Something Happening Here
Democratic Conventions 1968-1972
The 12th in a 20 part series on the Democratic National Conventions
1968: The Policeman is Here to Preserve Disorder
Dates: August 26 - 29, 1968
Venue: International Amphiteatre, 4220 South Halsted, Chicago IL. Site of two previous Democratic Conventions (1952 and 1956). It was torn down in 1999 and is now the site of an Aramark plant.
Events: To call 1968 turbulent is putting things mildly. Only days after President Lyndon Johnson announced he wasn’t running for re-election, Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated in Memphis. Two months later, Robert Kennedy would be shot in Los Angeles.
Kennedy had been built gaining momentum in the presidential race before his death. His charisma and nostalgia for his brother could have propelled him to the nomination.
As it was, Anti-War forces were divided, although Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota valiantly tried. The face of the establishment was Vice President Hubert Humphrey, also from Minnesota.
In the end, Humphrey won with 1759 delegates to McCarthy’s 601. Humphrey chose Maine Senator Ed Muskie as his running mate.
In one of the great gaffes of all time, Chicago Mayor Richard J Daley said “Gentleman, lets’ get this straight once and for all. The policeman is not here to create disorder, the policeman is here to preserve disorder.”
And preserve it they did, turning Michigan Avenue into a virtual war zone filled with tear gas. The Chicago Seven, especially Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, became the face of the counterculture movement. The youthful protesters called themselves “Yippies” (Youth International Party). They nominated a large pig, which they named “Pigasus”, as a way to show their contempt for the political system.
Procedurally, there were several interesting developments. The biggest was the end of the “unit rule” which required state delegations to vote en bloc. Baptist Minister Channing Phillips made history as the first African American to receive votes for President at a national political convention. And McCarthy delegates attempted to pass a strong anti-war plank, but Johnson and his allies were able to kill it.
Celebrity Watch: Paul Newman and playwright Arthur Miller were delegates for Eugene McCarthy.
November 1968: Humphrey’s links to an increasingly unpopular President Johnson were too difficult to overcome, and he lost narrowly to former Vice President Richard Nixon (warned you he’d be back). Nixon won the electoral college 301 to 191. George Wallace won several states in the Deep South to pick up 46 votes. In the popular vote, Nixon won by just over a half million votes: 31.78 million to 31.27 million.
1972: Fear and Loathing at the Beach
Dates: July 10 - 13, 1972
Venue: Miami Beach Convention Center, 1901 Convention Center Drive, Miami Beach FL. Built in 1955, the building has undergone several renovations, but it still exists. Notable guests of the facility include Martin Luther King Jr, Billy Graham and Muhammad Ali. It hosted two Republlcan conventions (1968 and 1972) as well as the 1972 Democratic Convention.
Events: After the chaos of 1968, the Democratic Party set up a reform committee led by Senator George McGovern of South Dakota. In a surreal twist, the very reforms that McGovern established would help him earn the nomination.
The 1972 convention was markedly different than past conventions: 40 percent of delegates were women, 15 percent were African American and 21 percent were under 30.
McGovern was able to use the momentum of the anti-war movement to propel himself to the nomination. McGovern received 57 percent. His nearest competitor, Washington Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson received 17 percent. New York Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm received 152 votes for President.
McGovern chose Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri as his running mate. Eagleton withdrew three weeks later, when it was revealed he had undergone electric shock therapy. McGovern chose Sargeant Shriver (Maria’s dad) to replace him as VP.
Frances “Sissy” Farenthold, a state legislator from Texas, actually earned 404 votes for Vice President, almost 14 percent of the total vote.
The 1972 platform was one of the most liberal ever drafted by a major political party. It called from ending the Vietnam War, abolishing the electoral college and passing the Equal Rights Amendment. It was also the first platform to support Gay rights.
Celebrity Watch: Shirley MacLaine was a huge supporter of George McGovern and was a delegate to the convention. Gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson was also present, covering the election for “Rolling Stone.” His “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail” remains one of the best (and most surreal) books ever written about American politics.
November 1972: McGovern would crash and burn in one of the most spectacular defeats in US history. Richard Nixon defeated him by 520 to 17 in the electoral college. McGovern did not even carry his home state, winning only Massachusetts and Washington DC. The popular vote blow out was equally large, 47 million to 29 million. Ironically, in less than two years, both Nixon and Spiro Agnew would be out of office, permanently disgraced. When Nixon resigned in August 1974, Gerald Ford became the 38th President.