The New Politics & the Democrats
In 1969 the Commission on Party Structure and Delegate Selection of the Democratic party set out to make basic revisions in party rules. Its purpose was to open the party to wider rank-and-file participation so that the nominee of future conventions might more accurately reflect the ideas and sentiments of the Democratic electorate. The chairman of the commission, George McGovern, was, he said, persuaded to run for his party’s Presidential nomination because major reforms were ultimately enacted. Later, after winning the nomination, he explained that it had been the reforms which made his victory possible.
But immediately after the reformed convention, opinion polls showed an unprecedented defection of rank-and-file Democrats to a Republican candidate who previously had been distinguished as one of the most unpopular Presidents in modern history. While most national Democratic leaders endorsed their nominee and worked to bring him additional support, Democratic leaders and party workers in scores of communities turned their backs on the national ticket. The candidate and his supporters—who had previously described the traditional party apparatus as an unrepresentative, outmoded shell—now pleaded for help from those upon whom they had lavished scorn. But it was too late. The revolution which had thrilled the reformers in July was already well on its way to bringing a counterrevolution in November.
With their effects on the electoral fortunes of the Democratic party no longer in doubt, the reforms have perhaps lost that sanctity which so long sheltered them from serious appraisal. Until now, the respectability and apparent idealism of their proponents have made criticism all but impossible. But it is now evident that serious criticism is deserved. The reforms have left one of the major institutions of American democracy in a shambles. They have, moreover, suggested the dangers in the broader current of political ideas from which the reforms were drawn—a current which still has powerful influence not only in our political life, but also in our educational, religious, and economic affairs.
From the time it was set up in early 1969 by Fred Harris, then chairman of the Democratic National Committee, the McGovern commission was an instrument of the New-Politics wing of the party. Harris, himself a Humphrey nominee, but nursing his own political ambitions, did not guard the interests of the Humphrey wing of the party with an unwavering vigilance. He appointed McGovern as the commission’s chairman. Senator Harold Hughes, a key supporter of the McCarthy campaign, was chosen as its vice-chairman, and Robert Nelson, who previously had been McCarthy’s administrative assistant, became the staff director. Nelson’s somewhat moderate inclinations were more than compensated for by two energetic and militant New-Politics ideologues—Ken Bode, director of research, and Eli Segal, chief counsel—whose view of the party was “reform or die.”
The twenty-eight members of the commission whom Harris selected did include representatives from the moderate wing of the party. But they were outweighed and outvoted by New-Politics liberals such as Fred Dutton, David Mixner of the Vietnam Moratorium Committee, and Congressman Don Fraser. (Reformers claimed they had even received a pledge from Harris not to appoint any people to the commission who would be “opposed to” reform—although nearly half of the delegates to the 1968 convention had voted against one of the key reform resolutions.) Will Davis, former chairman of the State Democratic Committee of Texas, was one of the few McGovern commission members who resisted the direction set by the leadership. But the skeptics had little influence at the occasional meetings of the commission—the real work was carried out under McGovern’s direction by the militant young staff.
In its early proceedings the commission took up the kinds of limited suggestions that might have been expected: ending the remaining hindrances to black participation in the South, establishing clear rules and open channels for party governance, and abolishing the unit rule. The objectives of the commission were consistently referred to as “recommendations.” Perhaps this moderate beginning disarmed some of the commission’s members. But a sudden and sweeping change occurred in the fall of 1969. A few months earlier the Presidential hopes of the leading contender for the 1972 nomination had skidded to disaster at Chappaquiddick. Almost at once the wide-open battle for the ’72 nomination began taking shape, and one of the first candidates to begin planning a campaign, according to press reports in September of 1969, was Senator McGovern.
During this same period the reform commission under McGovern was seized with unexpected vigor. At its November 1969 meeting the staff, with virtually no advance notice, introduced the proposal for a quota system for representation at national conventions. Quotas were established not only for blacks—a group which had historically been denied participation in Democratic party affairs in the South—but also for two newly classified victims of political discrimination, women and youth. An even more spectacular leap was taken in the commission’s definition of its own purposes and authority: it claimed for itself supreme decision-making power for reshaping the entire process of delegate selection to the national Democratic convention !
The reform commission had its origins in two resolutions of the 1968 convention. The first of these, the majority report of the credentials committee, called on the chairman of the Democratic National Committee to establish a special committee which would “. . . recommend to the Democratic National Committee such improvements as can assure even broader citizen participation in the delegate selection process.” The second resolution, a minority report of the rules committee, passed by a vote of 1,351 to 1,206—the narrowest margin of any convention decision. This required the call for the 1972 convention to include provisions that would assure all Democratic voters a “full and timely opportunity to participate” in the selection of convention delegates. But the resolution went on to explain such a process as one in which the unit rule “would not be used in any stage of the delegate selection process,” and also in which party primary, convention, or committee procedures could be employed, so long as they were open to public participation within the calendar year of the national convention.
A careful consideration of these resolutions reveals how far the McGovern commission exceeded its mandate in the guidelines it eventually imposed on the party. First, it is clearly stated that the commission must be responsible to the Democratic National Committee. There is no suggestion in either resolution that the convention was considering a quota system of representation for blacks—whose role in the party had been a subject of historic concern by reformers—and certainly not such a system for women or youth. (In fact, an earlier reform effort which was sometimes claimed as a precedent by the McGovern commission—the Special Equal Rights Committee chaired by Governor Richard Hughes—had specifically rejected quotas in drawing up its report to the 1968 convention.) Neither of these resolutions hinted at the restrictions against participation in delegate selection by state party officials which appear in the McGovern guidelines. There is a specific reference to the validity of procedures whereby party committees select delegates, although such procedures were virtually outlawed by the McGovern commission. Finally, there is an unambiguous mandate for striking down the unit rule in delegate selection. The commission sidestepped the logical application of this section to the winner-take-all primary—a curious decision which proved to be decisive in McGovern’s nomination in Miami.
The quota proposal first appeared at the same time that the commission was redefining its mandate; it was adopted at the November 1969 meeting by the margin of a single vote. The reformers have since denied that they intended to create a quota system, or that such a system was eventually put into effect. Their formula required state parties to “encourage participation [of blacks, women, and youth]—including representation on the national convention delegation in reasonable relationship to the group’s presence in the population of the state.” The full import of this proposition became clear in its application. When the commission issued its official interpretation of the meaning of this guideline to state Democratic chairmen, the phrase “to encourage” was dropped. Instead it spelled out that the representation of the chosen groups in reasonable relationship to their population was a “requirement” which state parties had to meet. Moreover, a later administrative memo issued by the commission and endorsed by the now National Chairman Lawrence O’Brien asserted that “. . . whenever the proportion of women, minorities, and young people is less than the proportion of these groups in the total population and the delegation is challenged . . . such a challenge will constitute a prima facie showing of violation of the guidelines, and the state party along with the challenged delegation, has the burden of showing that the state party took full and affirmative action to achieve such representation. . . .”
One can hardly tell whether most of the commission members knew at the beginning that in effect they were establishing a quota system and sought to disguise it, or whether they were themselves confused about the implications of what they did. It does seem likely, however, that McGovern knew. He later boasted to an interviewer from the National Journal: “The way we got the quota thing through was by not using the word ‘quotas.’” At McGovern’s suggestion, a footnote was appended to the guidelines on representation which demonstrates a unique use of language that distinguishes New-Politics spokesmen from the old-line party bosses:
It is the understanding of the Commission that this [proportional representation] is not to be accomplished by the mandatory imposition of quotas.
The true purpose of this amendment is suggested by the fact that those voting for it included the militant minority on the commission which openly advocated strict quotas.
The process by which the McGovern commission gained full authority over the reform process was equally remarkable. The commission staff was clearly aware that it might encounter resistance and even a veto against some of its more drastic proposals from the Democratic National Committee. On November 3, 1969 the staff posed the following questions in a memo to Chairman McGovern:
The DNC is having a meeting in January 1970. Do we want to submit our guidelines to them as a “report,” as mandated by the convention . . .? If submitted to the DNC and rejected, what are the consequences? [Emphasis added.]
But the decision was made to circumvent the DNC. The rationalization for this appears in the official commission report:
Because the Commission was created by virtue of actions taken at the 1968 Convention, we believe that our legal responsibility extends to that body, and that body alone. We view ourselves as the agent of that convention on all matters related to delegate selection. Unless the 1972 Convention chooses to review any steps the Commission has taken, we regard our guidelines for delegate selection as binding on the states.
Even more remarkably, the DNC soon gave in to the reformers’ interpretation. There were, to be sure, some muffled objections from figures outside the committee. Hubert Humphrey, some AFL-CIO leaders, and others were known to have believed that the reformers had exceeded their mandate, and that their guidelines would damage the party in 1972. But such misgivings were overridden when the reformers gained an unlikely collaborator, who proved decisive to the New-Politics drive for control of the party. On May 18, 1972 Joseph Califano, counsel to the Democratic National Committee, wrote a memo to Chairman O’Brien endorsing the McGovern commission’s claim to complete authority over the delegate-selection procedures. Only the delegates to the 1972 convention, he averred, could alter the reform guidelines in any way. This memo began a pattern of concession which Califano and O’Brien followed right through to the Miami convention.1
On February 19, 1971, a critical Democratic National Committee meeting was convened to authorize a call for the 1972 convention. (The call is a document listing the apportionment of convention delegates, the rules for delegate certification, and other matters necessary to the organization of a national convention.) For the reform guidelines to have had binding status on the state parties for the 1972 convention, they had to be incorporated into the call. Here Califano argued that the guidelines were “not within the powers of this Committee [the DNC], or anybody except the 1972 convention, to change.” The committee, dutiful though from the record apparently somewhat bewildered, adopted the guidelines, and the reformers were exultant. “The guidelines were adopted by the Democratic National Committee without a dissenting vote,” they proclaimed. No wonder: because of Califano’s presentation, there had been no real vote at all.
A final opportunity for a democratic review of the guidelines came at the meeting of the credentials committee of the 1972 convention. The credentials committee is a creature of the convention—and even the reformers had acknowledged that the convention could overturn their guidelines. But by the time the 1972 convention assembled, the new guidelines already had been put into wide effect. The state parties had succumbed to the combined pressure of the commission staff and DNC officials. Many of the delegates who came to the credentials committee would have been calling into question their own legitimacy and the legitimacy of their state’s convention delegations had they raised objections at that point. Nevertheless, Califano and O’Brien again took measures to avoid debate.
The McGovern commission rules, Califano told the credentials committee, are “. . . the rules that have been set up and adopted by your national party. They are no longer the McGovern Commission Rules, or the Fraser Commission Rules. They are the Democratic Party Rules.” The credentials committee deferred to his opinion, with the result that the new rules were never in any form brought before the 1972 convention. The party had been radically transformed by an agency which through bluff and maneuver had successfully avoided all mechanisms of democratic review.
The cooperation of party professionals such as O’Brien and Califano was decisive to the reformers’ success. For some time the reformers had believed, with evident reason, that party officials were working against them. Their response had been to invoke threats of party splits and memories of convention chaos to get their way. When the possibility of conflict with the DNC seemed likely, Ken Bode left the McGovern commission to set up an independent organization—the Center for Political Reform—financed by Stewart Mott and other wealthy liberals. Bode announced that a purpose of his organization would be to “research the ballot requirement for a supplemental line (fourth party) at the Presidential level in each state for 1972.” The McGovern commission itself broadcast fears of a split in its official materials:
If we are not an open party, if we do not represent the demands of change, then the danger is not that people will go to the Republican party, it is that there will no longer be a way for people committed to orderly change to fulfill their needs and desires within our traditional political system. It is that they will turn to third- and fourth-party politics or the anti-politics of the street.
Party leaders were vulnerable to such intimidation because of the pervasive belief that it had been the defections of McCarthy liberals which cost the Democrats victory in 1968. Together with most commentators they ignored the numerically more significant defections of blue-collar and Southern voters to Nixon and Wallace.2 Nor did they acknowledge that the style and substance of the New-Politics movement—which they were so willing to conciliate—were among the greatest causes of these defections among traditional Democratic voters. One wonders whether an even more dramatic demonstration of this political reality will be convincing.
The reluctance of party officials to oppose the guidelines—whether they acted out of fear or confusion—is well appreciated by the reformers themselves. According to Bob Nelson, staff director to the McGovern commission, “Had the National Committee put our recommendations to a vote in 1969, they wouldn’t have passed. We were able to wait until the state parties had begun to act on our proposals. Then the reforms became an accomplished fact.”
“We always suspected,” he added, “that our mandate wasn’t as strong as some people said it was.”
How did the McGovern reforms contribute to the domination of the convention by the New-Politics forces? A small though significant portion of their majority was gained through direct exploitation of some of the most questionable of the new rules. But perhaps even more decisive were the indirect ways in which the McGovernites benefited from their dual role as authors of the rules and players in the game.
The chief complaint of the McCarthy forces at the 1968 convention was that the “old” politicians who devised and administered the election procedures were also partisans for a particular side. One result of the McGovern reforms was simply to reverse the roles. In 1972 it was the New-Politics faction which more or less dominated the delegate elections—elections about which they were far from disinterested. For a full year after he had decided to run for the nomination, McGovern remained as chairman of the reform commission. (This did not deter him, however, from supporting several measures which limited the influence of party officials in the delegate-selection process, supposedly in the interest of an authentic rank-and-file decision.) As the delegate selection process got underway, key staff members of the commission—notably Segal, Bode, and Richard Stearns—went to work as advisers to Democratic insurgents.
Those who framed the guidelines also served as their interpreters. The commission staff worked throughout the delegate-selection period advising state parties on the application of the new rules. The experience of the Democrats of Kentucky, a state not noted for the latest in liberal fashion, provides one illustration of how the McGovern forces exploited their position. The Kentucky Democratic leadership, anxious to comply fully with the rules, sent a representative to Washington early in 1972 to get firsthand guidance from the McGovern commission. He was somewhat dismayed when he was told that the rules required proportional representation by candidate preference in the election of delegates from each district. Nevertheless, his state party followed these instructions, and allowed McGovern supporters ten delegate seats, although they were a minority in every district. But in fact proportional representation was not required by the guidelines; it was only “recommended.” The McGovern camp understood this distinction and, brushing aside the “recommendation,” allowed no seats to the opposition minority in many places where Kentucky’s election system was used.
McGovern also gained a large bloc of votes in the credentials battles at the Miami convention. Most publicized were the 59 “Daley” delegates who were thrown out in favor of McGovern supporters from Chicago, although no one could question that the former had been duly chosen in an open, fair election. The challenge rested on a reform technicality: the Daley organization had not invited its opponents to participate in drawing up its slates. The opposition did have easy access to the ballot for its own slates, and in many areas actually ran candidates. Daley’s slate did not receive a preferential position on the ballot. Over 900,000 votes were cast in the primary, and the anti-Daley slates were massively defeated. At the Miami convention the reformers replaced the Daley delegation with a group largely committed to McGovern. This delegation was led by Jesse Jackson, who had not voted in the primary himself and who had not even been a registered Democrat. The challenge slate, it was later confirmed, had itself been drawn up at closed meetings . . . from which Daley supporters had been excluded!
The McGovern forces also benefited, although somewhat less directly, from the sheer confusion into which party leaders were thrown. The new rules were anything but self-explanatory: on numerous points they were even self-contradictory. In Georgia and South Carolina, for example, challenges were filed alleging that the state parties had failed to take “affirmative action” to assure adequate representation of women. Hearings were held by the credentials committee in both states. The hearing officers found that greater action to involve women had been taken by the South Carolina party than by the Georgia party, but held the former in violation, not the latter.
The rules were so confusing and, if vigorously applied, so demanding that nearly half of the 3,016 delegates were under challenge when the convention proceedings opened. Although this deluge of challenges bore down heavily on party regulars, it created little problem for the McGovernites since Eli Segal, who had helped frame the guidelines, was in charge of delegate operations for the McGovern campaign. . Segal’s work was made even easier in that credentials challenges for the National Women’s Political Caucus—the agency which brought the majority of all challenges—were handled by his own wife. Moreover, in states where McGovern forces had themselves violated the guidelines, the chosen slates were often allowed to go unchallenged.
Finally, the New-Politics convention coup was spurred by the whole thrust of the reforms toward eliminating the influence of party leadership. The guidelines went well beyond correcting past abuses of party “bosses.” In the past, party officials had all too often hand-picked the slates and committees. Now they were denied the right even to nominate candidates to run for election to such positions. Similar rules were devised to regulate slate-making, regardless of whether it was carried on by officials or private citizens. Indisputably, these practices had often involved abuses—particularly where slates were presented to closed conventions or committee meetings without real opportunity for amendment, and where the difficulties of getting opposition slates on the ballot were severe. But the reformers’ remedy exceeded a proper cure. It required that no group or individual could devise a slate to be submitted to the electorate without holding a publicly announced slate-making meeting in which anyone could participate, whether or not he shared the political outlook of those advancing the slate and, in fact, even if he was not a Democrat! A labor slate, by this logic, could not be formed without a public meeting allowing participation by management, a liberal slate without permitting the participation of conservatives, or a law-and-order slate without the meeting being open to H. Rap Brown and Jerry Rubin.
In response to these and other rules, many state parties turned to more plebiscitarian methods of electing convention delegates, especially primaries. Primary elections for convention delegates were used in 13 states in 1968; in 1972, 22 states employed this method. The primary system, although it may enable an aroused electorate to oust a clearly corrupt or unrepresentative machine, also gives an advantage to energetic minorities, since the masses of people do not vote in primaries. Furthermore, the vote in the 1972 primaries for candidates of the extremes—Wallace and McGovern—far exceeded the support those candidates could have been expected to receive in a general election.
As the convention approached Ken Bode proclaimed that “. . . the Democrats who convene in Miami will be the most representative group ever gathered in one spot in our party’s history.” Just how representative they actually were was unwittingly explained by Shirley MacLaine. Her own delegation—McGovern’s California delegation, second largest at the convention—looked “like a couple of high schools, a grape boycott, a Black Panther rally, and four or five politicians who walked in the wrong door.” Apparently many voters shared her impressions—if not her enthusiastic approval.
The anti-Daley delegation from Chicago was approved by the convention as fully representative in terms of the McGovern rules. Yet as Mike Royko, no Daley fan, has pointed out, it contained only three Poles and one Italian—from the city that has been the greatest stronghold of ethnic Democrats. The delegation from Iowa did not have even one farmer. And while Iowa has the highest proportion of senior citizens of any state except Florida, it had no delegates over sixty-five. New York’s delegation included only three representatives of organized labor, although New York has more union members than any other state. (To compensate for this distortion there were at least nine persons on the New York delegation who were publicly identified with the Gay Liberation movement.) A Washington Post survey, which described the convention delegates as a “new elite,” found that a full 39 per cent had taken some postgraduate work, as compared to a mere 4 per cent of the general population, and that the annual incomes of 31 per cent of the delegates exceeded $25,000, while those of another 31 per cent fell between $15,000 and $25,000. (A comparison of these figures with earlier figures cited by the McGovern commission itself suggests that the delegates to the ’72 convention may have been even wealthier than those who came to Chicago four years before.)
But, most significantly, the convention made its overwhelming choice a candidate who had won no more than 25 per cent of the total votes cast in primaries—fewer than Humphrey and only slightly more than those cast for the unfinished candidacy of George Wallace—and who had shown remarkably low standing in the polls during most of the period when he was capturing majorities or near-majorities in caucuses and conventions. On the other hand, firm supporters of Senator Henry Jackson accounted for only 2 or 3 per cent of the entire convention. Yet a Louis Harris report issued as the convention opened described Senator Jackson as the candidate whose stands on issues most clearly resembled the attitudes of the Democratic electorate.
The Miami convention may have included far higher proportions of women, blacks, and youth than any previous convention, but as crushing evidence from the polls soon proved, and as the election itself would confirm, the delegates were hardly representative of the political views of the Democratic electorate. What they did represent was the views of the affluent, the educated, and the supporters of New-Politics liberalism.
It is not surprising that the McGovern reforms should have led to so unrepresentative a convention, for in certain of their major aspects these reforms run counter to the spirit of responsible democracy. Thus the McGovern quotas, as virtually everyone who has given any thought to the subject has by now recognized, are unrepresentative even in their own terms. There are, after all, other categories besides blacks, women, and youth. If there are to be quotas, should they not be established for each of the biological categories in the population? And why should quotas be based exclusively on biological distinctions? There is surely as much political sense in having quotas by economic class, educational level, or cultural background. And if past exclusion is to be a criterion of preferential treatment, other groups have at least as good a claim as women and youth.
The fact is, however, that the purpose of the McGovern quotas was not to make the convention more representative of the Democratic electorate as a whole, but to favor the affluent liberals within the party and to diminish the influence of its lower-middle and working-class constituents.
Those who take up the vocation of politics, as Max Weber insisted, first must have an extraordinary amount of free time. Such time is readily available to the suburban housewives and the subsidized students who have provided so many second-level leaders and foot soldiers to the New-Politics movement—and who, in practice, are the “women” and the “young” singled out by the McGovern quotas. The working-class woman has no free time to speak of: she faces consuming responsibilities in the home—without the benefit of maids, appliances, and child-care services—and she often holds a job as well. As to the working-class youth, he also bears economic burdens which do not weigh on the charmed “kids” of the New Politics, and he hasn’t had formal training in law school or experience in the National Student Association to ease him into a political role. If working-class women and youths are to be represented in a political convention, it must in large measure be by professional politicians responsive to their interests or leaders of organizations dedicated to those interests, such as the labor movement. The effect, then, of guidelines that denied convention roles to hundreds of labor officials and party stalwarts was to discriminate against the lower classes by denying them adequate representation. The election results should have proved that these men cannot accurately be described as mere obstructions who come between the electorate and the more authentic leadership offered by the New-Politics movement.
Nor did the quotas for “women” and “youth” make the Democratic party more representative of even those two groups. Shirley MacLaine, Gloria Steinem, and Bella Abzug claimed to speak for women, but two weeks after the convention the polls showed that women opposed the McGovern ticket by two to one. The campus activists of the New Politics, with a shamelessness that could only have come from ignorance, put themselves forward as the voice of American youth, but the polls also showed Nixon winning support from half of the youth, and possibly more. Blacks, by contrast, were supporting the McGovern ticket in large proportions, but signs pointed to one of the lowest turnouts of black voters in recent history. For in place of the blacks from the NAACP chapters, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, or the Democratic organizations, the convention had brought forth leaders of the type of Jesse Jackson—the kind of TV militant who, as one black labor activist told a union meeting, “couldn’t lead a vampire to a blood bank.”
But the ultimate falsity of the quota system was proved by the treatment given to the women’s, black, and youth caucuses in Miami. Rather than drawing strength from these newly-liberated groups for his final push to the nomination, McGovern brushed them out of the way like so much leftover paper decoration. The newly-established black leaders claimed they were being ignored, and threatened to bolt to Shirley Chisholm or to sit out the campaign. The National Youth Caucus, a McGovern front, was embarrassed by its candidate’s sudden indifference to its carefully prepared challenge to the somewhat mature Connecticut delegation. The women’s caucus was stung by McGovern’s reversals on its South Carolina challenge and on abortion reform; these political sex objects reacted like lovers betrayed. “The miserable fact was that the women’s caucus was not a caucus in any meaningful sense,” wrote Germaine Greer, “they were in Miami as cards in McGovern’s hands, to be led or discarded as he wished—not as players at the table.”
It is troubling that a conception of democratic participation which is far more concerned with the demands of the political activist than it is with the needs of the ordinary citizen has gained such favor among liberals and Democrats. The McGovern commission reforms were clearly a product of this outlook, which in turn was a product of the ideological currents that arose in the New Left in the 1960’s. These included the notions that the average American had been brainwashed by the Establishment and was tainted by racism. Neither he nor his indigenous leaders could be fully trusted to make the best decisions for himself or the nation. Political decision-making had to be shifted into the hands of those who by virtue of superior education and the possession of “conscience”—an absolute moral quality never affected by the social interests of those it graced—could give some civilized shape to the malleable politics of the masses. Participatory democracy, as defined by the new politicians, meant in practice the opening of political institutions to greater influence for the militant, activist liberal. It meant restricting the influence of public officials, the labor leadership, and others whose strength was based on their ability to represent the mundane interests of their constituents.
The election of 1972 has demonstrated that the “democratization” of the Democratic party under the guidance of such notions has only served to make it less representative of the interests and wishes of the majority of Americans than it has ever been before. For a majority party in the United States—especially if it is, as the Democrats have traditionally been, a party of change—faces a particular difficulty: that of drawing together a variety of potentially hostile racial, economic, cultural, and regional elements into a more or less united front against the vast power of corporate conservatism. In many respects the requirements of a coalition party, which must serve as a mechanism for brokerage among various interests, run counter to the plebiscitarian and individualistic currents that have long nourished both liberalism and radicalism in this country. The ethos of the New Politics in particular is hostile to the very idea of such a party. It has raised the social experience of its own affluent, educated constituency to what is, if not a world view, then at least a powerful conviction about the future of American politics. In this view, most of the “old” social problems which produced a politics of bread-and-butter self-interest are solved by the new affluence, or are well on their way to solution. The old interest groups—save perhaps for the blacks—are therefore superfluous. New forces are arising, not out of earthly needs, but out of the desires of those who have transcended such needs and are motivated only by the wish to do good.
But of course these new forces themselves constitute an interest group which differs from the “old” interest groups chiefly in its refusal to acknowledge the degree to which it hungers for political power and patronage. Unless steps can now be taken to restore the disaffected and disenfranchised elements of the Democratic party to influence, the party will remain in the control of this new interest group, and the Democrats will become the voice of an affluent minority speaking for and responsive to no one but itself.
1 It can be argued that two procedural rulings at the convention by Califano and O'Brien were decisive in securing McGovern's nomination. Both of these were made under pressure of threats by top McGovern leaders that they would wreck the convention if the rulings did not go their way. The first was the decision that a majority of 1,433 would be sufficient to seat the McGovern delegates from California. The anti-McGovern forces argued that the standard majority of 1,509 should be necessary. The second was that 151 members of the challenged McGovern delegation from California would be able to vote on the challenge to their own delegation, although a serious question was raised about the propriety of this. Norman Mailer, a McGovern supporter, summed up these decisions accurately in his report on the convention when he said: “It was equivalent to giving the nomination to McGovern. The old pol [O'Brien] had decided for the new politics.” It is hard to imagine a clearer instance of a victory engineered by party bosses in their hotel rooms through the manipulation of procedural rules.
2 Election returns in 1968 showed that Humphrey was not significantly weakened by liberal defections in such centers of the new liberalism as Berkeley, Cambridge, or Manhattan. But Gallup Poll figures on blue-collar sentiment tell a much neglected story:
No one thought, however, to devise “reforms” of either the party or its policies in response to this disastrous trend.