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The Foregone Convention | The Nation

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The Foregone Convention

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Ted Kennedy provided the convention charisma in a memorable nomination speech.

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Robert Sherrill
Robert Sherrill, a frequent and longtime contributor to The Nation, was formerly a reporter for the Washington Post. He...

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When the Democratic party handed its nomination to George McGovern at the 1972 convention in Miami, correspondent Robert Sherill reported on Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American candidate to seek the nomination of a major party; explored the diminished role of George Wallace; and served up sharp observations of the protesters outside the convention, who, in stark contrast with 1968, found themselves with nothing to protest.

Miami Beach

On the morning of the second day--looking out at the drizzle, both meteorological and political--John Kenneth Galbraith observed: "The only hope for this convention now is that it doesn't become totally boring." It wasn't totally so, but this tasteless, enormously costly, lukewarm stew of Democratic politics didn't miss by much.

By the third day things had become so predictable that it was almost a relief when a minor wave of unhappiness washed through the McGovern troops, they having heard that he had promised some POW wives that he would keep troops in Thailand and ships off the Indochina coast until the prisoners were released. In some caucuses that afternoon there was even talk about bolting.

Actually the statement about residual militarism sounded less like something McGovern would say than like something one of his aides, in a smartalecky moment, might have dashed off for the press, in an independent effort to "moderate" his candidate's position. It wouldn't have been the first time that one of McGovern's lieutenants had landed him in trouble; it's the sort of thing that has made quite a few of his supporters wonder if the old Kennedy gang who surround him may not sometimes be too smart for his good.

Anyway, it was probably time that the true believers learned that their hero would have to be saying some things a little differently in the months ahead. There were clues to this when McGovern's top assistant, Frank Mankiewicz, took to referring to Humphrey as "distinguished" and to Daley as a beautifully loyal person.

Until the last session and the rousing speeches by Allard Lowenstein, Edward Kennedy and McGovern himself, this convention stirred no passions, and probably that was for the best. But when the endless and abominable rhetoric which still flourishes at these events has little passion to support it, the weakness of the convention hall's air conditioning becomes noticeable.

There was very little intense lobbying for anything because just about everybody seemed to feel that fate had them by the throat. Exceptions, happily, were Sen. Fred Harris and the National Welfare Rights Organization. But NWRO, that remarkable group of tough mothers who demand $6,500 a year minimum for a family, had been demonstrating and buttonholing in Miami Beach for a week, and most of its members were broke and headed for home before the convention even opened. They wanted that $6,500 minimum written into the platform, but the McGovernites wouldn't talk about anything higher than $4,000, which is approximately what Nixon is offering.

Harris asked the convention to junk the vague McGovern tax plank, which talked about studying the loopholes for a couple of years and plugging the more gaping ones. Harris came on strong, reminding delegates that 40 per cent of the largest corporations (including ITT) last year paid no taxes at all. His proposed plank would have taxed all income, without exception. The voice vote in support of his proposal sounded loud, at least as loud as the vote against him, but the chair was quickly killing substitute planks with its gavel that evening.

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