Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Can the culture clash between Obama and Clinton supporters be bridged by November? Remembering the disasters of 1968, Harold Meyerson hopes so


June 5, 1968: The assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy didn't end the culture clash between his supporters and those of his antiwar presidential rival, Sen. Eugene McCarthy.

"[W]hen two distinct political groups, each convinced that it brings something new and historic to its party and its nation, campaign against each other, bringing them together is no easy task, even when no policy matters divide them."
--Harold Meyerson, in his Washington Post column today,
"Patching Up the Democrats"

Mrs. Clinton has already blundered into the subject of the ill-fated 1968 Democratic presidential race, which went through a famous series of convulsions of which she seemed blissfully unaware: the decision by little-known Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy to challenge President Lyndon Johnson's reelection bid on the issue of the Vietnam War; the president's abrupt decision not to run for reelection, leaving the field -- he thought -- to Vice President Hubert Humphrey; New York Sen. Robert Kennedy's long-delayed decision to enter the race; and then, in June, Senator Kennedy's assassination the night he won the California primary.

Harold Meyerson remembers that night with personal vividness:
Forty years ago tonight, I was one of a number of very young staffers on Eugene McCarthy's presidential campaign crammed into a Los Angeles hotel room, where we watched on television as Robert Kennedy, a few miles down Wilshire Boulevard at the Ambassador Hotel, claimed victory in the California primary. A few minutes later, the networks reported that Kennedy had been shot. The rest of the evening was a mix of anxiety, nausea, tears, misgivings and despair.

What Meyerson also recalls vividly is how different, and all but incompatible, the ranks of McCarthy and Kennedy supporters were while both candidates were in the race, even though "on matters of policy, there were really no significant differences" between the candidates.

We'll never know how that split would have played out. Meyerson notes, "McCarthy himself had planned to stand down and back Kennedy if Kennedy won California and began racking up establishment endorsements." But of course circumstances prevented that from happening.

Then Kennedy was killed. And there was no one to go over to, no one who could lead the antiwar forces to victory in Chicago or the general election. McCarthy did not drop out, and those in the Kennedy column who couldn't stand him persuaded George McGovern to be a last-minute candidate simply to show the flag in Chicago. Four years later, the McCarthy people and the Kennedy people of '68 came together to be the core of McGovern's successful campaign for the nomination. By then, though, Richard Nixon was president, the Vietnam War still raged, and the onetime Gene and Bobby loyalists had to think for a moment to recall what it was that had once so divided them.

I tell this tale, of course, not merely to remind us that the better world of which Robert Kennedy so movingly spoke died aborning 40 years ago in Los Angeles. I also tell it because I see a dynamic similar to that between the Kennedy and McCarthy campaigns in the relationship between Barack Obama's and Hillary Clinton's equally historic campaigns, and because today's Democrats have been given a chance -- as they were not in 1968 -- to come together and make the kinds of changes they have only dreamed of over the past four decades. You would think -- well, hope -- that after 40 years, this time they'd get it right.

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At 11:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And just remember this:

The Zealots and True Believers in the "complete, final and binding" dominion of the White Male Low Church Christian Power Structure would love to see nothing better than Barack Obama's assaination as, in essence, the spark whence fans the flames of RAHOWA (Racial Holy War).

Said RAHOWA all too unlikely to be put down by National Guard and Reserves troops, what with the lion's share of these companies in Iraq and/or Afghanistan; hence, making such easy work for the neo-Nazi "militias," "lone wolf" "sleepers" and others weird and unwholesome.

Dominated, it turns out, by poor, undereducated or homeschooled and easily-influenced "white trash" with little in the way of realistic opportunity for advancement thanks to their poverty, fecundity and stupidity of the highest quality--cannon-fodder, as it were, for the Archie Bunker/Alf Garnett element.


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