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Complicating this dynamic was the acceleration of an ongoing breakdown of ancient regional party allegiances, gradually replaced by more appropriate ideological affinity. The first great shift was in the Deep South, where white voters began abandoning the Democratic Party over civil rights in 1964. In 1968, Hubert Humphrey won only one state of the former Confederacy (Texas). There was a nostalgic revival of Dixie Democracy under Jimmy Carter in 1976 and a smaller comeback under Bill Clinton in 1992 (both made possible by nearly full African American participation), and down-ballot strength that lasted into the twenty-first century. In the end, however, the defection of the South to the GOP gave Republicans their so-called electoral college lock on the presidency by the 1980s. But 1968 came to be viewed as a seminal turning point in American politics less for the partisan shifts it reflected and intensified than for the nasty and unforgiving tone of cultural conflict it exemplified. It erupted within parties (like Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's obscene and anti-Semitic outburst at Senator Abraham Ribicoff for describing the Chicago police department's handling of antiwar protesters as "Gestapo tactics"), between parties, and, most of all, beyond parties, in televised street conflicts in multiple places over multiple issues. Indeed, the images of 1968, punctuated by assassinations, riots, clashes between hard hats and antiwar marchers, the violence at the Democratic convention, and the violence at George Wallace events, have sometimes overwhelmed the actual history. Cohen, who wasn't born until 1971, struggles (mostly successfully) with the temptation to descend into generational stereotypes about the free-loving, dope-smoking hippies of the Baby Boom generation battling the stolid values of their parents. Truth is, most of the "counterculture" avatars of 1968 were from a small elite cluster of college kids; the real broadscale breakdown in traditional mores occurred in the 1970s. But it's true that a middle-age, middle-class, white American watching that year's events on television might have felt her or his world turning upside down and inside out. Cohen's decision to work his way through 1968 via the various presidential candidacies keeps his account rooted in concrete 118 September/October 2016 events rather than retroactive hyperbole. of independence might have brought him Inevitably, he devotes a lot of attention to victory. Cohen seems to agree. The surge in LBJ's descent from the all-conquering vic- popular support for Humphrey was also the tor of 1964 to the man who was driven from predictable result of two other factors: the his reelection race after the first primary inevitable decline in interest of the Wallace and could only appear safely at military bas- candidacy outside the South, and growing es. Those who remember the later agonies of skepticism about the centrist bona fides of Democrats who feared being deemed "soft" Richard Nixon. Still, it's hard to escape the on national security may empathize with conclusion that what ultimately doomed the Johnson's all-consuming fear that conser- Democrats was Johnson's refusal to shift vative attacks on him for "losing" Vietnam his position on Vietnam to where common might unravel his domestic agenda. That sense and his own voters were telling him fear was raised to the level of stubborn ob- to go. And perhaps the biggest difference besession by Republicans' huge midterm gains tween 1968 and 2016 for Democrats is that in 1966. Ultimately, of course, LBJ had it Hillary Clinton has not made a similar misbackward; he was undermined by the indi- take on trade and other issues. rect social and economic effects of Vietnam, Another dubious product of many careand undone by antiwar Democrats. And less memories of 1968 is that Robert Kenwhile he did agree to abandon his reelection nedy would have surely been the Democampaign with surprising alacrity after fall- cratic nominee if not for his assassination ing short of the crushing victory he was ex- on the night of his California primary vicpected to win over Gene McCarthy in New tory over Gene McCarthy in early June. As Hampshire (and reading the polls showing Cohen explains, Humphrey had by then him actually losing to McCarthy in Wiscon- locked up powerful support from electsin, too), his stubbornness on the war lived ed officials and party bosses in states on, to the terrible discomfiture and eventual without primaries, and Kennedy was not demise of his vice president and chosen suc- showing the popular support needed to cessor, Hubert Humphrey. overturn that coalition: "[An] early May Cohen explains carefully that Humphrey's Gallup survey found that only a quarter of instincts on Vietnam were far sounder than voters wanted to see Democrats pick KenJohnson's. But Humphrey's early efforts to nedy as the standard-bearer in Chicago," get LBJ to rethink his position just led to Cohen writes, "placing him behind both the president freezing him out of the deci- McCarthy and Humphrey." sionmaking circle on the war, and never alTheoretically, McCarthy could have conlowing him the political space to stake out solidated antiwar opposition to Humphrey his own position. While Cohen periodically and put on a spirited challenge in Chicago, questions Humphrey's courage on Vietnam, but his desultory campaigning and complete it's important to remember that his strate- lack of emotional connection with critical elgy for winning the Democratic presidential ements of the party like labor made him a nomination in 1968 involved skipping the fading influence on events. Even at the conprimaries and relying heavily on machine vention, a large slice of RFK's delegates went and southern Democrats who, in turn, were not with McCarthy but with the late substimore or less in LBJ's palm. As late as the tute candidate George McGovern, who was convention itself, Humphrey was still be- to become the Democratic nominee in 1972. ing threatened with a presidential visit to Democratic divisions over the war and Chicago and a sudden revival of an LBJ re- the ever-increasingly related "law and orelection campaign if he dared cut a platform der" were front and center at the convention, deal with antiwar Democrats. Crazy as that when what was later officially described by seems in retrospect, Humphrey was in no a blue-ribbon commission as a "police riot" position to call the bluff of the party's capo broke out, first against protesters in the di tutti capo. streets and parks of Chicago, but eventually Humphrey's late-general-election surge spilling over into the lobbies of convention in the polls came after he finally broke, albe- hotels and the convention arena itself. By it slightly, with the administration on Viet- the time Humphrey was nominated as the nam, suggesting that an earlier assertion "happy warrior" of American politics, it was a

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Monthly - September/October 2016

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