Monday, July 20, 2015

An Isolated Incident- Or Not

In 1968, many Democratic activists and politicians urged New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy to challenge President Lyndon B. Johnson for the Democratic nomination for president. Believing challenging an incumbent would be an uphill battle, Kennedy demurred while the less well-known anti-war Senator, Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, took the plunge.

Following the New Hampshire primary, in which McCarthy did stunningly well (though losing), Johnson announced he would not seek re-nomination.  Soon thereafter, Kennedy reconsidered, declared his candidacy, and engaged in a hot-fought battle with Vice-President Humphrey before Kennedy was shot and killed after his victory in the critical California primary.

Humphrey was to be nominated at the Democratic convention in Chicago, which turned into a fiasco as anti-war and to a lesser extent, anti-Humphrey, protesters hit the street and in turn were hit by Mayor Richard Daley's police. The slogan of the left protesting, in part, the nomination of arguably the most progressive politician of his generation, was "the whole world is watching." The whole world may not have been watching, but the American voter was, and did not like what she was viewing. Humphrey's campaign got off to an understandably slow start and he was barely defeated by Richard Nixon in an election which at the time was the closest presidential race in history.

History probably is not repeating itself, though that would not be a safe assumption. Hillary Clinton is the presumptive nominee of the Party but is being effectively challenged from the left by Senator Bernard Sanders, whom no one believes has a shot at the nomination- unlike Senator Elizabeth Warren, who rejected entreaties for herself to run.  (By the way: Warren is from Massachusetts. Kennedy was originally from Massachusetts.)

That is not the only echo of 1968. Time's Sam Frizell reports

Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley was midsentence when the chanting began. “What side are you on black people, what side are you on!” rang the chorus of around four dozen mostly black protesters streaming into a convention hall in Phoenix, Arizona, on Saturday.

A woman named Tia Oso grabbed the microphone as the protesters stormed the room.

“We are going to hold this space and acknowledge the names of black women who have died in police custody, and then Governor O’Malley we do have questions for you!” Oso said as the former two-term governor and his interviewer, Jose Antonio Vargas, watched helplessly. “As leader of this country will you advance an agenda that will dismantle structural racism in this country?” Oso asked.

“Yes,” O’Malley managed to answered, before he was drowned out again.

O’Malley was speaking at Netroots Nation, the country’s largest gathering of progressive activists when the proceedings broke down in a cacophony of boos, cheers and heckles on Saturday. Shortly afterward, Bernie Sanders, another Democratic candidate for president, was also silenced on the same stage by the group of Black Lives Matter protesters. Chanting, the activists shouted out the names of black women who have died in police custody and peppered the candidates with questions about their civil rights records.

A sea of mostly white progressives, including unions, laborers, bloggers, activists and musicians sat watching the drama unfold.

It was a moment that spoke to the tumult on the Democratic left and surprised even the organizers of the nine-year-old annual event. As the Democratic party increasingly coalesces around a progressive wish list like expanding Social Security and reining in Wall Street, the growing Black Lives Matter movement is calling loudly for the left to focus on racial injustice as well.

The two presidential candidates found themselves at the center of the chaos, both caught off guard and unable to answer the protesters.

Understandably, the Democratic contenders (with O'Malley, above) were caught off guard. Frizell continues

“Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter,” O’Malley said to boos and jeers.

After O’Malley exited, Sanders took the stage and flashed with annoyance. “If you don’t want me to be here that’s okay,” he said. “I don’t want to out-scream you.”

(All lives matter.... a racist, warmongering thought, if there ever were one.)

There are three major Democratic candidates. (Sorry, Lincoln and Jim.)  "Sanders," Time's Frizell notes, "has proposed a massive jobs programs and raising the minimum wage, and O'Malley has discussed reforming policing and enhancing civilian review boards, among other measures."  Even Wall Street's favorite candidate, Hillary Clinton, "who was absent from the Phoenix conference- has called for automatic voter registration and fundamentally reforming the criminal justice system."

All three individuals have spoken in favor of reforming the criminal justice system, the need which inspired the "Black Lives Matter movement." Automatic voter registration would go a long way to blunting the GOP's voter suppression movement aimed at, more than anything else, keeping blacks and Hispanics from voting.

Still, they shouted and prevented their political allies from fully presenting their case. Primary fault lies with organizers of the event, who should have anticipated this at least as a possibility and provided security accordingly.  Alternatively, Sanders and O'Malley could have spoken up, thereby ending their campaigns, given that the news media would in showing Democratic discord while from other quarters charges of racism were leveled. (Honestly- you know that's true, don't you?)

Republican audiences know how to end this sort of rudeness. Chants of "USA! USA!" are hokey, obnoxious, superficial, and disingenuous.  (This is the Party which tried to force the USA into bankruptcy by refusing to raise the debt limit.)  But they are effective- and because they are effective, the mainstream media has no trouble with them. They also imply a unity within the GOP, which is another way to impress the Fourth Estate. (Do you remember the incident recorded below? Neither do I. That's the point.)

So of course these folks didn't approach any gathering of the Repub Party, the organization inimical to their interests and which would do almost anything to keep them from even voting. They sensed weakness and went after the Democratic Party. It would be in their (selfish and/or misguided) to continue this behavior until it is effectively confronted. The Democratic Party had better figure out to do it, or the American people, who are not partial to weakness, will put the Democratic Party out of its misery. Otherwise, notwithstanding the declining concentration of whites in the electorate, expect defeat to be snatched from the jaws of victory.

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