Scenes of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ supporters protesting and walking out of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia over the nomination of Hillary Clinton as the party’s nominee reminded me of a far different moment in political history. Specifically the 1968 DNC in Chicago.
The contexts for the two different conventions are eerily similar in some aspects.
Both conventions occurred at a time when the nation was marked by spikes of violence. In 1968, national figures like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Sen. Robert Kennedy, D-NY, who was a leading contender for the Democratic nomination, were murdered, which sent the nation into a period of shock and anger.
This year, violence against unarmed black men and police officers has ravaged the country and created a climate of fear similar to the one that was witnessed in 1968.
Anger at the political establishment was another theme of both conventions. Critics in 1968 strongly disapproved of President Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam War policies, which sent thousands of young men into combat.
Today, some in the Democratic Party are angry that former Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Shulz and top party officials rigged the primary in order for Clinton to win the nomination.
In 1968, the party actually rigged the election in favor of one candidate. According to Time, Vice President Hubert Humphrey was chosen as the party’s nominee over competitor Eugene McCarthy, even though Humphrey had started his campaign for the presidency in late March. The decision spurned Sen. George McGovern, D-SD to make changes to how the Democratic Party elected its nominee for the presidency, giving voters a fairer say in who the party’s nominee would be.
During the 2016 convention, delegates booed Wasserman Shulz over her tenure as DNC chairwoman, and in 1968 protesters participated in violence in anger that Humphrey was chosen as the nominee instead of McCarthy.
There are, of course, some differences between the two conventions. While the country faces serious foreign policy questions concerning the rise of the Islamic State in the Middle East, no military draft is currently occurring, which was a decisive reason so many opposed Humphrey’s nomination.
The outgoing president also has far greater popularity now than in 1968. According to the Miller Center of Public Affairs, “Johnson’s approval ratings had dropped from 70 percent in mid-1965 to below 40 percent by 1967.” President Obama has a 52 percent approval rating, according to a CNN/ORC poll from June.
The similarities between the two conventions are striking. In 1968, a divided Democratic Party lost badly in the general election to Republican Richard Nixon. Hopefully unification will come easier for the party this year.
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