It was a joy to be at the Democratic convention this year. The convention was a triumph for the young and the young of heart. I managed to wangle a floor pass and wander around among the delegates during the decisive vote on the California credentials, and I felt I had lived to see a miracle. Those who had been in the streets in Chicago were now, only four years and one convention later, in the delegates’ seats in Miami. Black faces; Spanish, Mexican, and Indian faces; Spanish, Mexican, and Indian faces; and women testified to a political convulsion that had for the first time broken barriers of race, sex, age, and class on a substantial scale in a major party gathering.
To find a parallel in American history one had to go back to the Jacksonian revolution which first gave the right to vote to men without property and then replaced patricians with commoners in public office. Once more, with McGovern’s victory in the Democratic party, a nominee could truthfully say, “American politics will never be the same again.” Fresh forces from the grass roots had found a way to power. Win or lose this year, they will be back. They are the future.
One old politico who survived the earthquake looked over his fellow delegates and told a reporter in disgust, “They look like the cast of Hair.” Among the new faces—sideburned, bewhiskered, and bearded in the now radical mode Victorians once regarded as eminently respectable (so limited are the symbols of revolt and the pendulum of fashion!)—were also many old squares: veterans of every lost cause back to the La Follette campaign of 1924 and the Henry Wallace campaign of 1948. Indeed the oldest delegate, eighty-five-year-old former Senator Ernest Gruening—a delegate from Alaska—made his political debut with the radical Republicans who broke away from the GOP to form the Bull Moose party and thus elected Woodrow Wilson in 1912. He was among the first to rally to McGovern and predict his victory when the rest of us—myself included—were skeptical.
On the convention floor were a scattering of these foolish old indomitables who never have sense enough to know when they are licked. The young testified to the reincarnation of the spirit, and the old, it seemed, to the resurrection of the body. I shook hands with lively ghosts out of a dozen forgotten crusades. When the anti-Daley delegation from Illinois two nights later put McGovern over the top for the nomination, it seemed as if, incredibly, the battered legions of the Lord had won themselves a victory at last.
When McGovern said that if he is elected, “There will be no more Asian children running ablaze from bombedout schools,” when he presented as his running mate not some crafty choice of Southern strategy like Wilbur Mills but a like-minded freshman senator from Missouri who has been fighting the Pentagon in the lobby of “Members of Congress for World Peace Through …