August 18, 2006


The Ned Scare (Peter Beinart, 08.17.06, New Republic)

Is Ned Lamont today's Carl Maxey? Maxey, an obscure Spokane attorney and anti-Vietnam activist, seized his 15 minutes of fame in 1970 when he challenged Washington state's famously hawkish Henry "Scoop" Jackson in the Democratic Senate primary. Maxey, unlike Lamont, got crushed. But his antiwar allies took over state parties in Washington and across the country. And, two years later, in a stunning upset, they powered George McGovern to the Democratic presidential nomination.

Does Lamont's victory over Jackson's ideological heir--Joe Lieberman--mean McGovernism has returned? Yes, but not in the way you think. The big similarity between today's antiwar Democrats and yesterday's is structural: Both movements shifted power from politicians to grassroots activists. Before 1972, Democratic presidential nominees were chosen largely by Democratic politicians--bosses like Chicago Mayor Richard Daley who controlled whole blocs of convention delegates. In 1968, they handed Hubert Humphrey the nomination even though he had not competed in a single primary. The McGovernites changed that. After 1968, they pushed through reforms that barred backroom deals and ensured ethnic and gender diversity. The bosses were emasculated. When the party convened to nominate McGovern in 1972, only 30 of 255 Democratic congressmen were among the delegates. Daley's Illinois slate was rejected for running afoul of the new rules and replaced by one led by the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

In the 1980s, the pendulum swung back. The party created "superdelegates" to give politicians a larger role in choosing presidential nominees. The newly formed Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) attacked liberal activists for pulling party nominees too far to the left. And, when the DLC's candidate, Bill Clinton, won the nomination in 1992, he dispensed with the laundry-list platforms of the past, which had promised goodies to each interest group. To this day, the DLC remains an organization of politicians that believes the less beholden politicians are to grassroots activists, the better they will represent voters as a whole.

Not coincidentally, Bill Clinton -- the most conservative president between Coolidge and W -- is the only Democrat to be elected to two terms since FDR rode the Depression fluke.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 18, 2006 8:52 AM

If Richie Daley was choosing the Dem candidate, they might actually have a chance.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at August 18, 2006 10:40 AM

In a serious Democratic Party he'd be the candidate. He's about the only remaining New Democrat.

Posted by: oj at August 18, 2006 10:45 AM

I read he has some skeletons stowed away and thus wisely keeps close to his time zone.

Posted by: erp at August 18, 2006 2:53 PM

Daley or oj?

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at August 18, 2006 3:14 PM

The article only spoke of Daley and I only mentioned it because the Democratic party has such a woefully short bench (a little baseball lingo for the fans) and Daley, who appears well-spoken and well-informed on television, should be a hot commodity.

The puzzle has been why he hasn't been on any lists as a contender for higher office.

Posted by: erp at August 19, 2006 8:40 AM

Too conservative.

Posted by: oj at August 19, 2006 8:48 AM

". . .[I]n a stunning upset, they powered George McGovern to the Democratic Presidential nomination."

After which, in a stunning non-upset, they carried nothing except the Peoples' Republic of Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.

Go for it, peace-creeps, seize that apparatus, we know you can do it! We're counting on you--it'll be just like the old days!

Posted by: Lou Gots at August 20, 2006 8:30 PM