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Lessons From The 1968 Democratic Convention

Why the Democrats helped Nixon win the Presidency.

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Richard Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign is famous for its promise of “law and order”. In an era of unease and protests, whether it be anti-Vietnam War, civil rights, or women’s rights, the idea of stability was appealing to many. This is something Nixon’s opposing party did not have, as the Democrats were in disarray. The media-sensationalized planned chaos of the 1968 Democratic convention added fuel to Richard Nixon’s racialized dog-whistle campaign for law and order, forcing a reexamination of the tactics of protest and riot for the radical left. It also caused many people to abandon the Democrats and go Republican, including many southerners. These events had a direct impact on the election, and figuring out which of these problems contributed the most may be an unanswerable question. Nevertheless, here are four ways that Nixon benefitted from events surrounding the 1968 campaign.

When Richard Nixon won the 1968 Presidential election, becoming the 37th president of the United States, he won on a promise of law and order. Law and order was something that Lyndon Johnson’s administration did not have in the eyes of many. Much of this came from opposition to the Vietnam War. By 1968 the war was in its 14th year and around 20,000 U.S soldiers had been killed. This was also the year of the Tet Offensive, in which both the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong attacked many South Vietnam targets. Although it ended with more North fatalities, it was a turning point in the war in terms of public view. Many lost faith in the goal and now saw how vulnerable the U.S was, and also how little control of the situation they really had. There was more to come, as on April 4th Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated while standing on the balcony of his home in Memphis, Tennessee, sparking riots across the country. On June 5th, presidential candidate Robert Kennedy was shot in the head just after winning the California Primary, he died the next day. All of this contributed to a nationwide feeling of tension, and led many to walk away from the Democratic Party. Even after Johnson announced he would not seek reelection, when Vice President Hubert Humphrey said he would run for president, many viewed him as being the same as Johnson, so the anger towards Democrats persisted. The Democratic National Convention itself essentially put the last nail in the coffin of the party. There was unruly behavior by protestors throughout the entire event, and many clashes with police. The media widely publicized this, and created was an opportunity Nixon took advantage of. When Nixon won the republican nomination, he was widely viewed as the safer candidate. While Humphrey embodied more of the same policies the country was tired of, Nixon brought a different approach. At the Republican Convention, Nixon explicitly blamed democrats for the problems in Vietnam and promised to seek an honorable end to the war. In an effort to turn white southern democrats towards his side, law and order was promised. Law and order was essentially just racialized dog-whistling, however. Dog-whistling politics are when one thing is said, but there is really a deeper meaning behind it. For example, Nixon focused on crime and urban unrest, something whites were strongly against and also had a racial aspect attached to it, as many accused minorities of committing more crimes. Nixon used these ideas to tap into the “silent majority” by using popular areas of fear, including integration. Although Nixon supported the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, which desegregated schools, he also thought it was wrong to “force a local community to carry out what a federal administrator or bureaucrat may think is best for that local community”. The silent majority are those who are not actively speaking out and not in the public eye, but they are a real presence and make up the majority of voters. Nixon’s catering to southern whites split the democratic party, which was torn between those who were loyal to their party and voted for Humphrey and those who were tired of the current democratic policies and switched to Nixon. What further split the party was the entrance of third party candidate George Wallace into the race. Wallace was extremely right-wing and took even more conservatives away from Humphrey in the election, and even won 4 southern states. In fact, Wallace to this day is the last third party candidate to receive electoral votes. The final result was a split election, and Richard Nixon won the presidency with 301 electoral votes. Humphrey received 191 and Wallace got 36. The silent majority had spoken, and it was the disastrous foreign policy and nationwide unrest that was put on full display at the Democratic Convention that paved the way for the Nixon Administration.

Sources:

1. “In 1968, Democratic Split Helped Nixon Win.” NBCNews.com. NBCUniversal News Group, 29 Sept. 2008. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.^^^^2. Media, American Public. “Richard Nixon.” Richard Nixon - Campaign ‘68 - American RadioWorks. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.^^^^3. “1968 Presidential Election Interactive Map.” 1968 Presidential Election Interactive Map. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.^^^^4. Zeitz, Josh, Colin Woodard, Michael Kruse, and Bruce Blair. “How Trump Is Recycling Nixon’s ‘Law and Order’ Playbook.” POLITICO Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.

Held August 26th to August 29th, 1968, the 1968 Democratic National convention marked an uneasy time of chaos and protest, between the elites of American political life and a powerful anti Vietnam war protest movement. The convention occurred at a time of deep division within America, with President Lyndon B.Johnson stepping down as a result of his disastrous handling of the Vietnam War. The assassinations of prominent figures like Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy also contributed to a sense of chaos and uneasiness within the nation, to be later reflected at that summer’s Democratic National Convention. Overall, the protests lead to chaos via the failure of a disconnected political class and a brutal crackdown of civil speech.

Planning for the protests had been ongoing in the months leading up the convention, as young anti-Vietnam and peace activists gathered in Lake Villa, Illinois on March 23, 1963, to hash out their strategy for the upcoming DNC. Prominent anti war leaders and over a hundred student groups met as part of this effort. They were also joined by a group known as the Yippies, who came to defy political authority and where ultimately denied a permit to protest, furthering an already tense relationship between the city of Chicago and the protestors. Given the fear of these intense protests, the Democratic party considered moving their convention from Chicago to Miami. However, the city, through mayor Richard Daley, remained adamant it that it could hold the convention and keep the peace, in regards to the demonstrations. Additionally, Daley also went to threaten to withhold support for presumptive Democratic nominee, Hubert Humphrey, if the convention was moved. When the convention finally arrived, on the heels of the resignation of President Johnson and the RFK and MLK assassination, relations between the city government and the protest movement were already at a low ebb.

At the outset of the convention, tensions remained high, both inside and outside the convention hall. A large segment of anti war delegates, who supported anti war candidates Eugene Mccarthy and George Mcgovern, challenged the credentials of 15 delegations and fought to insert an anti Vietnam war plank into the democratic platform. Eventually, the pro Humphrey forces were able to take control of the convention, after 2 days of acrimony. However, the cost of the chaos in the convention hall was an escalating public battle outside the hall, lead by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.

While convention dealt with the messy politics of the Vietnam war, outside mayhem reigned. The mayor called in 11,900 police, 7,500 Army servicemen, 7,500 Illinois National Guardsmen, and over 1,000 FBI and secret service professionals, all stationed at various points throughout the city. This comprehensive force was meant to quell the violence easily, however, violence ruled the day. Overall, over 589 people were arrested and over 100 demonstrators were injured in conflict with the police. The police aimed to force protestors of designated areas and this often lead violence clashes between the protestors and the police. Particularly, the Wednesday of convention week, was dubbed the “Battle of Michigan Avenue”, and it consisted of brutal police tactics, from tear gas, to stink bombs, to the severe beating of innocent bystanders, protesters, and reporters. Overall, this chaos was dubbed “Gestapo tactics” by Connecticut Senator Al Ribicoff.

When compared to the Republican convention, the American people saw a difference consisting almost of night and day. Whereas the Democrats convention presented a message of disunity and chaos to the world, Republican nominee Richard Nixon sought to capitalize using a message of “Law and Order”. This message, sought to convey to older, white conservative Americans a theme of stability and racial hegemony, at a time when younger, more progressive generations were challenging the status quo related to matters of war and civil rights. It sought to assange fears of a law breaking minority, both perceived in the younger generations and the changing racial order.

Sources:

1. “History Files - Parades, Protests and Politics.” History Files - Parades, Protests and Politics. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.^^^^ 2. CNN. Cable News Network, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.

During the 1950s the television was growing in popularity. This continued through the 1960s and by 1968 it was widely used in American homes. Television programs grew and news corporations were established. With this advent of live television came the chance for Americans to experience things as if they were there, rather than be forced to read a transcript or another person’s account in a newspaper, or listen to someone describe it on a radio. The 1968 Democratic National Convention was one of the most widely covered political events since the inception of television during the twenty year span of 1950 and 1970. Virtually all of the political world had its eyes on Chicago from the 26th-29th of August and the media was there reporting on all the delegates and speeches at the events. However, the evening of the 28th made all who were watching stop and stare at their TV. When the violence broke out in the streets between protesters and police, the media was all over it. This was one of the first major riots nationally televised in United States history. Live feed from downtown Chicago reverberated on screens across the nation, as people watched in horror at what was unfolding in real time. What happened next was sensationalism, which is best defined as subject matter, or language designed to produce startling or thrilling impressions to excite and please vulgar taste. This happens especially in journalism and it has been happening ever since papers were invented and yellow journalism became a strategy in journalism. The media caught these moments of violence and showed them to the public to portray the feeling of unrest in the country. The feelings created are usually intended to have a sense of whatever is happening on TV is happening everywhere, even though this is almost never the case. The media coverage sparked immediate opposition to the Vietnam War in the American public, and people began to think the war was pointless and wrongheaded. The images and the footage of the riots epitomized what was occurring in the Democratic party and the media took what they got and ran with it. By portraying the unrest on the political left, the media pushed people to the right in the 1968 election cycle, and Nixon was the beneficiary.

Sources:

1. “The Definition of Sensationalism.” Dictionary.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2016^^^^ 2. “1968 Democratic National Convention.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2016^^^^ 3. “Protests at Democratic National Convention in Chicago.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.

4. Leftist Reexamination of Tactics

The failure of the 1968 democratic convention to support an antiwar candidate against the mandate of the primaries & the surrounding protests forced a reexamination on the left about the legitimacy of democratic participation and spawned multiple movements focused on extralegal and insurrectionary tactics. In 1973, a bomb causing more than $10 million in damage exploded somewhere in the US every week: these are the organizations responsible for this unprecedented, historic unrest.

Growing directly out of a militant faction of the SDS—which had led the 1968 protests against the Democratic Convention—and inspired by anarchist affinity groups like NYC’s “Up Against the Wall, Motherfucker!” (the “Street gang with an analysis,”), the Weather Underground rejected traditional organizing in favor of organizing a clandestine revolutionary party aimed at overthrowing the U.S. government. Taking their name from Bob Dylan’s lyric, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows,” from his song “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” the Weathermen first gained notoriety in 1969 for their “Days of Rage” protest in Chicago, organized under the slogan “Bring the War Home!” Frequently outnumbered by police 2-1, the protests fizzled, and the Weathermen went underground.

In the next year alone, the Weathermen claimed responsibility for bombing the house of a New York Supreme Court member presiding over a trial of Black Panther members, the NYPD HQ, a US army base in San Fransisco the Bank of America Headquarters (and a branch) in New York, Harvard University, and 3 courthouses across the country; in later years, the WUO bombed the US Capitol and the Pentagon, amongst countless other corporate and government targets.

Organized in the heyday of the Weathermen, the Symbioses Liberation Army formed after Donald DeFreeze (“General Field Marshal Cinque,” “Cinque” being the name of the leader of the slave rebellion that took over the Amsted in 1839) escaped from Soledad prison. Equipped with the language of anti-imperialism and Maoism, DeFreeze worked with his contacts in the Black Cultural Association and the radical left chicano Venceremos Organization to find potential comrades in founding the “Symbionese Nation.” While never numbering more than 22 members, the SLA is noteworthy for its ability to seize the attention of the press and its strange tactics.

The SLA burst onto the scene with its highly unpopular cyanide-bullet assassination of the first black superintendent of Oakland Public Schools, Marcus Foster; within six months, two SLA members were arrested and charged for the murder. Hoping to negotiate for their release, the SLA infamously kidnapped publishing heiress Patty Hearst. Realizing that this was impossible, the SLA instead demanded the Hearsts fund a food distribution program; over the next two months, 100,000 bags of groceries (representing ~$13 million) are distributed in four counties around the bay.

Strangely, by the time the food distribution program ended, Hearst refused to leave the SLA (she had allegedly been brainwashed and sexually assaulted, in one of the first public examples of Stockholm Syndrome) and participating in a bank robbery. After relocating to LA, however, the an anonymous tip led to most of the SLA—including General Cinque—being surrounded in a safe-house, then killed in one of the largest (and first broadcast on live TV) police shootouts in history. Although a few remaining members continued to rob banks and attempt assassinations, they were quickly arrested. Hearst, convicted and imprisoned for 21 months, had her sentence commuted by Carter, and was eventually pardoned by Clinton.

Organized as the Black Panther Party splintered (as a result of government intervention: the assassination of Fred Hampton, COINTELPRO), the Black Liberation Army (BLA) operated under the assumption that, due to violent government repression, the movement needed to operate covertly until above-ground resistance was possible. Assisted by Weather Underground members and the prison-based Black Guerrilla Family, the BLA carried out bombings, murders, robberies and prison breaks in the name of black nationalism and anti-capitalist anarchism.

The Fraternal Order of Police—the US’ national police union—blames the BLA for 70 incidents of violence between 1970 and 1976, including the killing of at most 13 police officers. The BLA is most famous, however, for three high-profile incidents. In the first, in 1972, five members hijacked a plane and collected $1 million in ransom before diverting the flight to Algeria, where the authorities allowed them to flee. In another, after allegedly firing on New Jersey State Troopers, two BLA members were killed while member Assata Shakur was arrested. After her conviction, she escaped, hiding in and around New York before finally escaping to Cuba in 1984. In arguably the BLA’s final act, the BLA led a WUO-assisted robbery of a Brink’s armored car, stealing $1.6 million.

Sources:

1. Burrough, Bryan. Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence. Penguin, 2015.^^^^ 2. mat. “Black Liberation Army Communique-November 5 1981 | Signalfire,” n.d. Accessed November 26, 2016. http://www.signalfire.org/2016/05/18/black-liberation-army-communique-november-5-1981/.^^^^ 3. Times, Wallace Turner Special To The New York. “TIP LEADS TO THE ARREST OF RADICAL SOUGHT IN 1970 OREGON CASE.” The New York Times, January 22, 1987, sec. U.S. Accessed November 9, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/1987/01/22/us/tip-leads-to-the-arrest-of-radical-sought-in-1970-oregon-case.html.^^^^ 4. Wakin, Daniel J. “Quieter Lives for 60’s Militants, but Intensity of Beliefs Hasn’t Faded.” The New York Times, August 24, 2003. Accessed November 8, 2016.^^^^ 5. http://www.nytimes.com/2003/08/24/nyregion/quieter-lives-for-60-s-militants-but-intensity-of-beliefs-hasn-t-faded.html.

“Kathy Boudin.” Last modified January 2, 2006. Accessed November 13, 2016.^^^^ 6. https://web.archive.org/web/20060102131029/http://www.nysfop.org/events/kathy_boudin.htm.

The Weather Underground. Washington DC: US Government Printing Office, 1975.^^^^ 7. “WANTED BY FBI.” FBI, 1970. Accessed November 8, 2016. http://www.sds-1960s.org/sds_wuo/images/weather_wanted.jpg.

, n.d. Accessed November 8, 2016.^^^^ 8. http://www.tampabay.com/resources/images/blogs-photo/rendered/2013/04/senatebombing_8col.jpg.

, n.d. Accessed November 8, 2016.

In Conclusion

As you can see, all of these situations were a result of a lack of structure within the Democratic Party during the 1968 Presidential campaign. It is hard to convince the American people one is suitable to be President when there is so much unrest surrounding their own party. Richard Nixon won the election because he was perceived as being in the structured party.

  1. Which was the biggest reason for Nixon's election?

    rediff.com
    "Law and Order" Campaign
    DNC Chaos
    Media Sensationalization
    Failure of Democrats to Support Anti War Candidate

Lessons From The 1968 Democratic Convention

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Which was the biggest reason for Nixon's election?
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    "Law and Order" Campaign
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    DNC Chaos
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    Media Sensationalization
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    Failure of Democrats to Support Anti War Candidate
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