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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Platform Fights Present and Past

Since I seem to be writing about the history and contemporary nature of national party conventions today, I wanted to point you to two separate pieces over at the New Republic site.
The first, by Eric Zimmerman (who earlier wrote a very useful analysis of the behind-the-scenes struggle over the Democratic platform’s abortion plank), provides an affirmative answer to my own question as to whether the platform drafters had indeed pulled off an amazing feat of wordsmithing on abortion.
According to Zimmerman, both pro-choice activists and “abortion reduction” advocates signed off on the language understanding completely the tradeoffs involved (staff from the centrist group Third Way, he reports, provided some key intermediary services). Sure, Democrats wanting “room” for anti-abortion advocates didn’t get the “conscience clause” they wanted, respecting dissenters from the party’s fundamental pro-choice commitment. But perhaps the agreement to give notable pro-life Democrat Bob Casey, Jr., a convention speaking slot will take care of that particular concern.
Speaking of platforms, Seyward Darby has a brief, amusing piece describing platforms as an anachronistic “corncob pipe” at conventions, and reviewing some famous platform fights of the past.
As it happens, he didn’t mention my all-time favorite platform fight: the struggle at the 1924 Democratic convention over a plank specifically condemning the Ku Klux Klan (“three little words,” as Willliam Jennings Bryan dismissed them in opposing the plank as divisive), which failed by one-half-of-one-vote after a delegate from my home state of Georgia was physically intimidating into changing her vote by Klansmen in her delegation. This fight epitomized the party divisions that led to the longest convention deadlock of all time (taking 103 ballots to nominate John W. Davis) and a disastrous general election. [Note: I am very happy to report that used copies of Robert K. Murray’s brilliant but out-of-print book on this convention, The 103d Ballot, can now be bought for peanuts via Amazon].
While some political people complain about the lack of drama at modern party conventions, there are worse things than unity and quiet.

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