The rosy glow of last week's pre-caucus Barack Obama rally carried over to Saturday. A friend asked me for help running our Madison Park precinct's Democratic caucus, which I did. At the end of it, we picked seven delegates for Obama and three for Hillary Clinton, with a matching number of alternates. In a fit of enthusiasm, I wound up an Obama delegate to the county convention. My daughter, who lives on Capitol Hill, was picked as an Obama delegate for her precinct, too, so I'm looking forward to some father-daughter time as we work our way through the process.
I've attended Democratic caucuses before, and at one time was even a Republican precinct committeeman in Ballard. That was in 1980, when I was a foot soldier in the John Anderson insurgency. Anderson was a liberal Republican who bolted the party when it was clear Ronald Reagan was going to be the nominee. He mounted an independent bid against Reagan and Jimmy Carter. However, before he went independent, he had asked his supporters to join the GOP apparatus to help him out, which I did. No one hears much about John Anderson these days, but he told The New Republic recently that he supports Obama for president.
This weekend evoked a couple of strong memories for me. The first was at the Obama rally on Friday, Feb. 8. As I stood in the media bullpen in KeyArena, I remembered that in 1968 I attended a rally for the Happy Warrior – Hubert Humphrey – in that building. It was a raucous political gathering. Not because the crowd loved Humphrey, though many did, but because it was packed with anti-war protesters who almost drowned him out. Ted Van Dyk, Seattle pundit and former Humphrey staffer, wrote in his recent memoir, Heroes, Hacks and Fools, that that event was one of the worst of the '68 campaign:
On September 28, in Seattle, Humphrey endured the worst heckling he had received over the course of the campaign. Even reporters traveling with us were upset by its ferocity.
It shows how a deeply riven party can suffer terrible consequences of not healing the wounds of a contested nomination fight and a nasty convention: Many anti-war Democrats who had previously supported Bobby Kennedy or Eugene McCarthy couldn't stand the idea of voting for HHH, who clung to LBJ's failed war policy. The result: Nixon won a close contest. That's the kind of scenario that probably keeps Democratic Party chair Howard Dean awake at night.
Then there was of my first caucus, in 1972. I was a newly minted 18-year-old voter and George McGovern's campaign motivated me to participate in the political process. I was picked as a McGovern delegate to the county convention, but at that time, pro-war, favorite-son presidential candidate Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson was determined to control the state's delegation to the national convention. Thus, all the anti-Jackson forces – which included a very diverse group of delegates supporting McGovern, Edmund Muskie, Shirley Chisholm, etc. – were forced into a coalition to stop the Scoop machine. But we were steamrollered at the county convention and a pro-Scoop slate was sent on.
After the excitement of the caucus and the emotional thrill of feeling a part of the antiwar crusade, I was shocked at how quickly our cause was crushed. Of course, election day 1972 was even worse, when my candidate, after winning the nomination, suffered one of the worst defeats ever at the hands of, again, Nixon.
While I can't blame McGovern's loss on Scoop, he sure didn't do much to help. After McGovern got the nomination, I attended a Seattle Democratic fundraiser at which Jackson refused to even utter the name of George McGovern. He merely asked people lamely to support "the Democratic ticket." If the doves helped do in Humphrey in '68, Hawks got their revenge in '72.
I doubt that the 2008 Democratic nomination fight will be as divisive as the campaigns of 1968 or 1972, but there are divisions and worries. From Clinton supporters you hear the concern that the Obamaphiles might not support Hillary if their man loses – that the youngsters will go off and pout. They also express concern that what is touted as a strength is in fact a weakeness: that Obama-loving independents, crossover voters, and fair-weather Democrats won't stick around if he loses the nomination.
From the Obama side, I've heard caucus goers remark how cranky and dismissive many of the Clinton supporters were of their candidate; that they tended to dismiss Obama fans as people thinking too much with their hearts and not their heads. You had Obama supporters also wondering why their campaign seemed so much better organized than Hillary's: If she's so inevitable and experienced, where was her ground game? This lends credence to suspicions that she's not the better candidate so much as the one who feels most entitled.
For now, these conflicts don't need to be reconciled. The divisions will likely get worse and the passions more intense as the battle for delegates heats up. At best, it will make the winning candidate stronger. At worst, it will reveal achilles heels that can be exploited later. In any case, one thing I've learned: It's a good bet that the rosy glow of today will be another hue by November.
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