By Robert A. Vella
From 1932 to 1968, the Democratic Party was basically synonymous with American politics. With few exceptions, it controlled the White House, Congress, state governorships and legislatures, and all the way down to the local governmental level. The progressivism espoused by Democrats was so pervasive that even the rival Republican Party was moderated by it. Not coincidentally, the greatest expansion of middle class prosperity the world had ever seen resulted from it. Near the end, it had begun to tackle the seemingly insurmountable problems of racial, ethnic, and gender injustice.
But, it did end. The turning point came during the 1968 presidential election campaign. The powerful Democratic Party was already fracturing along a north-vs-south division which had emerged over the civil rights movement; although, the fatal blow was delivered by a disastrous split over the Vietnam War. In March of that year, anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy ran a close second to President Johnson in the New Hampshire primary. Four days later, civil rights hero Robert F. Kennedy entered the presidential race. With the war going badly, challengers rising from within his own party, and a deep sense of personal despair over the unexpected turn of events, Johnson sorrowfully informed the nation he was withdrawing his reelection bid. In April, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. In June, RFK was assassinated. Vice President Hubert Humphrey then became the successor to Johnson. By August, the Democratic Party was in shambles. The national convention in Chicago erupted in violence, and Humphrey limped towards his eventual defeat to Richard Nixon in the November general election.
Fast forward to 2016. While the Democratic Party never did regain its former prominence, it has managed to win 4 of the last six presidential elections including the last two by Barack Obama. Concurrently, however, the party has suffered an onslaught of defeats just about everywhere else. The Republican Party, despite its recent foray into right-wing extremism, holds more political power now than it has consistently held since the Roaring Twenties. The fundamental problem facing Democrats is the precarious tightrope they are trying to walk between corporatist, status-quo, establishment politics and the growing populist discontent spreading through their progressive base and through the nation at large. This tightrope is very similar to the one Dems fell from in 1968.
Last night, establishment candidate Hillary Clinton and populist insurgent Bernie Sanders split the two primary contests. Clinton squeaked by in Kentucky, while Sanders won handily in Oregon. Both of these state elections were closed primaries – meaning that only registered Democrats could participate. Look at the Democratic race map to date. The establishment/populist divide is quite apparent, and it also appears to be geographical as well:
Curiously, the mainstream news media had focused instead on the so-called “GOP Civil War” which ended with a whimper after Republican leaders acquiesced to their populist insurgent candidate Donald Trump. And, while a competitive Republican race never really materialized, a Democratic civil war looks to be heating up fast.
The Sanders campaign says that in Nevada on Saturday, “the Democratic leadership used its power to prevent a fair and transparent process from taking place.” It is alleging that the chair of the convention incorrectly ruled on a voice vote, unfairly deeming 64 of its delegates ineligible, ignored floor motions from his supporters and wouldn’t accept any petitions to change the rules.
“If the Democratic Party is to be successful in November, it is imperative that all state parties treat our campaign supporters with fairness and the respect that they have earned,” the Sanders statement continued.
Rival Hillary Clinton won the state’s caucuses back in February by five points, and the 23 delegates were split proportionally between the two, 13 to 10. The remaining 12 were set to be awarded last Saturday at the state convention. The Sanders campaign had worked to make sure many of its loyalists were at that gathering, where they hoped to win a majority of the delegates and narrow Clinton’s lead to 18 to 17 delegates out of Nevada.
But chaos followed after Sanders supporters allege they were denied being seated at the convention and that the state party chairwoman, Roberta Lange, was slanting the rules in favor of Clinton. In the end, Clinton ended up with 20 delegates out of the state to Sanders’ 15.
From Mother Jones – Bernie Sanders Refuses to Apologize for Nevada Democratic Convention Chaos:
His response follows multiple reports of angry Sanders supporters flipping chairs at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel event and growing evidence of violent texts and voicemails that targeted Nevada Democratic Party chairwoman Roberta Lange and her family. (A few of those disturbing messages, which include calling Lange a “corrupt bitch,” can be heard here.) Some supporters even talked about “guaranteed fires” taking place at July’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
From The New York Times – Bernie Sanders Facing Pressure Over Supporters’ Actions in Nevada:
“You are going to see a variety of tactics,” said Elizabeth Arnold, 32, a former staff member for the Sanders campaign in Philadelphia who said she planned to demonstrate. “I personally don’t like being arrested. But it’s essential that we speak our minds and assert our First Amendment rights. Our system is terribly flawed and terribly unjust — so very just actions often end in arrests.”
Ms. Arnold, who helped found EDGE, an environmental justice group based in Philadelphia, said she did not condone violence and hoped that people would find a way to voice concerns peacefully. But she said that Mrs. Clinton and other Democratic leaders attending the convention “should worry about what is going to happen.”
Nina Turner, a prominent surrogate for Mr. Sanders, said that she had seen several emails from people planning acts of civil disobedience, and that talk of dissent in the Republican ranks over Mr. Trump masked the searing divisions among Democrats.
“People are talking about the Republicans having a brokered convention. I think we are sleeping on the Democrats,” Ms. Turner said. “And if Democrats believe that that’s not going to happen, they are just sadly mistaken. They have blinders on.”