Representative John Conyers, a liberal from Michigan, was on the prowl. He was looking for liberal delegates to sign a petition for Representative Ron Dellums' vice presidential candidacy, and when he sauntered into the Americans for Democratic Action cocktail party last Wednesday, he figured he could gather all the signatures he needed. A rude awakening followed.
"How many delegates are here?" the banlon-shirted Conyers asked as he walked into the fairly crowded ADA suite. After a second of counting, a surprised Conyers exclaimed, "Only three delegates in the whole goddamned hall." It's true, the ADA, institutionalized liberalism at its best, had attracted only three members of the party's power structure. That's something that would have been unheard of one or two conventions ago. And despite the protestations of ADA members attending, the handful of delegates was a sign that the liberals lived in the closet, if at all, during the '76 convention.
Like Conyers, I came to the ADA meeting in search of liberals, wondering about their demise, and trying to pin down a thesis that they were the big losers at Convention '76. And as with Conyers, it didn't take me long to realize that the liberals were indeed on the run.
When I spoke to Conyers, he was even more pessimistic. "There is no spokesman for the left this year, other than Dellums," Conyers said, adding that he doesn't know where Carter stands--although he is sure that Carter is not a liberal.
Russell Hay, a Carter delegate from Pennsylvania relaxed with a drink in hand at the ADA's fund-raiser. He was tired, but more than willing to talk about the process of liberal accommodation, and the small role that liberals apparently played at the convention. "Those big liberal issues are done, they are accomplished. There are no problems with sex, with color," he says. Hay, who hails from Pennsylvania Dutch country, said he had talked about the liberal absence with his delegations, and many agreed that "we are seeing the fruits of the McGovern push in 1972. The party has realized that you'd better open up or you don't exist." Into that vacuum of battles won stepped Carter, and like many liberals of Hay's nature, he says, "Carter? He's not bad."
Rep. Jonathan Bingham represented another strain of liberals in the ADA's suite, the Udall supporters. He admitted that he was skeptical of Carter, but that he was an acceptable alternative to the Nixon-Ford politicians, especially if he picked a liberal like Mondale for vice president. Nevertheless, Bingham says he can't feel strongly about the man.
How representative a feeling is Bingham's? The Democrats made an impressive show of unity, as everyone now knows. But, much of that unity was easily whipped up out of the intense anti-Nixon-Ford feeling that still burns in the delegates' hearts. The fervor wasn't really Carter-inspired. In fact, it appeared to me that Carter's support outside the south seemed very soft. Soft is a word without precision, and may not tell much in terms of electoral votes. But what it can indicate is the percentage of voter turnout--something very important to a majority that has a front runner. Softness does translate into a large percentage of voters, maybe down to something like 52 per cent especially in the North and West, which could really hurt Carter's chances in November.
Part of the reason why I sense that the Carter support seemed weak was the lack of a turnout on the early nights of the convention. On Tuesday night the platform readings clashed head-on with the All-Star Game in nearby Philadelphia, and the game won handsdown. In at least two large delegations, the Ohio and Pennsylvania contingents, there were more empty seats than full ones at times--possibly because Ohio (Cincinnati Reds) and Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies) had so many representatives. Don't laugh. "That's not a dubious thesis at all," Richard Celeste, Lt. Governor of Ohio, said in corroboration. "There were a lot of seats and a lot of people went down to the game."
Another anti-Carter illusion may have been created by the large blocs of Udall supporters--mostly from fashionable portions of New York and Westchester, that packed the galleries. Silence came from the rafters at times when you would have expected wild support for Carter--support that would have been expressed, say, if the convention had been held in a Southern city.
Exactly how boring the convention really was, is still an issue. Bob Marzell, a tenor saxophonist in Peter Duchin's band had just finished about his 15th round of "Happy Days Are Here Again," and yet he was still willing to compare the event favorably to some bar mitzvahs and other affairs he's been playing lately. "It's exciting to see the VIPs," he said. Madison Square Garden President Michael Burke, however, the man best suited to compare this event to others at the arena, admitted that a Knicks game would have created a more enthusiastic crowd. Spotted Wednesday night in the highest bleachers, Burke said, "it's boring," while surveying the happiness downstairs.
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If the liberals as a group seemed less likely to be the cornerstone in Carter's wall of Democratic unity, the black delegates just may play that role. The black caucus met for much of Wednesday, and presented its findings at a press conference that afternoon. Reporters during and after the conference saw a group of delegates that was definitely Carterized both on and off the record. The accent of the meeting was that Basil Patterson, chairman of the caucus, said his delegation didn't want to push for a black vice presidential nominee, because it didn't want to give false hopes to black people. But what came through in the conference was the sincere belief on the part of the caucus that Carter would appoint far greater proportions of blacks into his administration than previous presidents in past administrations. Part of the reason for the sincerity is that both Carter and the caucus are playing ball with each other. The black delegation had the numbers and the chance to heavily endorse Dellums or the popular Barbara Jordan for vice president. Such nomination fights would have caused a disruption that would have made the delegates more visible. But they chose to lay low because they could exercise far more power by lobbying with Carter for what they wanted for both the v.p. slot and the platform. That they did the former is obvious. The cooperation on the platform, which Carter sanctioned, is not as easily seen. But a scrutiny of key issues in the platform, especially when compared to the positions adopted at the black caucus in May of this year shows that blacks incorporated their positions almost wholly unchanged.
A few examples show that blacks were indeed the big gainers in New York. The issue of full employment is the highest priority of both the caucus of black Democrats and the party. Both positions call for a Marshall plan for the cities and direct federal subsidies for lower-income housing. The National Health Care plan endorsed by the Democrats includes most of the specifics of the black delegates caucus's agenda including comprehensive coverage with special mention of mental health and employer-employee payroll tax finances. There is strong support for affirmative action and the platform calls for the declaration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday as a national holiday.
Perhaps most interestingly, the platform specifically calls for the end to the relaxation of the arms embargo against South Africa and prohibits the granting of U.S. tax credits for companies doing business in Namibia and paying taxes to South Africa. And it calls for the repeal of the Byrd Amendment which permits the importation of Rhodesian chrome. I asked Rep. Shirley Chisholm if she believes that Jimmy Carter would live up to the party platform principles on Africa. She said she believes he very clearly embraces these principles, and that no president has ever done as much as Jimmy Carter will do for blacks in Africa. She was thoroughly Carterized.
Not all women were as satisfied. The women in the National Organization for Women caucus said they are unhappy with Carter and the Democratic party. The women in the NOW caucus said they were dissatisfied that the full-employment plank of the platform failed to speak specifically about the problems of women. They also disliked the compromise for future conventions that encouraged delegations to promote and not require that 50 per cent of the delegates be women.
Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman '62 from New York, however, disagreed with women who objected to the platform. She cited ample provision for day care centers in the platform, and didn't feel in general that women's issues were left out. She said she believes that it really doesn't matter how you state that you want delegations to act affirmatively. the most important consideration, she said, is the people administering the rules. "Even the clearest law won't be fully upheld," she snorted, if the people in charge of making affirmative action happen are prejudiced against women.
Albert Friedman, a Hasidic delegate from New York, said he speaks for some at the convention when he says that talk of requiring a certain percentage of women smacks of a quota system. He is opposed to quotas in any form, he adds.
Whatever the consequences of the promote vs. require debate, John Kenneth Galbraith, professor Emeritus, said he believes that women and young people have made permanent inroads in the party structure because of a series of campaign reforms. The primary system in particular, he said, has done away with many professional politicians, because the system encourages candidates to commit themselves early, something they don't like to do. He said he would be surprised if many people at the convention were here for the first time. "There is a very low proportion of professionals here," he said. "There is no better way to open the convention to youths than the primary system, which is something that The Harvard Crimson approves of."