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!