Not since 1968 has the Democratic Party been as far off the rails – as in this election cycle. This is not rhetorical flourish, but an objective assessment. The comparison is arresting. Crosswalk the two election cycles – despite five decades between them – and odd similarities pop. The similarities reinforce a seminal fact: The Democratic Party is disconnected from what matters to most Americans, and to their own base.
In 1968, the Democratic Party was in disarray. Democrat Lyndon Johnson was in his second term, but the nation was exhausted by war – a condition for which Johnson bore considerable responsibility. Issue fatigue was everywhere, yet Johnson refused to let up, let go, move on. That would only happen under the next president.
As early as 1967, Roper polls showed issue exhaustion, the number of Americans saying “just get out” of Vietnam leaping to 44 percent from 24. Hundreds of thousands protested war, even as 56 percent of Americans – in a Gallup poll – sided with police who beat protesters outside the Democratic convention, in Democrat-controlled Chicago. Divided is the only word.
The Party itself was self-immolating. Johnson, a former vice president, then president, was expected to run – but backed out. His Vice President, Humbert Humphrey, stepped up – but offered little new. Senators Robert Kennedy (D-NY), brother of a fallen president, and Eugene McCarthy (D-MN), anti-war firebrand battled for delegates. When Robert Kennedy was assassinated, anti-war Senator George McGovern (D-SD) joined the race.
The 1968 Democratic Convention was epic for gloves-off internal divisions, wild external protests, and violent suppression by Chicago’s Democratic leadership. The social context was neo-revolutionary, anti-war and civil rights agitators joined by violent pro-socialist, anti-capitalist, pro-drug, anti-establishment movements – all undercutting civil order.
While these events did not occur in a vacuum – Paris was equally overrun – the Democratic Party was roiled. In an attempt to cap the anti-war, pro-socialist chaos, Democrats nominated a “safe bet,” former vice president Hubert Humphry, who picked low-key running mate Senator Ed Muskie (D-ME).
But the Democratic Party was in a tailspin. Having uncapped a virulent and violent anti-war, pro-socialist movement, inflamed by claims of racial, social, and economic injustice, there were no “safe bets.”
Ask those who lived through this period, and you will hear a sorrowful truth: The seeds of disrespect, disorder, disdain for democracy and our Constitution, for veterans, for political institutions, free markets, and history itself – bore sour fruit.
Today, the Democratic Party appears to be picking through 1968’s refuse pile, relooking and re-elevating old issues that – in one way or another – deeply divided America in that time, and led nowhere good.
They are promoting historically disproven socialist ideas, from total federal control over “means of production” and distribution of private goods, to sector-by-sector takeovers of health care, energy, education, agriculture, transportation, banking and high technology. The notion of socialist revolution seems to have appeal to left-leaning leadership.
They are vociferously anti-war, but with a new twist – no confrontation of any kind with anyone. They are against deterrence, border security, efforts to sustain sanctity of citizenship. They flout federal laws by harboring millions of illegal aliens, including those with final deportation orders and recently arrived. They are disinterested in confronting evils promulgated by Iran, China, Russia, North Korea, Venezuela, and Cuba – all global antagonists of individual liberty.
With impunity – and little interest in history – they are once again promoting national disarray, relentlessly chasing issue fatigue. Leading polls – even among Democrats – indicate no interest in impeachment, Russia collusion hearings, more talk of obstruction, or indulging congressional oversight overreach. Nevertheless, leading congressional Democrats keep the fires burning tall, well stoked.
Likewise, most Americans see little utility in extreme positions, late-term abortion and permissive infanticide, open-ended drug legalization, ending private medicine (which “Medicare for all” bills expressly do), environmental land grabs, criminalizing wealth, breaking up financial institutions and social media, promoting mass release of felons, racially divisive reparations, harsh criticism of Israel, curtailment of the Second Amendment, raising middle class taxes (and ending tax cuts), or federalizing local and state educational institutions. Yet this is where 2020 Democratic presidential contenders are – and are dragging their entire party.
So, where does this all lead? Let us hope, not back to 1968. Here is raw truth: When a political party – either political party – knowingly promotes socialism (read: federal control of free markets and private lives) and national disarray, aims to gain from racial tension and social disorder, defends lawlessness for political ends, diminishes respect for citizenship, borders, security, individual liberties – free speech to self-defense, religious faith to association – things are likely to end badly.
For whom end badly? Those who seek to win power by division, promoting group-against-group, identity politics, social fractionalization, and weakening of a free society. What 1968 teaches is that democracy – and individual liberties protected by democratic institutions – are fragile, as well as resilient. The hope should be that all Democratic Party leaders rethink this divide-and-conquer strategy, turn down their pro-socialist rhetoric, and remember history. Repeating 1968 would be a mistake – a big mistake.