Wednesday, April 2, 2008

1968? Not So Much

A lot's been said about this year's resemblance to the mind-blowing year 1968 in terms of Democratic squabbling and the odds that the election will be thrown to the Republican. I decided to do a little reviewing of history.

First, factions. I think Dems in 1968 were much farther apart. The liberal left (including Hollywood) supported McCarthy, the antiwar candidate who had surprised LBJ in New Hampshire. When RFK entered the race shortly afterward, he did not really siphon off those supporters. His support derived from minorities, both religious and ethnic. He also won many important endorsements, including that of Cesar Chavez. Despite this, his campaign lacked traction. The middle-of-the-road traditional Democrats supported Humphrey. The Southern Democrats and a surprising number of blue-collar Dems supported George Wallace.

Although we like to suppose that RFK had the nomination wrapped up at the time of his assassination in June, in fact, his delegate count was well below Humphrey's, and McCarthy topped him in popular vote. And despite RFK's delegates' being split between McCarthy and late entrant McGovern at the convention, Humphrey won easily on the first ballot. He had never actually competed in the primaries; his rise was due to the party machinery, not the democratic process. Following 1968, the Democrats added a number of primaries to the mix, leading eventually to the system we have today.

On the other side, although Nixon was the clear front-runner, neither he nor Reagan had the delegates needed prior to the convention. Despite a fight to stop him, Nixon won on the first ballot. Coming out of the conventions, he was ahead of Humphrey by double digits in the polls. The election itself was much tighter, and the results were not clear until the morning after.

So despite the blather that passes for news today, the 1968 convention was not brokered on either side. Since John Edwards has so few delegates to broker, it's unlikely that this year's convention will be brokered, either. Even the antiwar mood is dissimilar; people largely agree that once again, "It's the economy, stupid."

But there's still hope. We could get together and run a flying pig on the ballot.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

On the same, or similar topic, see in today's NYTimes:
Talks about how Hillary staying in might actually benefit the party by continuing to bring people in to the process.