April 20, 2023

Elections, Elections, more Elections, and Voting

Democratic National Convention to Return to Chicago, a Historic Site of Presidential Conventions

The chapters of Democrats Abroad Spain are heading into a busy season of meetings, electing local chairpersons and other officers, and gathering for the countrywide event in Alicante. We urge all members to nominate, stand for office if they can, vote, and to attend the Alicante session. Officers who are elected this year will be leading their chapters through next year's all-important presidential and congressional election.

On April 11, our party leadership in Washington announced that the Democratic National Convention will take place in Chicago from Aug 19-22. If proposed changes are approved, primary elections will kick off on Feb 3 in South Carolina, followed by Nevada and New Hampshire on Feb 6, then Georgia on the 13th of that month, followed by Michigan on the 27th. This calendar displaces the previously traditional sequence of New Hampshire leading off, followed in short order by the Iowa caucus. The primary and caucus season will then continue through June.

Quadrennial conventions and their subsequent elections are the only time US political parties carry out truly national political contests. Every other election is decided at individual state, county and municipal levels, all of them with important local and regional impact.

Chicago has been the scene of more Presidential conventions than any other city: 11 times for the Democrats and 14 for the GOP. In the era before widespread air service, the city's central location as a terminal point for both East-West and North-South railroad lines probably played a major part in this selection.

During the age of modern politics for the Democratic Party, starting with Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, our forebears met in Chicago in 1932, 1940, and 1944, nominating and re-nominating FDR for his all-time record of four terms, with a switch only to Philadelphia in 1936. The 1944 convention turned out to be especially important, as Harry Truman was the vice presidential nominee. He succeeded FDR in April 1945 when the President died, worn out by his exertions during World War II.

Our party's next three Chicago conventions produced less satisfactory presidential results. In 1952 and 1956, the delegates chose Adlai Stevenson. He lost both times to Dwight Eisenhower, a significantly moderate Republican by today's standards. In 1968, Hubert Humphrey, a classic liberal for that period, won the nomination at a convention marked by street disorders, sparked by harsh police repression of civil rights and Vietnam war protesters.  Humphrey was defeated by Richard Nixon.

The tide had changed by 1996, when the Democrats re-nominated Bill Clinton and his running mate Al Gore, who had been elected four years earlier and were returned to office for a second term.

Chicago is well positioned for Democrats. The city has just elected a progressive mayor in a runoff with another Democrat. Illinois is reliably a blue state, and we have fared well recently in nearby Michigan, with a most encouraging victory in adjoining Wisconsin this month, providing a Democratic majority on the State Supreme Court. The abortion issue appears to have been critical in securing this win.

President Biden has given clear signals that he intends to run for re-election, although there has been no formal announcement thus far. The stakes could not be higher in November next year. A recent insightful commentary on a political website pointed out that the "new normal" for the Republican party bears no resemblance even to earlier barn-burners like New Gingrich or the Tea Party. The writer described the situation as Before Trump and After Trump. He did not so much create a populist wave, but rather ripped the Band-Aid off festering resentments among a dispossessed working class, understandably resentful after 40 years of shareholder über allies capitalism, hollowing out union membership, coupled with evangelical Christians determined to fight what they view as "woke" moral views on the political center and left. Both groups are bitterly opposed to the supposed bi-coastal elite, dominating government, the media and higher education.

Democrats need to understand that politics today, more than ever, is a blood sport. There are no silver medals for second place. Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy sold everything but the keys to his office and the combination to the office safe in his desperation to be re-elected party leader. It was an empty victory. He cannot control the rogue element in his caucus. Meanwhile, like Boris Karloff in a 1940s vampire movie, Donald Trump keeps rising from his basement at Mar-a-Lago, riling up his faithful MAGA followers. The range of legal challenges he faces may spare us the spectacle of another nomination next year, but we should not count on it.

All the more reason to encourage all our friends and acquaintances, abroad or back in the USA, to register and to vote. Staying home on election day because someone is "bored with politics" is not an option.