and the Transformation of American Politics (2017)
The fight over credentials took so long that it wasn’t until 12:35 am that the report from the Platform Committee was given, starting with the majority (LBJ’s) Peace Plank. The chairman of the Platform Committee was forced to stop reading due to the uproar among anti-war delegates. The leader of the Wisconsin delegation moved to adjourn until the next afternoon (it was Wisconsin that started the uproar); the anti-war delegates knew that the party bosses wanted the platform debate to occur in the wee-hours of the morning in order to keep a high number of viewers from seeing the extreme rancor. Following Daley’s orders, the convention chair refused to close the session. John Bailey, the Democratic Party Chairman, realized that he had to get the convention off of television at that point, and he signaled to Daley, who signaled to the convention chair, and the session was gaveled to a close at 1:15 am.
Americans that watched the Democratic National Convention in Chicago only remembered the third night, Wednesday, 28 August 1968. Mayor Richard Daley and conservative commentator William F. Buckley each had the most hateful public moments of their lives. Daley’s savage verbal attack on Senator Abraham Ribicoff (CT) and Buckley’s infamous attack on liberal commentator Gore Vidal provided fireworks inside the convention for viewers. And, on Michigan Avenue, as Hayden had predicted, “The Whole World” watched on TV (tape-delayed) as Chicago police went after the anti-war protesters. Too much had to still get done in terms of the convention itself on that Wednesday, which was to end with the nominations of President and Vice-President . . . but Tuesday’s business concerning the platform was still unfinished.
While that was occurring on the convention floor, the city-permitted demonstration at Grant Park had started with 15,000 protesters present, and the police were ready to stop the march to the Amphitheater. A teenage boy tried to take down the US Flag, and he was arrested by police. Rock-throwing by the protesters intensified, and a phalanx of police careened into the MOBE marshals, focusing on Rennie Davis; five Chicago police officers beat Davis to unconsciousness.
Daley’s response to accusations of excessive force was to increase excessive force, with many Americans seeing doing so as a mirror image of LBJ’s Vietnam policy, which was exactly what Hayden and Davis had wanted to occur. The Illinois National Guard launched tear gas in order to try and keep the protesters from leaving Grant Park. Despite every tactic used by law enforcement, many protesters broke out of the northern part of Grant Park on to Michigan Avenue, and the media followed.
The nominating process had started at the convention at 6 pm, and both McCarthy and Humphrey were placed in nomination early. The plan of the party bosses was to have glowing speeches before and after the nominations to shore up unity and to have a nominee (Humphrey) selected on the first ballot. But the rioting in front of the Hilton Hotel ended that vision and television captured the tensions/divisions on the convention floor. The most famous instance was Senator Ribicoff’s “Gestapo tactics” charge from the podium against Daley, and everyone watching that could read lips saw Daley’s response, which Ribicoff heard. Later, Buckley called Vidal a queer on live television (Vidal was gay) and threatened to punch Vidal. Buckley’s slur offended everybody, and as the Gay Rights Movement gained momentum over the following years, Buckley’s offense became all the more heinous. Buckley never stopped regretting what he said that night, and also never stopped hating Vidal (the feeling was mutual).
At 11:47 pm, Humphrey garnered the nomination on the first ballot: Humphrey 1760.25, McCarthy 601, McGovern 146.5, Channing Phillips (the 1st African-American nominated by either party) 67.5, and Ted Kennedy 12.75. McCarthy soon called Humphrey to congratulate him on the nomination. Then, contrary to all advice, McCarthy went to Grant Park to address the protesters; McCarthy referred to the protesters as “the government of the people in exile”.
The last night of the convention (Thursday, 29 August) was like an extra innings baseball game whose outcome was already decided; Wednesday night was what Americans remembered and cared about. Humphrey’s nomination speech was boring but it was not interrupted; Humphrey made sure to avoid offending LBJ and Daley. The Republican nominee, Richard Nixon, had a huge lead in the polls after the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and both parties figured that the Republicans would win big on Election Day.
Addendum: The Poor People's Campaign in early-1968 . . .