[July 15, 1960] Controlled Chaos (The 1960 Democratic Convention)

Democracy is strange, particularly as exercised by the Democratic Party.

Six months ago, it was anyone’s guess who might be picked to have the privilege of running for the Presidency of the United States under the Democratic Party banner against Vice President Richard Nixon.  Hopefuls included perennial candidate Adlai Stevenson, fiery liberal senator Hubert Humphrey, affable ex-Air Force chief Stuart Symington, and ruler of the Senate roost Lyndon Johnson.  Oh, and a young, good-looking senator with a Harvard accent and a hidden set of rosary beads named Jack Kennedy.

Each candidate had his planned path to the nomination.  Stevenson, Johnson, and Symington stayed out of the primary fracas, hoping to curry favor at the convention proper.  Kennedy and Humphrey, on the other hand, took their causes directly to the people.  There were actually very few primaries this season, but Kennedy won all the important ones.  After delivering Humphrey a surprise upset in Wisconsin, right next door to Humphrey’s native Minnesota, Kennedy went on to a victory in West Virginia, proving that a Catholic can win over the general public.  Humphrey took the loss graciously, bowed out of the race, and went on to stump for his former rival.

The convention was a horse of an entirely different color.  While many of us saw the external glitter of the event, the dancing girls, the cheers, the smoke, the banners, we were not privy to the last-minute back-dealing going on inside the dark corridors of the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel.  At first, it seemed Adlai Stevenson’s star was rising.  Thousands of supporters crammed the hotel (including my new friend Rachel, who went straight from Comic-Con to the Biltmore) and shouted endless chants of “Stevenson!  Stevenson!” 

But we don’t live in the Roman Empire, and a mob is insufficient to laurel a leader these days.  Rather, it takes supreme organizational skills and the kind of political connections Kennedy has cultivated over many years.  It was a tense wait as the states pledged their fealty in alphabetical order during the first vote on the 13th, but it was all over when the last on the list, Wyoming, pushed Kennedy over the required 760 delegate limit.  There would be no second ballot, no free-for-all on the convention floor.  The senator from Massachusetts was the clear winner.

Thus, the drama then turned to the speculative choice for Vice-President, that much maligned but occasionally crucial second banana role.  Favored candidates included Symington and Washington senator Henry Jackson.  And yet, the name announced yesterday morning was Lyndon Johnson.

On the face of it, this seems a rational choice.  After all, while the South may be a Democratic stronghold for decades to come, cool and erudite Kennedy seems hardly the fellow to rally their support.  Johnson, on the other hand, is a good ol’ boy from Texas, and a master of politics.  If Kennedy wants to change his address to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue come November, picking Johnson is a canny decision.

On the other hand, I can’t imagine that the two will work together very well, being so different in nature and background.  Moreover, it’s hard to believe that Johnson would give up running the Senate for what is generally considered a lesser position.  This is one of those moments in history that won’t be clarified until many years have passed.

Tonight, Kennedy is scheduled to give his acceptance speech.  I’ve heard the man before, and there’s no doubt he will be riveting and poetic.  I’m sure we’ll all stay up late tonight to watch him on the television or hear him on the radio.

The Republican convention, starting on the 25th, will not be as outwardly dramatic.  It’s a foregone conclusion that Nixon will be nominated, no one else having thrown his hat into the ring.  But there will be turmoil behind the scenes.  Anyone following the news knows that New York governor Nelson Rockefeller has been doing his utmost to influence what gets written into this year’s Republican platform.  He may also be angling for the Vice Presidency.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

Of course, I haven’t forgotten the primary function of this column–to keep you abreast of all the latest science fiction and fantasy in film and print.  Stay tuned for the dope on the August 1960 Galaxy!

11 thoughts on “[July 15, 1960] Controlled Chaos (The 1960 Democratic Convention)”

  1. I’d rather be voting for Senator Symington then Senator Kennedy. But let’s not mince words: if anyone could lose the South for the Democrats, it’d be Symington. (And that’s why I’d rather be voting for him!)

    So, Kennedy it is. He’s such a young candidate, though. But the convention could nominate an actual donkey and I’d still be checking off the Democratic Party box this year -there is simply no way I’m ever voting for Richard Nixon. I just don’t trust that man.

  2. You know, I liked Ike, as they say, but I just can’t see myself voting for the Vice President. I’ve known people who lived in his Congressional district when he ran, and there’s a reason his political enemies call him Tricky Dick. I’m not sure what else the Republicans really have to offer, though. I’d say I align best with Governor Rockefeller’s wing of the party, but I fear they’re rapidly becoming a minority, and there are a couple of unpleasant rumors swirling around the Governor that could really hamper his electability (also why I suspect he won’t be the VP nominee). Senator Goldwater is just too far to the right. Who else has the profile to run for president?

    Senator Kennedy is a bit young, though really he’s not that much younger than the Vice President, but he does have a fair amount of political experience and he’s something of a war hero. I suppose he’ll be getting my vote come November, but I don’t suppose either candidate would be any sort of disaster for the country.

    1. Good ol’ Teddy Roosevelt was a whippersnapper President, too.

      And you’re right–the Republican bench is awfully shallow.  I think it’s because of the essentially schizophrenic nature of the party.

      1. TR’s one of my favorites.
        Are the Republicans really any more schizophrenic than the Democrats? Unreconstructed white Southerners, blue collar labor in the northeast, and progressives out west isn’t that much less eclectic than big business, progressives, and hard-core cold warriors.

  3. I’m not sure either party *wants* its nominees for President and Vice-President to like each other.  FDR detested Harry Truman and only reluctantly met with him two or three times, then dropped dead, leaving Truman hanging in the wind.  And then Stalin jerked Truman around like a sock puppet at Potsdam.  Truman also wasn’t aware of any of the “private deals” between FDR and Churchill, or even that the atomic bomb was supposed to be a joint British/US project with the British having an equal voice in the use of atomic weapons.  There was quite a bit about this in Churchill’s massive history of WWII published a few years ago.  Churchill is still bitter about it, but it really wasn’t Truman’s fault.  FDR’s staff were used to operating independently, and I suspect many (and George Marshall in particular) viewed Truman more as a usurper than as the new President.

    Then we got Eisenhower and Nixon, whose relationship could probably be best described as cordial hatred.  For all that the man is President, Eisenhower is a strutting stuffed shirt, which is easily proven in his own words in his book “Crusade in Europe”, where he personally won WWII, which was only fought in Europe, apparently.  He has not only kept Nixon away from the White House, he’s kept him out of the country as much as possible, “showing the flag” to important allies like Venezuela and Luxembourg.  So Nixon’s career has basically been parked for the last eight years.  He’s thrown his hat into the ring, but a sitting VP running for President hasn’t happened in a long time, and who knows what will be going on at the Republic National Convention two weeks from now… Lodge looks pretty good for the nomination, or Everett Dirksen, or even that Prescott Bush guy.  We ought to know by the end of the month, anyway.

    1. I suppose the reason that the President and VP tend not to like each other much is that they’re usually from very different wings of their party. The VP is generally a sop thrown to the wing most likely to take their ball and go home on election day (or worse, start their own game). Will Johnson be enough to keep the southern Democrats in the fold? Hard to say at this point.

      As for Nixon’s career having been on hold, well as John Nance Garner said, the vice presidency isn’t worth a bucket of warm spit (or some other word with most of those letters in a different order). Nixon has probably been more active a VP than we’ve seen in a long time. If nothing else, those show-the-flag trips have at least kept him in the newsreels. I’m sure he’ll be the nominee, but I could see Dirksen as the VP.

      1. I think you’re right.  I tend to forget about the in-Party politicking, and how each group wants “their guy” in as high a position as they can get.  And sometimes I forget that the Party’s goal isn’t to find the best candidate, but the one with the best chance of being elected… not the same thing, though I doubt they care about the difference.

        As for Johnson… while Texas was part of the Confederacy, it has distanced itself from “the South” as much as possible.  They play the Dixiecrat tune when it suits them, otherwise they’re usually doing their own thing.  They’re politically oriented to “the midwest” more than “the south.”  If Johnson were to get the nomination the rest of the country might consider him to be Southern, but we in Dixie certainly wouldn’t think so.

        The last few elections – not just the national ones, but the local ones too – the Democratic Party has been shifting its emphasis away from us (the South) and more toward urban Northern areas.  For the last century the South has been essentially a one-party region, and most people were happy with that.  It was *our* party, after all.  But… it increasingly seems like they don’t feel we’re *their* constituents any more.  In the old days they said they’d elect a yellow dog if he was a Democrat. Now… even in the last election a lot of people were unhappy enough they didn’t vote at all.  A few people have joked about the South turning Republican, but there are limits even to science fiction.

        Well, we wouldn’t have.  The pundits said television was a big factor in the ’56 campaigns, and now almost every household has a TV.  A few even have two.  And, disturbingly, people in general seem to believe what they hear on TV without running it past any critical filters.  My father says it was the same way when radio came out; people had the idea that anything they heard over the radio was somehow “official” or “approved”, or at the very least fact-checked.  Boy were they surprised when Orson Welles tweaked their noses… whoever gets nominated, it’s entirely possible that the election will go to the candidate who is most photogenic.  And if that happens, the nomination and campaigning processes will probably get… strange.

        I’d like to see Nixon get the nomination.  He has a solid record, but… he’s not really a “people person” and has a bad habit of telling people the truth instead of what they want to hear.  Word is that he has rubbed some of the party nomenklatura the wrong way, which will surely affect his chances at a nomination.

        Lodge is an authentic war hero… though after WWII and Korea those are a dime a dozen.  His political credentials top Nixon’s, plus his ambassadorship.  And he hasn’t made any overt enemies, unlike his father. 

        Dirksen… he’s almost the stereotypical “old pol” who has “been there and done that”, and he’s definitely quotable…  he’s been a major Eisenhower supporter during Ike’s terms, which might get him an endorsement from Ike.  I doubt Lodge would get any support from that direction, and certainly not Nixon.

        In order of likelihood of nomination, I’d put Lodge and Dirksen at even odds, with Nixon not really in the running.

        1. it’s entirely possible that the election will go to the candidate who is most photogenic.
          If that’s the case, then Kennedy’s a shoo-in. Although, there are different sorts of “photogenic”. I’d bet that somebody avuncular to grandfatherly with a lot of gravitas could still outdo young, handsome, and dynamic.

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