Some supporters of Bernie Sanders walked out of the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia when the Vermont senator announced his endorsement of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Many of those said they’d sit out the November election and not even vote, cast their ballots for Donald Trump or vote for a third party candidate. Their actions could possibly be copied by thousands of Sanders’ supporters throughout the nation.
Such actions could bear them bitter fruit and destroy what most of them were seeking in progressive public policy.
History, particularly the Presidential election of 1968, proves the point.
The Democratic Convention that year convened in Chicago with the nation facing perhaps the most bitter divisiveness of any in history. The Vietnam War by then had been raging for four years; eventually a total of 58,220 U.S. troops would die and possibly as many as one million Vietnamese, Cambodians and others. It had soured many Americans, many of whom blamed Democratic President Lyndon Johnson for its continuance. Largely, because
of the dissatisfaction about the war, Johnson had declined seeking a second term, making Vice President Hubert Humphrey the obvious choice of the party leadership.
Anti-war activists, however, came to Chicago supporting the candidacy of Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy, who like Sanders came out of nowhere in the primaries to mount a significant challenge. The bitterness from the primary campaign continued, bringing chaos and disruption on the convention floor. The battling spread onto the streets of Chicago where Mayor Richard Daley deployed 12,000 police officers and brought in another 15,000 state and federal officers to contain the protests. The situation rapidly got out of control, with officers severely beating the protesters. It was a horrific sight, much of it seen on network television.
In the end, Hubert Humphrey won the nomination. For many of the protesters, the Vice President’s victory was an abomination and many sat out the general election. Their disgust may have been justified; yet, in a way, by not supporting Humphrey they merely were biting off their noses to spite their faces. Former Vice President Richard Nixon won in November, but by only .7 percent of the overall vote. Had they voted, the outcome might have been different.
Nixon supported none of the goals of most protesters; once in office he stepped up the war in Vietnam. He supported none of the civil rights policies that most of the protesters felt the country needed. His anti-union and strongly pro-business attitudes were legendary. Nixon also instituted the Southern Strategy, using racist policies to lure white Southerners from the Democratic Party that had controlled the southern states for a century.
The circumstances surrounding Humphrey in 1968 and of Secretary Clinton in 2016 are strikingly similar. Humphrey had shown leadership in civil rights, peace, labor and justice throughout his career; his credentials were solid. One only had to listen to his speech from the floor of the 1948 Convention in Philadelphia that marked a turning point to putting the party at the forefront of the fight for civil and racial justice. It was a courageous speech at the time for the young mayor of Minneapolis.
Yet, that was ignored, as was his long liberal legislative record, by the McCarthy backers.
It’s much like 2016, when Hillary Clinton’s proven record of being a lifelong champion of children, supporter of the historic children’s healthcare act of 1996, proven backer of the rights of minorities, the disabled and other progressive causes is being forgotten by those Sanders’ supporters who will not vote for her in fall.
While Senator Sanders now has fully supported Secretary Clinton, he has not given up a fight to lead a peaceful revolution to assure that real democracy rules the Democratic Party of the future and the United States as a whole. The tumult of 1968 resulted in meaningful reforms to the Democratic Party by 1972, making that year’s Convention far more open and democratic. Already, Senator Sanders’ strong showing has prompted the Party to change to become even more open.
There’s a lot of work to be done to assure that all of our citizens will live in a safe, secure, healthful, just and rewarding society. It won’t be done in one election, or even in one four-year Presidential term of office; yet, work needs to continue to bring positive change. If the year 1968 is any lesson, progressives need to vote for Hillary Clinton to assure the struggle goes on. (Ken Germanson, July 27, 2016)
Disclaimer: The author voted for Sen. Sanders in the Wisconsin primary. He has been an active participant and observer of Presidential campaigns since 1948.