There are reasons to be nervous about this Democratic Party convention in Philadelphia.
The Chicago convention of 1968 should stand as a warning of what happens when brute power and unbending perfection collide. For those of us growing up in the hippie era – and that includes both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders – the antiwar candidacy of “Clean Gene” McCarthy was an idealistic rallying point that stood in contrast to the insider run of Bobby Kennedy, who, in retrospect, would have advanced many of our positions had he not been assassinated in Los Angeles.
Only months earlier, we were ecstatic when President Lyndon B. Johnson announced he would not run for reelection. Here was our opening, we thought, the big break for the Revolution of Peace & Love.
Instead, LBJ’s loyal vice president, Hubert H. Humphrey, won the nomination at an event marred by violent confrontations between police backed by the Illinois National Guard and peaceful demonstrators. Yippies were simply the most visible and outrageous of the protesters, but the divisions ran deep.
The result was that Richard M. Nixon won the White House, in part by clandestinely scuttling the Paris Peace Accord, and the Vietnam war escalated in Indochina. As a consequence, about 21,000 American troops died during Nixon’s administration, as did many, many more Vietnamese.
We can’t let the party split again and let Donald Trump slip through. Too much is at stake. Nixon, at least, knew the importance of the office and respected it.
Sanders’ campaign has heightened an awareness of the perils arising from the growing disparity in American wealth between the super-rich – the One Percent – who own as much as the rest of the population combined. That’s no foundation for a stable, sustained democracy. The drastic shift in wealth, be reminded, is a consequence of tax measures advocated by President Reagan and the Presidents Bush, which in effect opened the public treasury to the super-rich. Look who pays.
In getting this message before the public and rallying opposition, Sanders has performed an invaluable service. When his campaign turned to vilifying Clinton, however, he crossed a line, one I hope doesn’t prove fatal to the cause.
Quite simply, none of his proposals has a chance in hell of becoming reality unless Democrats win the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives in November, hopefully with a lot of governorships and legislatures as well. His measures will also require a sympathetic Supreme Court, which simply can’t happen without those Democratic victories.
Sanders needs to do some backpedaling and marshal his backers into voting for Clinton, rather than expressing their anger by voting for a billionaire. He needs to enlighten them that no president can achieve the program he’s promised without a supportive Congress – and he can easily point to Barack Obama’s heroic attempts to govern in spite of the disloyal opposition of the past six years.
Clinton, in turn, must find ways to welcome Sanders and his Bernings as wings to victory.
In other words, a working coalition is needed, rather than stinking self-righteousness and rancor.
Another reason for nervousness asks how vulnerable Clinton is to the email investigation or the financial maneuverings of the Clinton Foundation.
As I look at her and Sanders in a hippie-era perspective, I recall the intense discussions we had around the time of the Chicago convention regarding the Establishment, aka the System. Could we work within it toward the goals we desired? Or would we need to drop out and work through alternate channels?
Clinton, the pragmatist, chose to labor within the system and, as a consequence, has a resume of high achievement. No other Secretary of State, for one thing, ever faced more demanding challenges than she has. She earned respect on both sides of the aisle in the Senate and got things done. And she knows all about the White House, pro and con. Quite simply, she’s the most qualified candidate in existence.
As they once said of others, “Yes. But can he get elected?”
Sanders, in contrast, has taken a largely alternative route. As mayor of Burlington, a relatively wealthy hippie haven of 42,000 located a hop-skip-and-jump from Canada, he faced little of the power politics of a major metropolis and the expedient turns that can take. Ditto with the entire state of Vermont. In August, when I drive the width of the state, I encounter two traffic lights and a four-way stop or two. When it comes to being a chief executive officer, he really does begin to resemble a unicorn, as another member of my inner circle has insisted.
As the convention gets under way, many will be watching, for good reason, to see just how much of Sanders’ agenda has made its way into the platform.
And then the biggest sign of the direction to come should be revealed in Clinton’s choice of vice president.