As the ’08 campaign settles into a marathon pace, some salient lessons from the 1968 primary campaign are once again worth noting.
Last year, campaign junkies started looking to 1968 for comparisons. The question was whether Barack or John or Hillary were the ’08 version of Bobby Kennedy in 68. I thought Edwards was Bobby Kennedy. They spoke economic justice and parted their hair the same. Barack was Gene McCarthy, the anti-war upstart, (or JFK for the now cliched 1960 comparison), and Hillary was Hubert Humphrey.
As the primary season takes form, Hillary is looking more and more like Hubert Humphrey. It is worth another glance.
Consider the following shared characteristics:
1) progressive precursor. Early in their public careers, both Hillary and Hubert were active in progressive causes, Humphrey’s advocacy of civil rights in 1948 and Hillary’s work for children at the Children’s Defense Fund brought each to national attention and brought public attention to progressive causes.
2) supplicant. Later, each spent 2 terms (almost 2 terms for HHH) in close proximity to the White House, a somewhat abused supplicant to a powerful president (think LBJ/ Vietnam, and Bill/Monica), and each suffered great personal pain and public condemnation for their loyalty. Humphrey’s loyalty to LBJ ultimately showed weakness and a lack of principle and doomed any chance he had in becoming president. Anti war democrats never forgave Humphrey; many women never forgave Clinton. residual effect on Hillary?
2) circumventing the will of the people. In terms of strategy, in 1968, Humphrey wrested the nomination with a strategy relying on non-primary delegates, a precursor to Clinton’s focus on super delegates. Hillary is currently losing the pledged delegate contest (tho barely) and her campaign (using Bill and Chelsea) is increasingly leaning on super-delegates to cast their lot with her before the end of the primary season. Given a deadlock in pledged delegates or a narrow loss to Obama, Clinton is relying on super-delegates to get the nomination.
4) religion/race demagogue. For some other similarities, it is worth noting that Humphrey previously had run for president against John F Kennedy, to whom Obama is compared. Like the Clinton’s, Humphrey’s thirst for power in 1960, twisted his thinking into exploiting JFK’s Catholicism in Wisconsin and West Virginia to Humphrey’s advantage. It backfired. The Clinton’s took similar action against Obama in S.C., to similar effect.
5) blind ambition. Humphrey’s personal ambition blinded him to the riots taking place outside the Chicago convention hall. His inability to take a principled stand against the police abuse of anti war protesters left the party divided and doomed his candidacy. Now? Many observers note a similarly principle-starved Clinton campaign.
6) personal style. Finally,they both share a style on the stump that exude a sense of happy and upbeat competence, which never quite rings true.
Humphrey’s ’68 debacle brought us Nixon and Watergate. At this low ebb after seven years of Cheney/Bush, can we as a country survive a McCain/Nixon presidency?