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August 26, 2014 9:11 AM “The Whole World’s Watching”

By Ed Kilgore

Sorry if I wind up spending too much time in the wayback machine today, but I just realized the most infamous Democratic Convention since 1924 began on this day in 1968.

Like anyone of my sub-generation, I grew up with a lot of big and sometimes historic news events interrupting my childhood: Sputnik, the Cuban Missile Crisis (about which I still have nightmares), the Birmingham church bombings, the JFK assassination, Selma, the Vietnam escalation. But 1968 was the first year I had any real sense I understood what was going on. My main memory of the King assassination was the happy excitement of some of my relatives (not, thank God, my parents). I woke up one June morning to the radio alarm clock replaying the incredible taped account of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination.

The convention was the climax of that awful year; Nixon’s election felt like an aftershock. And for me, the two central images of the convention, more powerful even than the violence in the streets, were of Mayor Richard Daley mouthing obscenities at Sen. Abraham Ribicoff after his reference at the convention podium to “Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago,” and then Hubert Humphrey, “the happy warrior,” accepting the nomination as though everything was perfectly in order.

In Rick Perlstein’s Invisible Bridge, there’s a subtheme involving the ideological treachery of the “Watergate generation” of Democrats, whose contempt for old school pols like Hubert Humphrey disguised an elitist disdain for the New Deal tradition. I suppose that’s partially fair, if a massive over-generalization (don’t believe you can accuse class-of-74’s Henry Waxman of neglecting the social safety net). But you probably had to experience the 1968 Convention live to understand the enduring venom of younger progressives towards HHH. And no “struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party” since then can remotely compare to it.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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