A Note To Angry/Sad Bernieites
I Feel You. These photos, of heartbroken Bernie fans, take me back to the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. There’s a bunch more such photos in this album on Slate. (Disregard the snarky captions.)
No, I wasn’t physically in Chicago that year. But I felt like it; glued to a portable radio, listening to live reports of chaos inside the hall, and a violent police riot outside, a police attack this once aimed at mainly white kids like me.
I was there in spirit and commitment and devotion to a good man, Senator Eugene McCarthy, who was no radical but felt he had to stand up against the Vietnam War, a quagmire into which a once-great Democratic president, Lyndon Johnson, had sunk his presidency, and the country, with no clear way out.
Bobby Kennedy had later jumped into the race, discovering opposition to the war as well. Between the two of them they had so much momentum that Johnson had “cut and run,” declining to seek renomination.
Instead, LBJ backed Hubert Humphrey, his once progressive, but now, especially to me and my generation, timeworn, compromised and lackluster Vice President.
Through the spring of 1968, it seemed as if our insurgency had a chance. But instead, history and the machine intervened: history in the form of an assassin’s bullets which killed Bobby Kennedy in California, just after he’d won the state’s Democratic primary and was poised to overtake McCarthy and snatch the Democratic nomination.
The machine was that mostly faceless gaggle of party regulars and bosses like Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago, who seemed to revel in the head-busting that his cops were giving the punks like me outside.
By the time it was all over, Eugene McCarthy had faded, Humphrey had the nomination, and I was sick in my heart and soul.
I was, I vowed, not going to vote for Humphrey, who had not yet found the cojones to speak out about ending the Vietnam War — even if that meant turning over the White House to the likes of Richard Nixon. (I didn’t really hate Nixon then, mostly just disdained him; but he soon enough earned as much hate as I could manage, notwithstanding he, like me, was a Quaker.)
I remember one night that fall, when Andrew Young, one of Dr. King’s closest aides (and later Atlanta mayor, Congressman, and UN Representative), made a stop at the campus where I was in grad school, and made the plea for Humphrey. We threw rhetorical rotten fruit at this, demanding something for our votes, some gleam of light about the war and the debacle in Chicago.
Young to his credit, didn’t give us any BS. Instead, he repeated a mantra that had but three words: “The Supreme Court. The Supreme Court.”
I saw his point, but it didn’t move me enough, and I didn’t vote for anybody that fall. I’m not saying my abstention made much difference (I was in a heavily Democratic state anyway).
But there were many others like me, across the country. And so Nixon got in, just barely, and he appointed William Rehnquist to the Supreme Court. And Rehnquist, almost 30 years later, led the court in a cynically, shamefully political decision to hand the White House over to George W. Bush, a blow from which the Republic (and I) are still reeling.
Today, I’m recalling all this, and I’m imagining that Bernie Sanders, who is a year older, has been remembering it also. (After all, he went to college in Daley’s Chicago.)
And Bernie, who ran a helluva race against HRC, has now endorsed her and called on all his fans (of which I remain one) to do the same. And while the fate of the Supreme Court is one sizable issue in this calculation, there are lots of others, not least a dark force whose name rhymes with Dump.
This time, this year, I am following this advice.
But I am also recalling the despair and refusal I felt in the late summer of 1968. And it leads me to set aside the “grow up and listen to us older-but-wiser heads” diatribes.
To those in the Bernie photos I say: vote your conscience. What else can you do?
Yet I can’t close without quoting Bernie’s words from earlier yesterday: “”Brothers and sisters, this is the real world that we live in.”
Your world, and your conscience, are real. So is his. And so is mine. And time passes. Yes, time passes.