
These states' rights or (Dixicrats) supporters went on to hold their own convention in Birmingham, Alabama, where they nominated Governor Thurmond for president. This southern support of states' rights led to a long-lasting split among Democrats.
While the headline in the Chicago Daily Tribune credited Republican Thomas E. Dewey with the victory, it was Democrat Harry S Truman, who believed in human rights, who won a close election. The South voted Republican in that election and to this day the Democrats are still battling for southern support.
Strom Thurmond as a Democrat Senator from South Carolina also led a filibuster of the 1957 Civil Rights Act and lost. He switched to Republican in 1964 and served until 2003, when he was 100 years old.
Today, money and marketing drives the campaign, and the discussion and resolution of various approaches to the issues by delegates takes a back seat. The emphasis on fund-raising has become so pronounced that tomorrow's campaign finance report filing deadline has become critical to the candidates running this year.
Now the scramble is on to be one of the early states on the primary schedule so that your vote still makes a difference as to who the nominee will be for your party.
Maryland has joined many others in moving their primary dates forward when the General Assembly voted to change the date to February 12 to coincide with Virginia. Unfortunately, many other states have their primaries earlier including delegate-rich California, New York, Texas and Florida.
The strategy of present day Democrat and Republican political advisors is to choose the nominee and show solidarity early. Then conduct a national convention that shows off their nominee in the best light.
Very little debate occurs on the planks that make up the platform of the party. Decisions are made as to where to seat the delegates, who speaks and when they speak way in advance of the convention.
Many long for national political conventions that are not scripted, ones in which the full range of positions on the issues is discussed and consensus is reached among the candidates and delegates.
Maybe, in spite of the early primaries, with many strong Democratic and Republican candidates in the running, the delegates will be split going into the 2008 conventions. The maneuvering that would result would be exciting to follow.
Heated debate and difference of opinions is never easy but it is healthy and essential for democracy. The war in Iraq, national health care, illegal immigration, and a national energy program deserve thorough discussion that leads to positive and effective action.
It is time to let debate occur and re-engage the voters.