Pharaohs of a Late Dynasty, Mayor Daley and Governor Connally, behind the podium, rock-strong in their desert, brooding, grunting, and nudging. Sometimes a finger was lifted to direct the hapless felaheen of the Illinois delegation, a band of folk sunk in apathetic unanimity. Or glumly a sign exacted a cheer from the citizen-guests of the Mayor’s own Chicago hectares. Their hymns, rising up, spoke not of Right or Necessity, but, simply, of Love. We Love Mayor Daley!
Everyone in Chicago, in the lobbies, in the bars, at the Amphitheater, had his story, bore his witness to horrors in the park, shoving and fraud at the convention, the menace of powers. There was even a certain amount of competition to have large Experiences, since experience could not be avoided altogether. At the beginning of the week, even the squares for Humphrey clung to the Yippies, gulping, “Did you hear they have arrested Pigasus?” Heavy, sheepish smiles. “Platform of garbage, a pig you see….No pay toilets….” Ha, ha.
No pleasure or irony or pop humor attended the world debut of Mayor Daley. He was visible and comprehensible instantly and as a whole: a figure to fear. Who would willingly have dealings with him? Affection and good deeds would no doubt be attributed to him, as an explanation, but if he fell it would be like the fall of King Farouk or Nkrumah. Goodbye, goodbye, forever; the same banners would suddenly say on the other side. Even as he began his plans to gather the flocks in Chicago, vanity and folly and cruelty trailed him like glowering bodyguards. Johnson, of course, deferred, as to the military, confident that Himself could handle it. The end was five days of pain and suffering, of lawless squalor and idiocy in the name of the State. Try as you would to remain fixed on the local and to be faithful to the particular, to the American root, images of Stalin and Hitler refused to fade away. The obvious was the most accurate.
Wednesday night, during the siege of the Hilton, when the police mercilessly beat young men before the eyes of everyone, you could hear the timid but determined voices of “concerned” women calling out, “What are the charges against that young man?” Or, “Stop, please, Sir, you are killing him!” The mention of the instruments of law and order sent the police into a wild rage and for a moment they stopped beating demonstrators and turned to threaten the frightened suburbans. During the raid on the McCarthy Headquarters, a girl in tears asked, “What are the grounds?” The police answered, “Coffee grounds.” With this lawlessness of the Law, misery fell from the sky. Suppose, you found yourself wondering, they should take over! “I have been a lifelong Democrat,” people kept whispering in bewilderment. Few had realized until Chicago how great a ruin Johnson and his war in Vietnam had brought down upon our country.
Hysterical supervision and repressiveness edged every important arrangement and decision of the Chicago administration. And even the most trivial details were marked by an intense, mystifying, futile fraudulence. What actually was there behind the ugly fences put up along the route to the Amphitheater? Sometimes a run-down building much more pleasing to one’s sense of life than the blind fences stood in hiding there—or we were, in this menacing way, simply being protected from an encounter with a vacant lot. One side of an old brick slum was painted a glaring, fresh, improbable red—a grotesque compliment to the sensibilities and common sense of the visitors. The coarseness of mind that produced these improvements and camouflage blacked out the beauty and fascination of the city. Inevitably with so much care and effort all artfully flowing from the singular inspiration of Mayor Daley, a style came to life. The style was defined by its unmistakable origin in a previous tradition: it was police-state, concentration-camp style, a mode always available to the mood of tyranny. One is almost ashamed to admit how frightening it was.
FEAR AND ANGER: these had been growing and gnawing in many a Chicago planning session, in all those burly conferences. They feared, dismaying as it is to imagine—at the least a blot on the name of Chicago! At the worst—a disaster, single tragedies, multiple blows, assassinations, fire, poisoned water, Japanese-style suicide planes crashing on the gathered delegates, blackouts. Humphrey spoke with feeling of threats to himself; and indeed who among the crowd of youth honored him, who would save him, when there was not a single vote winging his way from out there, unless it might be those of the five plain-clothesmen, shoeless, in hirsute disguises? “It was all programmed!” he exclaimed. They were out to get him, out to get Mayor Daley’s city, out to get the Nomination, out to get the Democratic Party. These hordes, born too late to understand those who had made their way, those who, as they kept insisting, “loved and believed in this country.” Several times, in the last year, Humphrey had, using a homely verb phrase, found that demonstrators and striking students made him “feel sick to my stomach.”
Assassinations: why should we doubt that the threats were made? It is a question simply of who made them. And here, without evidence, what can we call upon except our sense of things? Perhaps there is some secrecy in the militant peace groups, but secrecy is hard to credit among those whose strength comes from free and open assault on the sensibilities, the frayed nerves, of those in charge of things.
Answer this: how could youngsters milling and screaming in the streets possibly assassinate in their hotel rooms the heavily guarded candidates who sat, safely working the dials on the TV set. CBS or NBC? Exhausting. Shut out the message from Gulf. And what was threatened except the grass and certain city ordinances by the Yippies in the cold dark park after the curfew? It was anger, surely, and not fear that drove the scourgers against the Yippies. A father, sweating, red-faced, unchallenged, beating up his son, “over-reacting.” Bad young people and, particularly, their “bad language”—standing for what buried offenses? It was a misfortune that the curious, jowly, porky figures of many of the policemen and the memorable configuration of Mayor Daley gave a stinging lift to the shout of “Pig!” (Mayor Daley has some difficulty with speech; he grunts out words that are themselves prone to mishap. Thus in his welcoming he said the visitors to Chicago would be “subjected to the famous hospitality of the middle West.”)
The words of the demonstrators enraged because with a frankness and economy they represented attitudes. They speak of an unwanted future. Clothes, hair: this too is language. A terrifying succession stands impatiently in line. The brutality of the nightstick, the thick skin of the victorious candidates, the meanness, the lies, the unmanly fears: all of this allowed the sordid, parental self-protection to show itself. Insofar as the safety of the community was concerned, the actions of the police were a dangerous and stupid diversion, alas like Vietnam. We see that, deep down, truly, the police and Mayor Daley did not believe in hidden and sinister danger from the demonstrators; otherwise they would not have been out on the street beating them up, making it easy for some clean shaven Nihilist to wander where he would.
WHEN THE AUTHORITIES spoke, in justification, they trembled at the recollection of the revolutionary, guerrilla warfare rhetoric of the “Free Press” and student newspapers. These publications so filled with jokes and gags and dirty cartoons are read with iron literalness by the FBI, the Vice President, the leaders of the Democratic Party, and by the police. I am reminded of Disraeli who, although a Jew himself, did not know much about the Jews and found the Jewish power described in the protocols of Zion strangely fascinating. He hadn’t until then thought his people controlled so much. “Why they’ve got maps of the city, of the transportation system!” Mayor Daley said. Surely, he was talking about the newspaper Rat, whose Convention Special with its maps and its account of the action to come was an encyclopedia for all who were puzzling over the distance between the Hilton and Grant Park. The “intelligence” gathered from the newspapers around Greenwich Village will apparently be a large part of the case for the defense. There is pathos and humor in all this, like a dinosaur choking on bubble gum. A fearful gap, not only in generations, but in common sense, in ordinary understanding of the world about us, has opened up. And how can we face this, except with dread?
IN GRANT PARK, the demonstrators gathered for the Wednesday afternoon march they were not allowed to have, just as they had not been allowed permits for any of their rallies or marches. Here again swollen fear seemed determined to make the “confrontation” uniquely dramatic. In the late afternoon the “non-violent” group began to assemble under the statute. A middle group, apparently made up of those willing if necessary to suffer violence but not to inflict it, gathered elsewhere. And a third group, “those who would take part in the action,” was directed to its starting place. Tom Hayden—“Mr. Underground” they were calling him now—said, “if they gas us, the gas will go all over the city; if they burn us they will burn.” This is militant dialogue and one is never quite sure just what is meant by it, how “self-defense” is to work for the appallingly outnumbered and weak. But in Chicago exaggeration became fact. The police—“over-reacting”—caught everyone up in their violence. Tear gas vexed the eye of candidate, party hack, and demonstrator. What revolutionary could have imagined the useful violence against the press and the television crews?
The youngsters assembled for the “action” were told, “You may be going to your death, but it will be worth it.” In those words, there in the bright, crowded, excited afternoon all of the pity and terror of the future lies. Bolivian adventures in unprepared mountains—and death. Wave a Viet Cong flag and drive them out of their minds! Take down the stars and stripes and watch them charge, ready for the kill. The more militant demonstrators, resting later in the week, told newsmen they were going into training for battle, they would learn, among other things, how to trip the horses that carried the policemen when they came charging down on them. In Chicago, neither a shooting, nor a stabbing, nor a burning, nor a sabotage has been reported. Guerrilla rhetoric, determination to cross the line into the street, rocks and bottles provoked outstandingly furious, awful reprisal. And we remember the story of the policeman, true or not, who fainted when a stream of hairspray surprised him. As he went down no doubt he felt on his face the cool touch of a death-dealing Commie ray…. The “confrontation” took place. Many dreams came true. A bunch of ministers and minstrels could not have brought it off by songs and prayers of PEACE NOW. Is it birth or death?
HUBERT HUMPHREY is an altogether embarrassing figure, with his dyed black hair and glowing television make-up. He creates a sense of false energy—like an MC on an afternoon show. The present Democratic leadership appears to be divided between bullies and cowards and Humphrey asks us to take our chances on the coward. You will find me less dangerous, he seems to be trying to assure us.
The Vice President has many words and he uses them over and over. “I am the Captain of the team,” he says. Many of the choice sentences of his acceptance speech had been the choice remarks of his appearance before the California delegation. (Peace and freedom do not come cheaply, my friends.) He brought forth Winston Churchill and St. Francis of Assisi—one strong and one humble—and topped the embarrassment of the first by the second. He is always frantically smiling; repose is a rapid fade to sentiment. In between, where feeling and person would lodge, there is simply nothing. He does not seem in touch. Empty smiles, a wound-up toy. Nothing in him inspires confidence. He cannot allow himself to be distracted by events. The entire convention appeared to intrude upon his smiles. Nothing has happened since the Thirties: that is his message, that is the real Humphrey, now, “Captain of the team.”
A poor-boy rise through the graceful apertures of The System; labor support, early Civil Rights legislation. He seems alarmed and confused that this should not be sufficient. I am a good man! the manic manner cries out. The sense of an arrested consciousness makes him appear daily more empty. Now to be Here, at last, and to have nothing to say. Humphrey and Nixon, madly waving from the top of the pole: both of them must realize, with a peculiar helplessness, how oddly alike they are. One, a brash, free-wheeling liberal, the other, cautious, obedient, longing: in the course of their lives they have converged and are fixed, as with wax, in a numbing similarity. They are blind and deaf, but still whole-somely smiling.
It was not hard to tell the Humphrey supporters: they looked like Republicans, conservatively dressed, provincial, not quite at ease with the psychedelic Hubie, Baby button on their lapel. In the elevator at the Hilton, after the beatings in the lobby, several Humphrey supporters gossiped away saying, “Well, they were told not to come here.” The party system collapsed in Chicago, leaving instead Candidates. There were only memorials to The Nomination. And how long Humphrey had waited to lie down, naked, at last, with her.
MC CARTHY: nothing in his campaign became him more than the losing of it. His blossoming eccentricities separated him from the breathless mediocrity and banality of Nixon and Humphrey on the one hand and, on the other, from the more plausible and popular style of the Kennedys. A hatred of cant was not, as some would have liked, replaced in his speeches by an austere eloquence but rather by a flat recital of his position on the “issues.” These sensible and deflating addresses to a large, self-congratulatory audience were a perturbation. No, no, it is not a lot of mush and butter we want, they would say, but something. Perhaps something very scholarly and boring and thereby satisfying to the ego, or perhaps he might be cryptic, poetic, curious. Anything, anything except the dead fish thrown back into the warm, receptive waters, His wit seemed merely a rumor at Madison Square Garden, at the palpitating turn-out in Boston. Stories of a really good speech in Maryland came back to the followers. In the long run, no one turned away from him and perhaps they finally came to know what he would say and what he wouldn’t. In an “amateur” campaign—if that is what it was—in the participatory democracy of the kind the McCarthy volunteers practiced, each boy and girl seemed to think of himself as a sort of vice-nominee, ready with ideas, with suggestions for theory and practice. The disciples were tested, once and then once more, by their candidate’s surprising indifference to expediency and political maneuvering as we ordinarily understand them.
It is not possible to describe such a large group as the McCarthy workers: they were not as young as the newspapers implied and were closer to graduate school age and temperament than to youngsters. Perhaps some will become “radicalized” by the finale in Chicago. And yet, perhaps what held them besides the peace issue was the whole excitement of politics, this absurd theater of primaries and delegates, voting blocs and challenges, county chairman, caucuses, candidates. The sadness is that they have discovered the fun of something that has, in this presidential election, gone rotten.
In Chicago, the three candidates had an interesting debate before the California delegation. The presence of two genuine persons on either side of him put Humphrey at a disadvantage. He fell back on his empty frenzy, waffling about his opponents. “America is lucky to have these two men!” McCarthy passed up the chance to make a rousing speech by saying, “My position on Vietnam is well known.” Senator McGovern took the opportunity and was rapturously received. McGovern was a pleasing mixture of the two other candidates. His position on the issues was solid and courageous and in support of it he brought a character and style far enough from the inane, boyish masochism of Humphrey but still within our weary tradition. He spoke of the “great” state of California and addressed the delegates as “distinguished.” In the end he went to the Convention for the nomination and said he would support the Party. He appears to believe we can go on as before.
The most radical thing about McCarthy was his refusal to make the expected gestures. This was an unsettling condition and aroused anger and suspicion everywhere. True, the California delegation knew his position, but why not take the opportunity to score? He seems unwilling to tell people what they already know and feels apparently that a political campaign is the last place to instruct them in what they don’t know. He held even the Holy Grail itself—The Hallowed Nomination—at a distance and failed utterly to be grieved when he lost it.
There was a plainness to his views and the plainer they were the more unlikely they sounded amidst the elaborate rigidity of our familiar political discourse. He was asked early in the campaign if he thought he would make a good president and he said he would make an adequate one. God! they gasped. Another boo-boo! He conceded certain defeat at least twenty-four hours before one is allowed to concede certain defeat. His eccentricities were inexplicable; he peeled off a dozen political skins, this one the proper manner, that one the guarded answer, and yet another, the drooling hunger for the office itself. McCarthy missed all those sweet opportunities to “show compassion” but he had no company when he talked with the demonstrators, visited the wounded, stayed away from the Convention, and said he would not support Humphrey. Nevertheless there is something brilliantly troubling about him, in his political role: Perhaps what will last the longest from his campaign is the hint that many of the acts in our political repertoire aren’t worth putting on your makeup for.
Out of the meanness and hollowness, the degrading events and the worrying future, one suddenly saw a little Yippie with a sign saying, CHICAGO IS A GAS. That was transcendence, rebirth.
September 26, 1968