New York 2004 � another Chicago 1968? God, I hope not.

There�s an interesting article by Rick Perlstein that expresses a fear I�ve been harboring for some weeks now: with all their protests and attention-winning stunts, those demonstrating in NYC next week will make a lot of trouble and seriously damage the Democrat�s chances of winning.

This is no wild theory. Perlstein echoes my thoughts to the letter, seeing next week�s protests as a potential replay of the disastrous 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. Worse yet, he wonders whether bush isn�t actually hoping for this, if not actively encouraging it. Could this be bush’s Next Big Dirty Trick? — catalyzing civil unrest so unappealing that it inspires people to flock to bush as the man of Law ‘n Order?

Things are looking good right now. Kerry handled the Smear Boat Veterans as well as he could, and reasonable people everywhere know they�ve been exposed as Republican-funded liars. Considering the ferocity of the attacks, Kerry emerged relatively unscathed, and, as predicted, bush ended up looking very bad.

The parallels between Chicago 1968 and New York 2004 are striking.

Then, as now, authorities are besotted with “less lethal” technology that’s intended to prevent disorder (back then it was Mace), but actually increases disorder by lowering the threshold at which cops are willing to use force.
Then, as now, police officials argued that the ACLU and the federal judges were putting them in danger by “tying their hands.” When the cops lose some of these battles�as they did this year, with rulings against four-sided pens for demonstrators and general searches of bags�they get more afraid. That yields itchy fingers at the triggers of less-than-lethal implements.

Then, as now: the strategic mobilization of “terrorists”�a word Mayor Richard Daley in 1968 used to describe the Black Panthers, who, some residents of the Cook County jail reported, were planning assassinations. The ever reliable FBI sent 60 extra agents, though the jailbirds had made it all up�which didn’t prevent the city from announcing the “threat” to the press afterward as ex post facto rationalization for law enforcement’s rampage.

Then, as now: hovering, ruthless Republican presidential campaign operatives ready to seize on any advantage to win, who suspect that arrant attempts to frame the election as a choice between George W. Bush and “chaos in the streets” will be enough, for some small margin of voters, to inch themselves to victory.

And, the most uncanny parallel of all: Events have seen to it�perhaps by Republican intention, perhaps not, it hardly matters which�that protesters this time, just like last time, have been rendered ready and eager to demonstrate, on the Sunday before the convention, in a physical location where the city has determined they may not demonstrate. Thus the stage may be set now�as it was then�for disaster.

Perlstein shrewdly points out other disturbing parallels that make me worry: could radical liberals, whom I despise as much as arch-conservative Republicans (well, almost as much) � could they turn next week into a circus that makes all liberals look dangerous? Could they be so stupid as to win major sympathy for the GOP? I�m afraid that based on their track record, I�d have to say yes, they really could be that stupid.

Let�s hope enough of them realize that creating chaos in New York will not in any way further their cause, and could tip things in the enemy�s direction.

The Discussion: 23 Comments

Of course the radical liberals are going to blow it for the Democrats. They always do, and it’s because the US public equates them with the Democrats and not the Greens or some other fringe party that would be of good use in the US.

Middle America can’t stomach the activities of radical liberalism and paints it as all Democrats. Hell, I can’t stomach them, and they push me to be more conservative.

Oh, your link is broken and stop blogging during the work day 😉

August 25, 2004 @ 3:10 pm | Comment

I wonder what would happen if Kerry rallied the talking head troops and blamed the worst protests on radical Nader supporters.

More seriously, I hope Kerry finds a way to get out in public and urge people not to be idiots. He needs to give himself a solid, memorable talking point to defend against the “Democrats is hippies” smear.

August 25, 2004 @ 6:35 pm | Comment

Link is fixed, thanks Mr. Pop.

Dan, I’m with you — it would be the smart thing for Kerry to do. Being associated with frivolous violence and stupidity would be a disaster for him, and for us.

August 25, 2004 @ 7:41 pm | Comment

*geesh* I think it was Clinton who made the comment that current politics is really about the legacy of the 60s.

Go back and look at what actions the protestors took that resulted in police attacks at the ’68 convention. These weren’t radicals destroying property, but just blocking an intersection with a sitdown protest. Remember that the police didn’t attack just the protestors but were beating and arresting any press in the middle of the event.

The reason the Democrats lost in ’68 wasn’t the protestors. It was the assassination of the front-runner, Robert Kennedy and the split in the Democratic party between anti-war and pro-war law and order anti-civil rights types like Chicago Mayor Daley.

I’m hoping that the non-violent protestors’ cooler heads will prevail upon the “teen spirit anarchist-wannabes” to drop the “smash, burn, loot” routine that went out of style with the Cultural Revolution. But if police overreact with violence against peaceful protests like they did in Chicago ’68, I don’t understand why that should be held against Kerry instead of held against Bush, Pataki, and Bloomberg for once again resorting to violence at the drop of a hat.

August 25, 2004 @ 7:51 pm | Comment

Of course they could be that stupid. Question is, I don’t know why they haven’t figured this out yet. Case in point: There were powerful, rational, and respectable cases to be made against invading Iraq (I know this isn’t just about Democrats; it’s just an example). But what did the anti-crowd do? Jump immediately into bed with the known Stalinists of ANSWER, stage a vomit-in at city hall, and bring out the naked man on stilts. It was obvious that “peace” wasn’t the objective, but damned if I can figure out why they would want to guarantee the failure of the anti-war contingent. Was it a Rove plot?

August 25, 2004 @ 8:05 pm | Comment

No, that wasn’t a Rove plot to my knowledge. But they sure seem smarter, in retrospect, than I was.

August 25, 2004 @ 8:28 pm | Comment

Tom, my memory is fuzzy, I admit, but a lot of the protesters, or at least some of them, seemed like they were there expressly to make trouble. That said, the head-cracking tactics of Daly’s police was unforgivable.

August 25, 2004 @ 8:30 pm | Comment

But they sure seem smarter, in retrospect, than I was.

If you’d been smarter you would have helped guarantee the failure of the anti-war movement?!

August 25, 2004 @ 8:42 pm | Comment

Not at all; they were smarter for recognizing the invasion of Iraq for the folly it really was. I thought it was a noble cause. I believed too much of what the administration told me, without applying enough of my critical thinking. In retrospect, it’s so obvious we had to fail. If I knew then what I know now, I’d have fought it every step of the way, despite my strong belief that Saddam Hussein was a monster. Turns out he was a monster in decline, with no teeth and no ability to harm us. His rape of his own people was loathesome, but no worse than lots of other barbaric strongmen. The only hope would have been a truly international coalition, not just 400 troops from Bulgaria and 70 troops from Togo.

August 25, 2004 @ 8:53 pm | Comment

RNC NYC 2004 Not Equal To DNC Chicago 1968

Some culture warriors of today have wanted to paint the protestors as “radicals” who cost the Democrats the election of 1968. These culture warriors seeking to reclaim the 1960s for the law-and-order crew are also responsible for the attacks on John Ke…

August 25, 2004 @ 9:15 pm | Comment

I think it would be smart for Kerry to come out and say publically that he understands why the protesters are so angry, expand on that and use it to rail on Bush, but stop short of supporting whatever radical/violent actions they take. He has a background in protesting and I think its possible for him to use this situation to his advantage.

August 25, 2004 @ 9:16 pm | Comment

You may not agree with the showboating of a naked guy on stilts or a vomit-in or associating with pseudo-Stalinists, but how does that prompt a “law and order” backlash for Bush? Trent Lott has already come out and called Kerry a Socialist, so it’s not like the smear machine hasn’t headed down that road already?

Expressly to “make trouble”, Richard? Hmmm… they applied for permits to protest in the Chicago parks and were denied. I’ve written up a few other thoughts on the similarity to the lack of permits to protest in Central Park next week and linked in a timeline of the Chicago 7 trial (the whole post linked and trackbacked to you of course) at the Serendipity version of my blog.

August 25, 2004 @ 9:43 pm | Comment

Tom, I am with you. But I was just in New York, and a very close friend of mine there, as liberal as I am, told me there are a lot of troublermakers who are determined to turn the RNC into a circus and stir up as much shit as they can. It’s those a**holes I’m referring to, not the naked guy on stilts. I am on your side, but I’ve seen in the past what overzealous nitwits, leftists and rightists, can do. This could hurt our cause at a time when we need to take the higher road, as Kerry well understands.

August 25, 2004 @ 9:48 pm | Comment

Richard, the article specifically points to peaceful protests and NYC’s refusal to issue a permit to protest on the Great Lawn. He doesn’t say he is against protest, but wants more “political communication” as to not leave interpretation solely up to the police, despite the fact that it’s supposed to be the author’s job as a journalist to help provide the public with the truth, so the public can make an informed choice.

So the question I’ve asked is whether the US will be well served by the press covering the convention or will they fall to the level of a steno pool and wear out their F5 keys refreshing their web browsers pointed at and their ctrl-C and ctrl-V cutting-and-pasting from RNC press releases that will of course do their best to spin the demonstrators as a threat to America’s social order, God, Mom, Apple Pie and the cause of the American baseball team not making the Olympics and the US men’s Olympic basketball team stinking like unwashed-in-a-month gym clothes and last but not least every last fatality and injury suffered on 9/11 and in Iraq and Afghanistan.

August 25, 2004 @ 10:24 pm | Comment

I agree with Rick about the city being wrong not to let the protesteors protest peacefully in Central Park. But he also expresses the fear that we might see a second 1968-in-Chicago, encouraged by bush and Rove. I’m hoping those who are determined to make a scene — and they are out there — will be responsible and not play into bush/Rove’s hands, that’s all.

About the role of the journalist: remember, Perlstein writes for the Village Voice, an unashamedly to-the-left paper. It’s been a favorite of mine since I was a kid in New York, but they do go by their own rules. But that’s a long separate post unto itself.

August 25, 2004 @ 10:31 pm | Comment

Good Lord, the same nihilist, anarchist trash run riot in New York as did at the various WTO conferences, and somehow Bush/Rove have caused it?

Since when did the assholes in question need any encouragement whatsoever to run amok?

I’ll be glad when this election is over Richard, in another 6 months I afraid you’d morph into a Democratic Bob Barr.

BTW, I’m not sure Kerry urging good behavior wouldn’t backfire if there actually is trouble. It might leave the false impression that there actually was a connection between him and the loonies, otherwise why would he be instructing them haw to act.

Consider if a bunch of extremeist anti-abortion protestors had promised to raise hell in Boston and Bush urged them not too. There’s the risk that by addressing them in advance Bush leaves the impression that he is closer to them than he is.

It might be better for Kerry to shut up and then, if there is violence, appear shocked and surprised and denounce it strongly when it happens.

Just a thought.

August 26, 2004 @ 12:58 am | Comment

For once, I agree with Conrad. Then again, even if Kerry holds a news conference denouncing violent protests (if they occur), and runs ads denouncing violent protests, and goes on every single Sunday news show to denounce violent protests, what difference will it make? The right-wing media will simply ignore him, and will instead cherry-pick some footage of the most violent or unusual-looking protesters, which they will then run non-stop until at least mid-September.

Then a shadowy but extremely well-funded group called “Americans Against Violent Democrats” will spring up and purchase millions of dollars’ worth of ad time devoted to insinuating that Kerry and the violent protesters are in cahoots.

The best we can hope for is that the protesters will behave themselves. Let’s not forget that prior to the Democratic convention, some right-wing talking heads were predicting an apocalyptic scenario there too.

Personally, I like the idea of one group that plans to plaster Manhattan with anti-Bush signs and banners, to make it abundantly clear that most people there don’t like him. Meanwhile, of course, Li’l George will be doing his utmost to associate his campaign with the suffering that New Yorkers experienced on 9/11. If I were a New Yorker, I’d be thoroughly revolted too.

August 26, 2004 @ 4:34 am | Comment

Conrad, Rove has caused all the world’s evils, from world hunger to the plague. It’s all part of the re-election plot.

The point isn’t necessarily that Rove would cause it, but that he would expolit and even encourage it for political gain. That would be low-hanging fruit and very easy to do, and the radicals may be walking into a trap. That’s all.

August 26, 2004 @ 7:43 am | Comment

You may not agree with the showboating of a naked guy on stilts or a vomit-in or associating with pseudo-Stalinists, but how does that prompt a “law and order” backlash for Bush?

Is that a serious question? Richard phrased it well enough: It makes all liberals (or substitute “Bush opponents”) look dangerous – or like flaming idiots. Just like it drowned out the more sober, responsible arguments in the anti-war camp.

August 26, 2004 @ 9:21 pm | Comment


The right-wing media.

You’re shitting me, right?


Exploiting one’s enemies micues for one’s own political advantage? How nefarious? How shocking! Dear God, is nothing too foul for Rove?

August 26, 2004 @ 9:22 pm | Comment

Well, Conrad, it will be more complex and dirtier than that. I worry thaty Rove will actualy encourage the bad apples — that’s insidious. But no sense arguing. You see Rove’s tactics as legitimate, and there’s nothing I can do to make you see otherwise.

August 26, 2004 @ 9:44 pm | Comment

You’re shitting me, right?

You really haven’t been home lately, have you?

August 27, 2004 @ 3:00 am | Comment

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