Monday, December 29, 2014

The American Conventions (1964)

Editorial from the July 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard

The two big American parties are now about to hold the Conventions—the Republicans at San Francisco this month, the Democrats at Atlantic City in August—which will select their candidates for the Presidential election in November.

The Conventions' job is to pick the man who will pull in the most votes for his party; as such, they are themselves part of the election campaign. They usually wear a public face of enthusiastic confidence, expressed in fatuously massive banners, frenzied parades around the hall and similar ballyhoo. But behind this facade, in guarded rooms, the reality is grimly faced and tense bargaining often goes on, as the delegations trade their support in exchange for pledges of political patronage.

The Democratic Convention promises to be a triumphantly straightforward affair, a formal endorsement of President Johnson as their man. Johnson has so far demonstrated that he has most of the faculties which capitalism's leaders normally require — physical toughness, political skill, ruthlessness, a flair for publicity and what we can very loosely call a little bit of luck.

Since he took over in November last, Johnson has built himself onto one of the biggest vote winners his party has ever had: the public opinion polls consistently give him the support of about three-quarters of the American electorate. If there were any argument about his nomination, this fact would clinch it. There is no reason to suppose that at Atlantic City next month the banners will wave, the button badges will be worn, the cheer leaders will carol, for anyone other than Lyndon B. Johnson.

The Republicans are in different straits. Not for over twenty years have they selected a candidate who did not stand for what are called "liberal" policies—a measure of state insurance, medical aid and so on. This was why nobody took Senator Barry Goldwater seriously when he was announced, some months ago, that he was in the race for the nomination.

But Goldwater, like Kennedy in 1960, has demonstrated that an initially doubtful candidate can break down the forces against him by proving his ability to attract votes in primary elections. While his opponents in the Republican Party have been divided among themselves, the Senator has been systematically amassing delegates' votes.

He goes to San Francisco as the favourites. Of the men who are expected to stand against him, Rockefeller has shown that he has not got the requisite voting pull. The big opposition to Goldwater may therefore come from one of the men who, although they have yet to intervene in any force, would probably dearly like the nomination: Nixon, Scranton, Lodge.

It will be a tough fight, for the Senator's bandwagon is now rolling briskly along. His policies may strike some people as inane and irresponsible but a great many others approve them. Goldwater's victory in California came after his famous indiscreet advocacy of the use of nuclear weapons in Indo-China - and even after he made things worse by appearing to be confused over exactly what he had said.

The industrial areas may dislike his opposition to unemployment and sickness insurance but millions of other Americans support him on this, because they think that such schemes undermine what they are pleased to call their self-reliance. Goldwater gives the impression that he would like to see the United States lose interest in Europe: this is an idea not unfavourably received by the American electorate. The Economist of 6th June last speculated: " . . . even President Johnson might be pressed to cover his right flank by saying things that created the same impression."

All this could mean that Goldwater is not such a vote-loser as some of his party think. At the moment, so certain does their defeat seem to be, that they have little to lose, and Goldwater has been the only man up to now who has shown that he knows how to get down to the grass roots of ignorance.

If he does get the nomination he will probably be supported, by the customary cynical balancing act, with a "liberal" candidate for the Vice-Presidency. This would be designed to take the edge of Goldwater's more wild views so that he could gather votes from a wider circle, in the same way that Johnson's Southern origins were supposed to compensate for Kennedy's New England brashness.

On this score again, the Democrats do not have the same problem as their opponents. Johnson is so much all things to all men, he fits in so well in the business of universal vote-gathering, that he has no electoral edge to take off. He needs nobody to balance him; the post of Vice-President is, therefore, probably at his disposal exclusively.

Whoever fights it out in November, the election will be the usual depressing affair. The American voters will give their verdict on all the familiar issues of reform and futility, ignoring the real issue—Capitalism or Socialism—which faces them all the time.

When the banners have been put away, when the ticker tape has been swept up, when the drum majorettes are resting their aching legs, and when the next President is settled in the White House, Capitalism will grind on, spreading confusion and despair on all sides.

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