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Tue Nov 18, 2014, 08:48 PM

Lessons from Past Primaries

There was an valuable OP/thread on DU:GD earlier today, that focused on the 1984 democratic primary, in an interesting attempt to shed light on the upcoming 2016 primary season. There were a range of opinions expressed on the thread -- raising what I consider valid points. However, the author of the OP shut the thread down; I think this was due to some disagreements regarding the article he cited in the OP.

As there weren’t “arguments,” “fights,” or “hostility” in the thread, and because the overall theme of the discussion was good, I thought that I’d attempt to kick-start a discussion on what (if anything) we might benefit from looking at 1984 for insight on 2016. Like the old saying goes: “those who do not learn from history are likely to repeat it; while those who do learn from history seem to end up watching other folks repeat the same mistakes, over and over.” Or something akin to that.

As we might all agree, Walter Mondale won the democratic nomination in 1984. He then made a historic choice for his VP candidate, by selecting Rep. Geraldine Ferraro (NY). The two would eventually be defeated by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. I think it is fair to say that rarely, if ever, did the American voters make a worse choice.

Mondale was an honorable man, with solid democratic credentials. He had become active in politics at the age of twenty, as an organizer for Senator Hubert Humphrey. Like Humphrey ( the “Happy Warrior”), Mondale served with distinction and conscience as a US Senator, and went on to become Vice President of the United States.

Mondale -- like President Carter -- knew that their 1980 election loss to Reagan-Bush had been, in significant part, due to underhanded and illegal republican activities (regarding the hostages in Iran).Again like Carter, Mondale recognized Reagan as an inferior man, who benefited from Hollywood-style image-making. He entered the 1984 primaries for good reasons.

There were other democratic candidates in the primaries. These included Gary Hart; Jesse Jackson; John Glenn; George McGovern; Alan Cranston; and Fritz Hollings. Now, old-timers like myself remember that this field of candidates actually offered voters some very real choices. Good choices, too. Any one of these candidates would have been a thousand times better than Reagan. (Former Florida governor Reuben Askew also entered the race, though it was widely assumed his goal was to be considered as a potential VP.)

The most important “controversy” had to do with potential splits in the Democratic Party. Indeed, such splits had proven costly in three of the previous four elections: 1968, ‘72, and ‘80. There were at least three “wings” of the Democratic Party in 1984: the Kennedy Democrats; the social moderates; and the progressive, left-wing. The year 1968 was unique, and relatively few of the lessons from it applied to any other year. In ‘72, McGovern was widely and incorrectly portrayed as the candidate of “amnesty, abortion, and acid”; although he was actually a WW2 hero, his stance on ending the war in Vietnam was portrayed as “weak.” A substantial portion of democrats in Washington failed to support him. To be fair, his campaign was not particularly well organized.

Jimmy Carter did well in 1976. This included selecting Mondale for VP. Although the two were not close, Mondale was an effective vice president. Then in 1980, the primary season saw an ugly division between the Kennedy and moderate wings of the party. It is fair and accurate to say that the Jimmy Carter versus Ted Kennedy contest reflected a wide split within the party in Washington.

After everyone but Mondale, Hart, and Jackson had dropped out of the ‘84 contest, the former VP began to separate himself from the other two, with an increasing lead. Where I would disagree with the article linked to in the earlier OP was its claim that the party bosses said that Mondale was inevitable; rather, it was his campaign that projected that image. The major concern of the “party bosses” was that if the contest became bitter, it would polarize the various camps. This included what many thought could be a third-party run by Rev. Jackson.

In fact, that year’s Democratic Party Convention proved to be outstanding. Mondale, Hart, and Jackson all got respectable numbers of delegates’ votes. (Thomas Eagleton, George McGovern, John Glenn, Joe Biden, and Martha Kirkland also got at least one delegate.) There were two speeches that towered above all of the others; these were delivered by Mario Cuomo and Jesse Jackson. Those two speeches hold up well today. And, of course, Mondale picked Ferraro as VP.

Things seemed to be going very well, especially after the first televised debate between a relaxed Mondale and a feeble Reagan. In the second debate, Reagan delivered a few glib lines, and Mondale’s reaction appeared to be polite and more focused on issues. He also was honest in addressing the issue about potential tax increases. And the media worked overtime in trying to convince the public that Reagan represented “a new morning in America.”

The primary contest and general election were, obviously, far more complex than what I’ve said here. There were valuable lessons to be learned from it. I think it offers a fascinating topic of conversation, including how it might apply to the upcoming 2016 contests. Others will remember different aspects -- or interpret some parts differently. But that is one of the best things about this forum.

Peace,
H2O Man

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Arrow 12 replies Author Time Post
Reply Lessons from Past Primaries (Original post)
H2O Man Nov 2014 OP
wyldwolf Nov 2014 #1
H2O Man Nov 2014 #4
Jackpine Radical Nov 2014 #2
H2O Man Nov 2014 #5
NYC_SKP Nov 2014 #3
H2O Man Nov 2014 #6
NYC_SKP Nov 2014 #9
H2O Man Nov 2014 #11
greatlaurel Nov 2014 #7
H2O Man Nov 2014 #12
MineralMan Nov 2014 #8
Bluenorthwest Nov 2014 #10

Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Tue Nov 18, 2014, 08:57 PM

1. Yes, it was a great thread but I believe the OP shut it down because...

... both liberals and centrists on DU challenged his un-sourced assertions Mondale was, 1. A centrist. 2. That the DNC power brokers essentially coronated Mondale and that challenging him was (and I quote) 'treason.'

His one shred of what he believed was 'evidence' was the article that I originally posted which stated Mondale was wooing centrists. He believed it proved Mondale was a centrist. I took the article at face value with the point Mondale was building a coalition.

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Response to wyldwolf (Reply #1)

Wed Nov 19, 2014, 09:12 AM

4. This is just my opinion:

but Mondale was best able to hold the party together in 1984, and in that (and only that) sense could he be considered a "centrist." From his position, he was able to keep most every other wing or faction together.

I'm far to the left of Mondale today; and I was way, way more militant in my thinking and behavior in '84. But I've always had respect for men like Mondale and Humphrey. I would have far preferred Mondale as President, rather than Jimmy Carter. (Note: Carter is my favorite ex-president. But I'm thinking of even around the time Obama was sworn in, when Carter, Clinton, and Bush 1 and 2 were at the White House for a photo session. Carter is always physically distant from the other four men. I appreciate both his, and their, reasoning that created that distance.) Likewise, I liked Gore far more than Clinton. But I'm rambling on here, as old men often tend to do .....

Mondale wasn't perfect, but he was an honest man with principles.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Tue Nov 18, 2014, 09:18 PM

2. Yeah, I remember that year.

And I remember how much I hated Reagan.

Recent international events included the invasion of Grenada, and almost simultaneously, the explosion in the Beirut Marine Barracks. The little war re-legitimized foreign military adventures after Vietnam, and everyone gave the Administration a pass on having nearly 300 Marines killed in one attack in the Middle East. Compare the press's (and Congress') treatment of THAT with Benghazi.

What I take from thinking back on it is a deeper appreciation of the degree to which the media were calling the shots already back then (before the elimination of the Fairness Act under Clinton).

I am also struck by how good these Hollywood people were at the management of popular myths and images.

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Response to Jackpine Radical (Reply #2)

Wed Nov 19, 2014, 09:33 AM

5. Well said!

I lived near my home town of Sidney, NY, at the time. I remember the media reports that Grenada was building a huge airstrip -- with the help of Cubans -- that posed a threat to the US. Yet Sidney, population 5,000, had a larger airstrip at its tiny airport.

Of course, Maurice Bishop was a scary socialist! Yikes! A man who was known to have "partied" with Eric Clapton! I still have trouble sleeping at night, just thinking of how close to the edge we were. Surely that dwarfs the Cuban Missile Crisis.

And, of course, the US intelligence operation to make it appear that communists were taking over the island! If communists controlled the nutmeg supply, life on Earth would have surely ended.


Reagan had less substance than any one of the red, white, or blue balloons that were used in his commercials. I had thought that it was impossible that America would elect someone worse than Nixon to the highest office in the land. I was repulsed that a cartoon cowboy could actually be re-elected. The ability to create "images" had trumped substance. That ability remains one of the most powerful forces in politics today.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Tue Nov 18, 2014, 09:46 PM

3. Thank your for revisiting the discussion. It's a conversation that needs to continue.

 

I'm not sure that the dynamics between 1984 and today are that similar but many of the dynamics are still in play.

I remember at the time feeling that challengers had a reasonable chance, compared to the Media foisted chant, "Here comes Hillary", which really disturbs me as I don't find that many outside the Internet and Cable news are talking about her.

There are a lot of good men and women out there that need to be given every chance without undo press being given to the candidate most gifted with sheer familiarity.

Thank you.

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Response to NYC_SKP (Reply #3)

Wed Nov 19, 2014, 09:43 AM

6. Thank you.

Thirty years ago, there was the wing of the party known as Kennedy Democrats. They were recognized as a powerful force within the party. Some democrats felt the Kennedy Democrats had a sense of entitlement, and resented the associated behaviors (such as Ted running in the 1980 primaries against Carter).

Today, the media talks about if the Democratic Party is still the Party of Obama, or is it again the Party of the Clintons? This is, of course, distinct from recognizing various wings within the party. Even if the Clinton Democrats are the most powerful wing -- with potential voters and money -- they are still a wing, not the party.

In that sense, as we approach the 2016 election season, we would do well to balance discussions on individual politicians being "centrists," with the issue of what politician can hold the party together from their center.

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Response to H2O Man (Reply #6)

Wed Nov 19, 2014, 09:55 AM

9. Indeed. Beyond holding the party together, there's the matter of holding the country together.

 

I'm of the mind that the greatest untapped potential lay with that same number of people who have been most disenfranchised by developments over the past 40 odd years.

The single mom in Kentucky and X gen bike courier in Berkeley have more in common with one another than either do with anyone running for the office.

Decreasing wealth, fewer job opportunities, a dismal education system, little to no security for their future, the mom might buy into the Fox News propaganda and the courier might just tune it all out, but they and millions of others would respond to the right message from the right person.

The little known secret, one that the media will never, ever, divulge, is that most of Americans are, at heart, old school Democrats at heart if this is measured by the principles they hold absent the conditioning they experience through the media.

Show me a candidate that can speak to THAT center, and I'll show you the next president of the United States.

Let's find that person and lift them up!

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Response to NYC_SKP (Reply #9)

Wed Nov 19, 2014, 12:05 PM

11. Perfectly stated!

I agree with what you said, 100%.

We waste so much talent and human potential. For example, while I definitely would not suggest that every individual incarcerated in America is a diamond in the rough, there is no single better example of our social decay than the prison-industrial complex. Even in the decade since I retired from social work, our state has shifted its investment in services for youth, in a manner that will -- at least in my opinion -- insure a steady stream of ignorant, undisciplined young men to fill the state prisons for a generation to come.

I know that I'm going off on a tangent here, but: among the activities I'm engaged in this week is assisting the parents of a murdered, 12-year old girl make sure that the person who raped and tortured their daughter, then brutally killed her, remains in prison. Although the crime took place in a different county, my job at the clinic included some overlap with that case. The man who did this is the type of sociopath who does not plateau in middle age; he will always pose a risk to the larger community.

But there are relatively few people that I think fit that description. There are more nonviolent offenders who would live productive lives, and some who could make valuable contributions, to society.They get marginalized. Their potential is lost. And that's a shame.

I also believe that the Democratic Party should be focusing far more energy in organizing the low-income people. There are definitely some good democrats who do this already. But there should be a far greater, organized effort to do so.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Wed Nov 19, 2014, 09:44 AM

7. Thank you for this well thought out and well written post.

There is a vast difference the issues facing Americans between 1984 and 2016, but one constant, besides baseball, is the economic insecurity has expanded its clutches into more and more American families, yet the GOP has managed to blame the Democratic Party for these troubles while pushing their agenda that takes from the middle and lower classes and gives to the 1%.

One issue that has not been discussed is the education issue as a big part of the Democratic Party set backs this November. The Obama administration has followed the playbook of Wall Street for the privatization of public schools at breakneck speed. The public schools are under a well thought out campaign to force privatization. Not all Democrats are involved, but the Obama administration has been front and center leading the charge. This cost many Democrats tens of thousands of votes that usually come our way from educators, who saw no reason to vote for Democrats this time. The next Democratic candidate for POTUS needs to resoundingly reject school privatization and high stakes testing. This will bring many votes from educators as well as parents.

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Response to greatlaurel (Reply #7)

Wed Nov 19, 2014, 03:43 PM

12. Thanks.

The issues involving public schools should be hugely important to all of us. In the past, it was widely recognized that public schools prepared people to be responsible citizens, and participate in things such as voting. Teachers still recognize this. But there are ugly efforts by the right wing (and corporations) to destroy public education. This is an important part of the effort to make us a modern feudal state.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Wed Nov 19, 2014, 09:50 AM

8. I remember the 1984 election very, very well.

At the time, I was in California, and worked very hard on the Mondale campaign in my own area. However, the race was clearly going to be impossible to win. Reagan's popularity as the incumbent President clearly was not going to be overcome by any candidate. Everyone knew that who was campaigning for Mondale, but we tried anyhow.

Mondale managed to get the electoral votes from his home state of Minnesota, which is where I live now. But that was it. Frankly, it didn't matter who got the Democratic nomination in 1984. There wasn't anyone who was going to beat Reagan. It simply wasn't going to happen.

I remembered Ronald Reagan from his governorship in California. It was a disaster. I remember him as the incumbent President in 1984, too. He was, frankly, unbeatable.

It was a sad election year for me.

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Response to H2O Man (Original post)

Wed Nov 19, 2014, 10:51 AM

10. Deleted

 

I wrote a long response but there was a glitch. 1984 has been on my mind ever since the Ebola stories. Because that was the year America reelected the President whose Press Sec had laughed about AIDS in 1982 and thus far that was the only action his administration had taken and the only words spoken. In 1984 there had been 7,239 cases of AIDS reported in the US and 5,596 deaths. This was public knowledge, people knew these things and voted for Reagan anyway. Do we have 5 US Ebola deaths yet? Yeah.
It is good that people remember that there were clear choices offered. There was even Jesse Jackson, and I wish he'd won. Or Mondale, if he'd won it would have made all the difference in the world. Any Democrat at all would have been better than Reagan/Bush.

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