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The Democratic Convention: Up Close and Very Personal

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A Philly Guy Takes Pride In His Host City, Warts and All

By Andrew Goutman

(July 29, 2016) The Democratic Party holding its big convention in Philly? Fugetaboudit.

As a Philadelphian born and bred (well, I was actually born in the Main Line ‘burbs, but…close enough), I got a lot of pleasure watching people practicing the art of politics. It seemed the whole city took a four-day seminar on political science. It was right in my wheelhouse.

I even got a gig driving around party delegates, leaders and elected officials. At least it got me inside the steel fencing surrounding Wells Fargo Center, the convention site. I had to pass a Secret Service background check, and how I passed it, God only knows.

The perimeter around the Wells Fargo Center was like a fortress.

The perimeter around the Wells Fargo Center was like a fortress.

Most Philadelphians weren’t so interested in getting “credentialed,” so they swarmed Center City to check things out. The typical Philadelphian is a loyal Democrat who doesn’t think a lot about politics until a local elected official is jailed for corruption, which occurs about every year or so. Hopefully, a political convention with a positive message and free souvenirs could have a cleansing effect on the local populace.

It seems on every street corner, there were people with colorful takes on some political ax to grind. Some of them weren’t even about Bernie Sanders.

2016-07-27 00.25.09At the Pennsylvania Convention Center located in the middle of town, folks could experience PoliticalFest, a supposed non-partisan celebration of our political history, with displays running the gamut of presidential profiles, the Air Force One fuselage and a replica of the Oval Office. For Philadelphia and visiting families, there were lots of displays for kids in an area called Future leaders Zone.

PoliticalFest display

PoliticalFest display

Famous Deli

Bars and restaurants around town had their game faces on for the visiting hordes. One of my favorite lunch spots, the Famous 4th Street Deli in Society Hill, continued an election day tradition by setting up a “speakers’ corner” of sorts in the middle of its restaurant on each day of the Democratic convention.

WPVI-TV, Channel 6, set up shop.

WPVI-TV, Channel 6, set up shop.

The local ABC affiliate filmed the more livelier political debates for its 5:00 news program. When I stopped by for lunch on the convention’s first day, I agreed to take up Hillary’s mantle against a Bernie supporter. That’s me on your right in a convention t-shirt.

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Man, It Was Hot

Temperatures hit the mid- to upper-90s for the duration of the convention. This was not a time to be outside. The cops had their hands full with Bernie Sanders protesters, who were a constant presence outside of the fencing that separated credentialed convention workers from the populace.

I remember being constantly yelled by protesters at as I walked inside the fence from the subway to the motor pool during the first two days of the convention. But after Bernie released his delegates on Tuesday night, there was not a peep from them when I got to work Wednesday morning. It was like they disappeared into thin (hot) air.

It calmed down considerably by Wednesday.

It calmed down considerably by Wednesday.

The Hierarchy of Credentials

I suppose it was the heat that made the police to be a bit jumpy even to convention workers moving to and from the site (one very depleted officer yelled at me to slide my monthly subway pass through a particular slot…not a necessary command for this life-long subway rider).

But our cops were fine. It was the Democratic National Committee (DNC) who took security precautions to a bizarre level.

Our credentials told us exactly where we were allowed, but more importantly, not allowed to go inside the steel gates. There were layers of credentials that were baffling to most of us: podium, floor, arena, hall-light, hall-dark, perimeter, suite overlay, backstage…security overload?

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Mine.

The press, all 15,000 of them, probably had it the worst. Most reporters were jammed into a “Hooverville” (thanks to Marketwatch) of media tents that were set up in the parking lots surrounding the arena. Half of them never made it inside the arena, but rather “covered” the convention by watching a big-screen TV inside the tent. Some journalism.

Coda

We take these things so seriously, but the Democratic convention, like most political conventions, was a staged affair with outcomes preordained. it was all for show. It reminded me of those shots of the New York Stock Exchange with men with clipboards and pinned numbers on their lapels grimacing when the stock market fluctuates.

Most stock trades are made on computers feeding the transactions to large servers–exchanges–in nondescript buildings in North Jersey. It’s all for show.

Nevertheless, this Democratic convention had a lot to show: Many speeches inspired me and gave me a sense of renewal.

And they did it in my town. Fugetaboudit.


Sunday Protests Uncover Stubborn Discontent Over Democratic Party Establishment

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Get used to it, Philadelphia!

Despite Unrest, Not One Poster Touting Donald Trump

By Andrew Goutman

(July 24, 2016) A clean energy rally at Philadelphia’s City Hall on the Sunday before the Democratic convention diverged into a march down Broad Street in support of insurgent candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT). The crowd of over 3,000 concluded its march in FDR Park, across the street from the Wells Fargo Center, the convention site.

The rally and march were said to be larger than any protests last week at the Republican convention in Cleveland.

Bernie rests at FDR Park.

Bernie rests at FDR Park.

The festivities were spirited but peaceful in stifling 97 degree heat. Bicycle cops rode a solid wall on both sides of the marchers. The Wells Fargo Center itself looked like a border between two unfriendly countries. Hundreds of police stood watch inside a tall steel-grated fence that surrounded a wide perimeter of the convention site.

Essentially, there were more cops than protesters on a Sunday afternoon at FDR Park. The City of Philadelphia expects 35,000 protesters during the four-day convention.

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Apparently, the anger on the street at Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party establishment is still palpable, despite the fact that Bernie Sanders endorsed Clinton two weeks ago. I stopped interviewing people when it became clear that all marchers had the same message: The primary election was rigged, the political system is corrupt and Bernie Sanders is the only leader who can shake up the status quo.

Many marchers were still hoping for a contested convention.

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(As I am committed to working at the convention, I will file a summary feature on Friday, 7/29 or Monday, 8/1.)


The Streets of Philadelphia:

Here’s Your Guide to Progressive Events Outside the Democratic Convention Site

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courtesy Philadelphia Magazine.

By Andrew Goutman

(July 22, 2016) Plan to be in Philly for the big convention? Well, unless you’re a delegate, elected official, a celebrity or member of the press, there’s virtually no chance you’ll gain access to the convention floor at the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia.

Not to worry. There’ll be plenty of activity for progressive folks outside of the convention site. In fact, the daily fare listed below can be experienced in its totality as a complete alternative convention (sans coronation). You might not see Hillary, but you will likely be enriched by meaningful dialogue and calls to action.

The list was compiled with help from our friends at Philly for Change.

Saturday, July 23, 10 am-9 pm:
DNC Freedom School, Arch Street United Methodist Church, 55 N. Broad St., Philadelphia
On its Facebook page, the group defines its mission: “Those preparing to protest at the DNC will come together in the spirit and truth of the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Schools. Protesters will be taught the spirit of resistance and the strategies of non-violent protest.” The page suggests over 500 people attending, or interested in attending. Here’s more information.

Sunday, July 24, 12 noon, convening at Philadelphia’s City Hall:
March for Clean Energy
Activists will muster at noon and march to demand “Environmental Justice for All.” Marchers will call for an end to America’s reliance to fossil fuels and to pivot to clean renewable energy. A large anti-fracking group called InFRACKstructure will make its presence known. Here’s the link to the group’s website.

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Monday, July 25, 3 pm & 5 pm:
March for Our Lives, Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign
The march, from City Hall to FDR Park, is being organized by Cheri Honkala, a well-known Philadelphia political activist (she once ran for sheriff). At the conclusion of the march at around 5 pm, the group will muster in FDR Park, which is in proximity to the Wells Fargo Center. There will be music and speakers, most notably Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. More information is here.

Monday through Wednesday, July 25-27:
Progressive Central in Philadelphia, William Way Center, 1315 Spruce St.
This is a three-day progressive alternative to the Democratic National Convention. Several members of Congress will speak: Tulsi Gabbard, Raul Grijalva (briefly in the running for vice president), Donna Edwards and Keith Ellison. The on-going discourse will be moderated by Andrea Miller and noted journalist John Nichols. You can check out their website.

Tuesday, July 26, 10 am:
Progressive leaders Pushing for Change, Ethical Humanist Society, 1906 South Rittenhouse Square
Scheduled speakers: Cong. Keith Ellison (D-MN); Helen Gym, Philadelphia City Council; Andrew Gillum, mayor of Tallahassee, FL; and Melissa Mark-Viverito, speaker of the New York City council. Order your ticket here.

Tuesday, July 26, noon – 2 pm:
Women Speak Out at the DNC, Broad Street Ministry, 315 S. Broad St.
Their Facebook event page is here.

Tuesday, July 26, 4 pm:
Calling on the DNC to End the Drug War and Legalize Cannabis, Municipal Services Building, 1401 JFK Blvd.
Here is their Facebook event page.

th7H0XXZC2Wednesday, July 27, 6:30 pm:
Ride the DNC: Broad Street Bicycle Ride, N. Broad & Cheltenham Ave.
This is a 12.5 mile ride from the northern border of Philadelphia down Broad Street (the main north-south artery) all the way to the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia. There’s some sort of street party at the end of it. Please go to their Facebook event page.

Finally, during the vice president’s and Hillary Clinton’s nominating speeches, folks will be meeting at a friendly Center City bar called Franky Bradley’s, 1320 Chancellor St. Facebook event pages are here and here.

Have fun!


1980 Democratic Convention: Kennedy vs. Carter

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“The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.”

By Andrew Goutman

(July 13, 2016) Now that Bernie Sanders has endorsed Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic nomination, it eliminates Sanders’ not-so-subtle threat to fight for delegates on the floor of the Philadelphia convention.

Sanders’ endorsement also rescinds what was potentially a striking parallel to the Democratic convention of 1980. That year, an insurgent not unlike Bernie Sanders, Ted Kennedy, made a vigorous but doomed effort to release delegates from their primary pledges.

The 1980 Democratic convention in New York City will be forever remembered for Ted Kennedy’s electrifying concession speech, the final words of which are repeated in the above headline. You can read the entire speech here. An excerpt courtesy of YouTube is below.

Kennedy Goes All In

By the fall of 1979, certain political markers were gathering steam. A poll was released that showed incumbent President Jimmy Carter running five points or so behind the presumptive Republican nominee Ronald Reagan. A labor-backed “draft Teddy” movement was being organized for the Iowa Caucuses. A Boston Globe poll showed Carter trailing Kennedy in a hypothetical match-up by 22 points.

The Kennedy camp’s response to the insurgents was “cool it.” Ted Kennedy liked to think of himself of as a loyal, party-line Democrat. But there was a major crack in the foundation that was Democratic Party unity. The progressive wing of the party was flexing its muscles over and issue near and dear to Ted Kennedy’s heart: health care. Kennedy wanted a “health care for all” program with a price tag of at least $28.6 billion. President Carter’s proposal seemed limp in comparison. “The exercise,” remarked one Kennedy staffer, “is moving the president, not kicking him in the behind.” (Sound familiar?)

The chasm grew wider and the fight was on.

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Floor Fights

After a frustrating primary season in which President Carter barely jumped into the fray (his “Rose Garden” strategy), Ted Kennedy arrived at Madison Square Garden trailing Carter by 700 delegates. Ted had even lost the New Hampshire primary, 48-38, a state in his own backyard.

Kennedy dispatched top aide Harold M. Ickes (future deputy chief of staff to Bill Clinton) and brother-in-law Stephen Smith to wrangle for delegates and create roadblocks for Carter on the convention floor. “It was a brutal political fistfight,” remembered Ickes. “Many people saw this as the last of the brothers carrying the family torch.”

 Ted Kennedy of course came up short, and tasted the bitter disappointment that transcended a mere election loss. Ickes: “The senator had the additional burden of carrying the family legacy. It was a bitter loss for everyone, but it is a great testament to him that he put that behind him and went on to forge a stellar career in the Senate.”

After conceding to Carter, Kennedy put on a brave face of party unity.

After conceding to Carter, Kennedy puts on a brave face for party unity.

The Speech

The author of the speck, Bob Shrum, wrote this in Time magazine:

There is in that 1980 speech an insight into the long arc of his achievement: his belief in something bigger than himself, his persistence despite the odds, his capacity to express the conscience of the party and his party’s best possibilities.

John Podesta, who was recently President Obama’s chief of staff, exclaimed: “I was lucky enough to be on the podium with him. It was the most electric moment of my life before or since. It felt like fireworks after every word.”

President Jimmy Carter of course lost to Ronald Reagan in the 1980 presidential election. In my view, Kennedy’s insurgency was not much of a factor. An inflationary economy and the Iran hostage crisis sealed Carter’s fate.


Are Democrats Inciting a Chicago ’68 Outcome?

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The Parallel Between Then and Now Is Striking

By Andrew Goutman

(May 26, 2016) At this point in the 2016 presidential election, it now seems that both major parties have selected their “presumptive” nominee: Democrat Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump for the Republicans.

Not so fast.

It sure looks like there are storms brewing in both Cleveland and Philadelphia. For the Republicans (Cleveland), proponents of the #NeverTrump movement, mainly movement conservatives, have apparently not given up their quest to deny Trump the nomination. The most obvious clue: the party’s highest ranking politician, Speaker Paul Ryan, continues to withhold his endorsement.

On the Democratic side, meeting in Philadelphia, Clinton has clinched enough delegates and “superdelegates” to unify the party at the convention. But wait. Bernie Sanders seems far from throwing in the towel. He continues to challenge the whole nominating process and vows to make changes on the convention floor. Despite daunting mathematical odds, Sanders has not fallen in line.

That sure sounds a lot like Chicago in 1968.

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“The Whole World’s Watching”

Before we get into the political bloodletting that draws striking parallels between Chicago and today’s Democratic party divide, let’s take a glimpse at some of famous episodes of Chicago ’68:

  • Our country was already traumatized by a rapid-fire series of events that year: President Johnson’s March 31 announcement that he would not seek reelection; the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 14; and on June 5, Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination after winning the California primary as a “peace” candidate. Riots occurred in over 100 US cities that summer.
  • Inspired by the Democratic party showdown between “establishment” and anti-Vietnam war candidates, a reported 10,000 protesters showed up in Chicago for the anti-war cause.  Haynes Johnson wrote in The Smithsonian, “The [convention] hall was surrounded by a steel fence topped with barbed wire…The main doors, modeled after a White House portico, had been bulletproofed.” All of over Chicago, TV cameras captured demonstrators clashing with a reported 11,900 Chicago police, 7500 Illinois National Guardsmen and 1,000 Secret Service agents over the four-day span.
  • Chicago police made 589 arrests and counted 119 police and 100 protesters injured. A Chicago grand jury indicted eight prominent anti-war activists for inciting a riot. The “Chicago 8,” whose ranks included Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman and David Dellinger, would get their 15 minutes and more.
Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley

Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley

  • The “police riot,” as it was described by the media, would tarnish the legacy of one of the last of the old-style machine politicians, Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley. It was Daley who unleashed and encouraged the non-compromising brute of law enforcement. On the convention floor, the mayor, who led Chicago for 21 years, reportedly favored Ted Kennedy and aggressively made his opinion known about peace candidates.

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“Hell No, We Won’t Go”

Of course it was the Vietnam war that defined the Democratic divide in 1968. With President Johnson, who was responsible for the massive troop build-up, declining to run, it opened the door for anti-war candidates Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy. When Kennedy was felled by an assassin’s bullet, the nomination became a horserace between Hubert H. Humphrey, Johnson’s vice president and the perceived “establishment” candidate, and McCarthy.

Over 80 percent of the Democratic primary votes were cast for anti-war candidates, primarily McCarthy or Kennedy (George McGovern got some too). Vice President Humphrey entered the race after Johnson dropped out, but didn’t compete in any primaries. Instead, Humphrey compiled his delegates in caucus states, which were then tightly controlled by party leaders.

Humphrey came to Chicago with the lead in the delegate count. The vice president faced major resistance from anti-war delegates, credentials fights and a growing cry to nominate RFK’s younger brother, Ted Kennedy. Delegations from 15 states staged an open revolt to try to unseat Humphrey delegates. A “peace plank” almost made it into the party platform, but the Humphrey forces, with help from the president and Mayor Daley, prevailed once again.  The final delegate count wasn’t even close: the Humphrey/Muskie ticket tallied 1,760 delegates to McCarthy’s 601.

Edmund Muskie (D-ME) and vice president Hubert H. Humphrey

Edmund Muskie (D-ME) and vice president Hubert H. Humphrey

The Lesson of Eugene McCarthy

Obviously, Eugene McCarthy was frustrated by the results. he made it known that he felt that “party regulars sewed up” the nomination for Humphrey. Weeks, then months passed, and McCarthy still hadn’t endorsed his party’s ticket. All eyes were on him.

Humphrey could have used McCarthy’s support, especially among anti-war Democrats. In two states where anti-war fervor was widespread, Wisconsin and California, McCarthy on the stump could have flipped the election. At a time when southerners still voted for Democrats, Humphrey had to compete with third-party candidate George Wallace, who would eventually win five southern states. According to Politico,

In some instances, McCarthy supporters actively opposed Humphrey. At an anti-Humphrey protest in New York on Labor Day, one anti-war activist who supported McCarthy told a reporter, “I’ve gotten sick of working with the Establishment. It doesn’t work. I mean what have we done in the last year? Just what have we done?”

(Boy, does that sound familiar.)

McCarthy “finally and reluctantly” endorsed Hubert Humphrey on October 29, about a week before the election. He told supporters a few days later, “I made the switch to Humphrey and I think you ought to suffer with me.” It was too little and too late.

1968 Electoral Map

1968 Electoral Map

The Presidential Election of 1968

The election of ’68 just happened to be one of the closest in US history. It gave our country Richard Nixon, and, well…you know how that turned out. Nixon won 31,785, 480 popular votes (43.4 percent) to Humphrey’s 31, 275,166 (42.7 percent). The electoral college went to Nixon, 301-191. George Wallace gathered 46 electoral college votes with wins in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi.

How many anti-Vietnam war voters stayed home on election day? That’s something to think about.

 

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