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August 21, 2008 10:27 PM

Lessons of 2004

smmm BY CHRIS SCHNEIDER RMN 2008 032.JPG

Today we conclude the Rocky Mountain News' "Unconventional Wisdom" series with a notable but little known character of the 2004 Democratic National Convention offering advice for Sen. Barack Obama.

To follow the entire series, bookmark this link HERE. And keep checking back.

Part 10 of 10
Seamus Ahern, Boston 2000

The story by M.E. Sprengelmeyer is HERE.

The video by Judy DeHaas is HERE.

The transcript of the Jackson interview is HERE.

Portraits are by Chris Schneider.

Below is a bit of the back story on the making of the 2000 chapter.

* * *

When historians look back, what will they remember about the 2004 Democratic National Convention?

It might not be John Kerry, the Vietnam War veteran who marched to the stage and told the nation he was "reporting for duty."

It might be a little-known, Illinois legislator who exploded onto the national scene that week with a stirring keynote address.

Barack Obama introduced himself to the country as "a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too."

This was the original "audacity of hope" speech.

And it's a reminder of how it's important to watch the "no-name" participants at these big party gatherings to get clues about the next generation of leaders.

So as we close this "Unconventional Wisdom" series, we decided to look at another nobody, another "skinny kid with a funny name" who emerged from that convention as an important footnote in Sen. Obama's political rise.

Seamus Ahern wasn't in Boston on the night of that convention.

He was at a Marine base in California, just days away from being deployed to Iraq.

But when Obama invoked his name in that now-famous speech, it set off a chain of events that changed the course of the young man's life.

In coming months, as Ahern was in Iraq - facing mostly playful ribbing from superior officers for collaboration with "this liberal" - he and the newly-elected U.S. Senator became e-mail pen pals.

Long before Obama made his first visit to the war zone, and long before rival Sen. John McCain started questioning where Obama was getting his information about the war, he turned to the young Marine, Ahern, as his eyes and ears on the battlefield.

It's an interesting tale, and one we hope you'll agree provides some "Unconventional Wisdom."

Thank you for following the series, and I'd welcome your feedback.

And now, let the convention begin.

-- M.E. Sprengelmeyer
SprengelmeyerM@SHNS.com

August 21, 2008 9:48 PM

Lessons of 2000

2000 Ralph Nader by Chris Schneider.JPG

Today we present chapter nine of the Rocky Mountain News' "Unconventional Wisdom" series, featuring some notable characters of past Democratic National Conventions offering their advice for Sen. Barack Obama, convention organizers, the city of Denver and average voters watching at home.

To follow the entire series, bookmark this link HERE. And keep checking back.

Part 9 of 10
Ralph Nader, Los Angeles 1996

The story by M.E. Sprengelmeyer is HERE.

The video by Judy DeHaas is HERE.

The transcript of the Jackson interview is HERE.

Portraits are by Chris Schneider.

Below is a bit of the back story on the making of the 2000 chapter.

* * *

Call him the uninvited.

Democrats didn't exactly welcome Ralph Nader to the 2000 Democratic National Convention.

His third-party presidential bid had gained some attention before Al Gore took the stage in Los Angeles. Polls suggested Nader had pockets of support that could take away from the Democratic coalition.

Still, as The Associated Press reported at the time: "Gore advisers say Nader's appeal will dim as the election draws closer." And besides, Pat Buchanan's bid was supposed to hurt Republican George

So it would be a wash. Right?

The rest is history. Bush beat Gore. It was so close, especially in Florida, that the political analysts rushed to anoint Nader as the ultimate spoiler.

"Score one for the Raider," Newsweek's headline said, alluding to the Green Party candidate's past leading "Nader's Raiders" on Capitol Hill.

To this day, the debate goes on.

And it is worth considering whether there's anything Democrats could have said or done at the 2000 convention (or beyond) that would have blunted any Nader effect on the November outcome.

Nader rejects the blame for Bush's victory and all the history that has unfolded as a result. But he can't get very far into an interview before arguing about his own legacy - whether it was to clear the way for a Republican victory or to show Democrats a path to pull their party back to its progressive roots.

Making yet another run for president in 2008, Nader might seem like an odd choice to offer advice to Sen. Barack Obama. But we wanted to ask him how he might advise Democrats to use their national conventions to make dissident movements like his less relevant.

We had no idea that such questions would lead to national headlines earlier this summer. But when we asked a follow-up question about whether Sen. Obama was any different than other Democrats he had criticized, he launched into controversial comments about Obama's race that we couldn't keep buried in our notebooks for long.

With this story and the related transcript, you can get a better idea of the full conversation that sparked a 48-hour media firestorm.

August 19, 2008 10:52 PM

Lessons of 1996 (and beyond)

1996 Jesse Jackson by Chris Schneider.JPG

Today we present chapter eight of the Rocky Mountain News' "Unconventional Wisdom" series, featuring some notable characters of past Democratic National Conventions offering their advice for Sen. Barack Obama, convention organizers, the city of Denver and average voters watching at home.

To follow the entire series, bookmark this link HERE. And keep checking back.

Part 8 of 10
Jesse Jackson, Chicago 1996

The story by M.E. Sprengelmeyer is HERE.

The video by Judy DeHaas is HERE.

The transcript of the Jackson interview is HERE.

Portraits are by Chris Schneider.

Below is a bit of the back story on the making of the 1996 chapter.

* * *

Oh, now we get it.

It took two weeks - and a few seconds of unguarded audio clips - for us to really understand our interview with the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Our team traveled to Chicago in mid-June and met with Jackson at the Rainbow/P.U.S.H. Coalition headquarters, just a few blocks away from the home of Sen. Barack Obama.

We could have talked to him about his groundbreaking run for president in 1984, his advances in 1988 - when he, for a few brief moments, was the front-runner for the nomination. We could have talked to him about 1996, when Democrats brought their convention back to Chicago to erase the bad memories of 1968. Jackson played a softer-spoken role at that convention, when he mostly set aside his anger over President Clinton's welfare reform bill and backed the "imperfect" president for the sake of fighting another day.

But over the past 40 years, since he was alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on a fateful day in Memphis, Jackson's role transcends any one convention. So we wanted to talk about what Obama's nomination means to him, to the party, to the country, to race relations and so much more.

He was generous with his time, offering what at the time seemed like nothing but kind words for the younger man who had exceeded his own place in the history of presidential politics - and in prominence right there on Chicago's south side, too.

But within days, just as I was sifting through my notes and trying to put the Jackson story in order, there was a bulletin on one of the cable news channels.

FoxNews had caught the Rev. Jackson on a live microphone, during a break from another interview taping, whispering to a fellow guest that he thought Obama was talking down to black folks. In fact, Jackson whispered, he wanted to cut off a part of Obama's male anatomy.

To pundits, it showed jealousy, resentment, a generational rivalry - things Jackson denied even as his own son, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., joined a chorus of blistering criticism.

To me, Jackson's unguarded quips served as a sort of decoder device to help me understand our own interview much better.

I highly recommend reading the full transcript of our Jesse Jackson interview HERE.

The word "nuts" does not appear even once. But now, keeping his slip-up in mind, it's easier to read between the lines.

When Jackson tells the history of the civil rights movement, from 1954 to the present, he seems to be hinting that someone has not acknowledged what the earlier generations had to suffer on the way to the "mountaintop."

When he praises Obama's winning strategy, winning large proportions of delegates even in states that he lost, he includes reminders about who helped establish those proportional representation rules.

When he praises Obama's ability to turn out large numbers of young people, he makes sure we know who helped change the laws to allow younger people to vote - and let college students vote where they were studying, like, say, Iowa.

When he talks about Obama and rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton taking their groundbreaking candidacies from coast-to-coast, he makes sure we remember that this isn't the same country as it was in his day.

"So, when I saw Hillary and Barack campaigning in Mississippi, the state where Emmett Till was lynched, the state where (Michael) Schwerner, (Andrew) Goodman and (James) Chaney were killed, the state where Medgar Evers was killed, where (James) Meredith went to school with the National Guard, and in that state saw whites voting for a black to be president, and saw men voting for a woman to be president, Barack and Hillary are now the conduits through which a new and better and more mature America is expressing itself. They are not the causes of this."

His perspective is easier to understand after the "nuts" comment, because now we can read between the lines.

August 19, 2008 7:59 AM

Lessons of 1992

1992 Jerry Brown by Chris Schneider.JPG

Today we present chapter seven of the Rocky Mountain News' "Unconventional Wisdom" series, featuring some notable characters of past Democratic National Conventions offering their advice for Sen. Barack Obama, convention organizers, the city of Denver and average voters watching at home.

To follow the entire series, bookmark this link HERE. And keep checking back.

Part 7 of 10
Jerry Brown, New York 1988

The story by M.E. Sprengelmeyer is HERE.

The video by Judy DeHaas is HERE.

The transcript of the Brown interview is HERE.

Portraits are by Chris Schneider.

Below is a bit of the back story on the making of the 1992 chapter.

* * *

One of the more surprising challenges of the "Unconventional Wisdom" series was getting the fast-moving Jerry Brown to sit still long enough to talk to us about the 1992 Democratic National Convention.

He's a man in motion, a human electron.

And we wanted to ask why it took the unseemly spectacle of his supporters chanting "Let Jerry speak! Let Jerry speak!" for him to be given even a few minutes at the podium following his runner-up primary campaign in 1992.

Some people mistakenly think Jerry Brown retired to the "Where Are They Now?" file after that, his third run for president -- or perhaps after his stint as Oakland's colorful mayor.

But his famously eclectic resume now includes his current job as Attorney General of California. And when we caught up with him this spring he was in the middle of a buzz-storm over his flirtation with another possible run for Governor in 2010.

Yes, that's right. Brown might try to become both the once and future "Governor Moonbeam."

So when we caught up with him in the lobby of the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Calif., he kept getting pulled away, this way and that, by others who also wanted to let Jerry speak - to them.

We finally dragged him into a makeshift studio for a rapid-fire interview. He had so little time that I tossed out all my carefully written questions.

"What's this about?" he asked.

"Let Jerry speak," I said. "We want to hear about 'Let Jerry speak.'"

"Got it," he said. "Go."

And then, much to my surprise, this very distracted, veteran politician and activist, focused like a laser beam - or maybe it was like a moon beam.

He started talking - quite rapidly - about the events of 1992. He anticipated every one of the follow-up questions that had been on my discarded list of pre-scripted questions. I jumped in a few times. But mostly we just watched him vamp.

Although Jerry Brown was the only one of our interview subjects who didn't sit still for a full hour - it was more like six minutes - it turned out to be one of the more focused, on-point interviews we conducted.

And when the video camera stopped, he bolted out of his chair, slowed only long enough for photographer Chris Schneider to fire off a few frames, and then he was gone - down a hallway, up the stairs, and back to the lobby where everyone, it seems, wanted to let Jerry speak.

August 18, 2008 12:23 AM

Lessons of 1988

1988 Michael Dukakis by Chris Schneider.JPG

Today we present chapter six of the Rocky Mountain News' "Unconventional Wisdom" series, featuring some notable characters of past Democratic National Conventions offering their advice for Sen. Barack Obama, convention organizers, the city of Denver and average voters watching at home.

To follow the entire series, bookmark this link HERE. And keep checking back.

Part 6 of 10
Michael Dukakis, Atlanta 1988

The story by M.E. Sprengelmeyer is HERE.

The video by Judy DeHaas is HERE.

The transcript of the Dukakis interview is HERE.

Portraits are by Chris Schneider.

Below is a bit of the back story on the making of the 1988 chapter.

* * *

Imagine the scene: Michael Dukakis, circa 2008, impersonating comedian Jon Lovitz impersonating Michael Dukakis, circa 1988.

"'How could I be losing to this guy?'"

Funny stuff (even if the line Lovitz delivered on Saturday Night Live was slightly different: "I can't believe I'm losing to this guy...").

That was supposed to be Democrats' year.

The Great Communicator, President Ronald Reagan, was leaving office in 1988. Republicans nominated the slightly less exciting George H.W. Bush, a milquetoast wonk once dismissed by conservative columnist George Will as a "lap dog."

And then Bush tapped the lightly-regarded Dan Quayle -- "no Jack Kennedy" -- as his running mate.

So finally, Democrats were supposed to have a chance. But no.

As Dukakis sat down to chat at his daughter's home near the Cherry Creek area of Denver, he made it clear that he had only himself to blame for yet another drubbing - one of seven the Democrats suffered in the ten elections between 1968 and 2004.

The convention in Atlanta had gone great, Dukakis said. But he seemed to forget the most important part of a convention: the morning after, and the hand-to-hand combat that begins immediately afterwards.

Dukakis said that after the convention, he tried to stay the course on the upbeat strategy that had won him the nomination. He was slow, very slow, to respond to a constant barrage of Republican attacks. And by the time he got feisty, it was too late.

He learned his lesson. And it's one that Sen. Barack Obama already seems to have taken to heart - for example, this week releasing dozens of pages of pointed rebuttals to the allegations contained in the latest "swift book" attack, "The Obama Nation."

Interviewing Michael Dukakis is a package deal. You get Kitty Dukakis, too, and it's fascinating to watch the inseparable former first couple of Massachusetts sit side by side, finish each other's sentences, interrupt one another at will, and lean close to one another when the questions get tough.

There was no more emotional moment during the discussion of 1988 than when the topic turned to the Obamas, Barack and Michelle. Ask Kitty Dukakis about Michelle Obama and she gushes with praise and then her voice wavers with emotion.

It is, her husband explains, a sort of flashback to those tough days in 1988 when Republicans went after his would-be first lady. A sitting Republican senator publicly claimed that Kitty Dukakis had once burned an American flag at a protest - a rumor that spread far and wide, even without the Internet and even without a shred of evidence offered.

Michael and Kitty Dukakis are rooting against the attack machine this year. They sound as excited about the 2008 convention as they were about the one in 1988. They're about to fly to California, pick up the grandkids and then take a train back to Denver for a triumphant, old-school arrival at the Democratic National Convention - as if we're back in 1908.

Obama has filled them with hope - hope that this time, unlike 1988, the attacks won't go unanswered.

"And you can see already, not a day goes by when any attack from the McCain campaign is not answered, either by the candidate or somebody else," Dukakis told us. "In point of fact, Obama has been a very feisty post-primary candidate, if I can use that term. And he has got to be. Whether or not people get tired of this stuff, on both sides, by the time this is over is a good question. But nobody will make that mistake again. And unfortunately, I made it."

August 14, 2008 11:35 PM

Lessons of 1984

1984 Walter Mondale by Chris Schneider.JPG

Today we present chapter five of the Rocky Mountain News' "Unconventional Wisdom" series, featuring some notable characters of past Democratic National Conventions offering their advice for Sen. Barack Obama, convention organizers, the city of Denver and average voters watching at home.

To follow the entire series, bookmark this link HERE. And keep checking back.


Part 5 of 10
Walter Mondale, San Francisco 1980

The story by M.E. Sprengelmeyer is HERE.

The video by Judy DeHaas is HERE.

The transcript of the Mondale interview is HERE.

Portraits are by Chris Schneider.

Below is a bit of the back story on the making of the 1984 chapter.

* * *

I was in high school, still a few months too young to vote, in that year that George Orwell warned us about:

1984

But as a budding political junkie, I followed that year's presidential election as closely as I watched the baseball pennant race that year. (That's saying a lot, considering my beloved Chicago Cubs were making a rare appearance in the playoffs. Go Ryno!)

My high school history teacher, H.C. Dennis, spurred my enthusiasm the previous fall, sharing the weekly candidate profiles from the Washington Post magazine. I ate up every word and became convinced that Sen. John Glenn, the former astronaut, would be unstoppable.

As the primaries went on, my friend, Steve, and most of the other high school kids who were paying attention - and there weren't many of them - were rooting for the young upstart in the race, Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado.

But that wasn't to be.

Instead, Democrats settled on what now seems like an obvious front-runner, former Vice President Walter Mondale.

I remember everything about the general election campaign - Mondale's San Francisco convention, President Reagan's re-nomination in Dallas, the gloriously abstract "Bear in the Woods" ad that left viewers with the impression that Mondale would literally be eaten by the Soviet Union's mascot.

I remember, right up to the end, thinking that this titanic struggle would go down to the wire. It would be a real nail biter. I never imagined it would be an historic blowout.

But that thought had crossed Mondale's mind.

People remember their first presidential elections. I know that because of how many people with touches of gray hair have come up to me to add details to the earlier chapters in this series on McGovern v. Nixon and others.

For me, that 1984 contest was the start of a political observer career. So it meant a lot to me that the former Vice President would sit down with us for more than an hour - looking exactly the same as he had way back when - and explain the big, bold things he had to try because he knew this was an uphill battle, to put it mildly.

I learned a lot from that chat in Minneapolis, and if you read the full chapter you might, too.

And I also got to confess something to one of the larger-than-life figures of my youth.

As I told Mondale, I was so upset that my birth date left me still too young to vote that, what the heck, I decided to register to vote anyway. The state of New Mexico sent me a voter registration card and everything. But as the election approached, I chickened-out, fearing I would be convicted of voter fraud and spend the rest of my life in jail.

I never told Mondale how the 17-year-old me might have voted. But he flashed me a real wide smile, as if that was all that was standing between him and the White House.

"Thanks for trying," he said.

(See the full transcript for the rest of the story.)

August 13, 2008 11:13 PM

Lessons of 1980

1980 Bob Shrum talks about Ted Kennedy by Chris Schneider.JPG

Today we present chapter four of the Rocky Mountain News' "Unconventional Wisdom" series, featuring some notable characters of past Democratic National Conventions offering their advice for Sen. Barack Obama, convention organizers, the city of Denver and average voters watching at home.

To follow the entire series, bookmark this link HERE. And keep checking back.

Part 4 of 10
Bob Shrum on Ted Kennedy, New York 1980

The story by M.E. Sprengelmeyer is HERE.

The video by Judy DeHaas is HERE.

The transcript of the Shrum interview is HERE.

Portraits are by Chris Schneider.

Below is a bit of the back story on the making of the 1980 chapter.

* * *

For much of this spring, it looked as if Democrats might repeat some painful history from 1980.

As the rivalry between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton grew increasingly bitter, pundits couldn't help but draw comparisons between 2008 and 1980, when Sen. Ted Kennedy took his challenge of incumbent President Jimmy Carter all the way to the floor of the convention.

While the days of "malaise" might have made it tough for Democrats to hold the White House in any case, the struggles to present a semblance of party unity at that year's convention certainly didn't help Carter.

And so, in 2008, as Clinton's supporters pushed her to take the fight all the way to "Denver! Denver! Denver!" it seemed folks might need a reminder of that titanic battle 28 years earlier:

Carter v. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden.

But by the early summer, that didn't seem to be the real story.

In late spring, the Rocky Mountain News team began communicating with Sen. Kennedy's representative.

Would we ask about 1980? He never granted interviews about that.

Well, that topic had crossed our minds. In general, we'd want to know what advice he had for Democrats heading into the Denver convention.

Somewhat to our surprise, Sen. Kennedy's representative was encouraging and we began talking about travel arrangements for at least a brief, sit-down interview. But then, everything changed.

Sen. Kennedy collapsed at his home, was rushed to a hospital, and would soon be diagnosed with a brain tumor.

In that instant, the nation seemed to set aside the more painful memories of 1980 and begin reflecting on the larger legacy of one of Capitol Hill's most legendary figures.

We never bothered the Senator's staff again.

Instead, we turned to another legendary - and controversial - figure in Democratic circles, Kennedy's former aide and speech writer, Bob Shrum, to explain that 1980 convention and how it fit into the larger picture.

Shrum paid us a visit at Scripps Howard News Service offices a few blocks from the White House. For an hour, sipping coffee, he gave us a highly-animated account of that 1980 contest.

He walked us through some of the rough patches, the comical moments and the awkward choreography at the convention when his old boss - finally -- agreed to acknowledge Carter's "victory here."

Shrum walked us through the evolution of Kennedy's famous "concession" speech, when he made it clear that there were some principles that he would never surrender.

And, growing emotional at times, Shrum made a case that the final words in Kennedy's famous speech are as relevant today as they were when they were delivered.

"For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."

August 13, 2008 1:38 AM

Lessons of 1976

1976 Dr Thomas Freeman talks about his student Barbara Jordan by Chris Schneider.JPG

Today we present chapter three of the Rocky Mountain News' "Unconventional Wisdom" series, featuring some notable characters of past Democratic National Conventions offering their advice for Sen. Barack Obama, convention organizers, the city of Denver and average voters watching at home.

To follow the entire series, bookmark this link HERE. And keep checking back.

Part 3 of 10
Dr. Thomas Freeman on his student, Barbara Jordan, New York 1976

The story by M.E. Sprengelmeyer is HERE.

The video by Judy DeHaas is HERE.

The transcript of the Freeman interview is HERE.

Portraits are by Chris Schneider.

Below is a bit of the back story on the making of the 1976 chapter.

* * *

There are many ways we could have approached the 1976 chapter.

We could have made a trip to Plains, Ga., looked up an old peanut farmer and asked him what went right and what went wrong at the Democratic National Convention that helped turn him into President Jimmy Carter.

But in 2008, as the party was preparing to nominate the son of a Kenyan father to be its presidential candidate, there was a bigger question to answer.

Now, finally, is the country ready for someone other than a white male to lead the nation?

It's a question I wished I could have asked one of the keynote speakers at that 1976 Democratic National Convention: the late Rep. Barbara Jordan.

She was a force of nature, African-American daughter of the segregated south who ignored most of the other barriers in her life - racism, sexism, a physical handicap - and became a powerful voice of reconciliation in the awkward interregnum following the Vietnam War, Watergate and the toughest times of the civil rights struggle.

She burst onto the national scene during the House Judiciary Committee's Watergate investigation. And at the Democratic National Convention at Madison Square Garden, she gave an address that's still considered one of the most powerful keynotes in the history of American political discourse.

After the speech, she was flooded with fan mail that now sits mostly ignored in the archives at her undergraduate alma mater, Texas Southern University. Letters poured in from every corner of the nation.

Imagine my surprise when I found a post card from a Pennsylvania teenager named Marc Holtzman, who would later run for Colorado governor as a Republican. I bolted out of the library and placed a call to Holtzman and left a message asking if he had ever lived at such and such an address.

He quickly called back from an overseas trip to Europe, and he was stunned to hear the reason. Oh, yes, he said excitedly. That speech, that voice, that woman had made such a powerful impression on him. It was "a political awakening" for Holtzman, and he wanted to be just like her, he said. (Well, a Reagan-Republican version anyway...)

So many people wrote to Jordan, urging her to run for president, wondering why Jimmy Carter hadn't selected her as his running mate.

And she replied to every one of them with variations of a grim assessment of where the country was in 1976 - and where she knew someone like her could not go. Not quite yet.

"While I respect Governor Carter's sensitivity to the needs of blacks and women, I do not feel that the country is ready to accept a woman in the second highest office in the land," Jordan wrote to one letter-writer.

To another, she stressed the country not being ready for a black person in such a high position of leadership.

But each time she included a bit of hope, too. "However, when that time does come, I plan to be ready..."

Jordan's political career - and her life - ended before that day came.

So we turned to one of the more influential figures in her life, Dr. Thomas Freeman, a debate coach so legendary that the actor Denzel Washington studied his moves before a role in the movie, "The Great Debaters."

Freeman is 88 years old. He insisted that we check his still-valid driver's license. But he still works in his office seven days a week, is super-charged with energy and infuses each conversation with all the dramatic flair of his look-alike, the late entertainer Cab Calloway.

He walked us through his four years training Barbara Jordan to become one of the country's great orators. He spoke of the obstacles she had to overcome.

And then we got to the big question. If she were around today, what would she say?

Is the country ready yet?

At this point, Dr. Freeman's voice rose in volume, then abruptly dipped to a whisper as he pointedly leaned forward and looked into the eyes of the white journalist who had asked the question.

"We made progress up to the '70s, but so much more progress needs to be made to get America ready. Because the very question that is being raised . . . There would be no reason for the question if we were ready. Nobody would ask, 'Are we ready?' We would just move along."

The lesson of this chapter is, well, inconclusive. Because Barbara Jordan isn't around to give us any more clues. And the voters haven't answered the question yet either.

August 11, 2008 11:19 PM

Lessons of 1972

1972 George McGovern by Chris Schneider.JPG

Today we present chapter two of the Rocky Mountain News' "Unconventional Wisdom" series, featuring some notable characters of past Democratic National Conventions offering their advice for Sen. Barack Obama, convention organizers, the city of Denver and average voters watching at home.

To follow the entire series, bookmark this link HERE. And keep checking back.

Part 2 of 10
George McGovern, Miami 1972

The story by M.E. Sprengelmeyer is HERE.

The video by Judy DeHaas is HERE.

The transcript of the McGovern interview is HERE.

Portraits are by Chris Schneider.

Below is a bit of the back story on the making of the 1972 chapter.

* * *

This might sound funny, but our long drive to Mitchell, S.D., was one of the absolute highlights of the cross-country travel for me.

I'm not just saying that because we got to kill time at the world famous Corn Palace while waiting to meet 1972 presidential contender George McGovern inside the library that bears his name.

Whatever you thought of the election results in 1972, the year represented a high water mark in a brand of up-close, experimental journalism that produced collections like Hunter S. Thompson's "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72," Timothy Crouse's master work "Boys on the Bus," and a lesser-known favorite of mine about the '72 conventions, Norman Mailer's scattered and quite vulgar "St. George & the Godfather."

There were so many things I wanted to ask McGovern, the octogenarian who, perhaps more than any other Democrat today, defines the term "party elder."

There was, of course, the botched vice presidential selection - when he was forced to replace Thomas Eagleton after revelations of his past mental health treatments. There was the confusing fight over proportional representation of the California delegation, and the drawn-out challenges that left McGovern's nomination in doubt well into the start of the convention. There was the giddy, almost comical spectacle of dozens of candidates being nominated for McGovern's running mate -- including third-place finisher Sen. Mike Gravel. And there was the nominee's acceptance speech, delivered in the middle of the night while most of the television sets in America were turned off.

At his library office, seated next to a window that looks out toward his modest ranch home across the street, McGovern put all those events into the proper context, describing how one problem led to the next, then the next, until his defeat in the November election was all but sealed - right there at the convention.

He offered countless pieces of advice for Democrats heading into Denver. And, at a time when Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton were still locked in what seemed like a never-ending battle to the finish, he offered the example of his own painful telephone call to an old friend, President Clinton, explaining why he was switching his endorsement from Clinton to Obama.

The race had gone on long enough, he said. It was time for party unity. And that was something he said might have prevented the domino effect from destroying his chances against President Richard Nixon in 1972.

The interview with this gracious, and still very sharp, elder statesman was everything I could have hoped for. And more.

If you read the full transcript, look for my personal highlight. In a playful section of the interview, he let me apologize for a decision at age 5. My grandparents were arguing about that election. Grandpa was for McGovern. Grandma was for Nixon. My sister said she was on my Grandpa's side. My Grandma turned to me. And what else could I say?

"Well, you can't alienate grandma," McGovern said, and then he launched into a story about his Republican parents and what he thought they might say today.

In short, I'll never forget our team's trip to Mitchell, S.D. And for the record, if you're passing through town and have 15 minutes to spare, the stop at the Corn Palace is not to be missed.

August 10, 2008 11:39 AM

Lessons of 1968

1968 Tom Hayden by Chris Schneider.JPG

Today, the Rocky Mountain News begins "Unconventional Wisdom," a ten-part series featuring some notable characters of past Democratic National Conventions offering their advice for Sen. Barack Obama, convention organizers, the city of Denver and average voters watching at home.


To follow the entire series, bookmark this link HERE. And keep checking back.


Part 1 of 10
Tom Hayden, Chicago 1968

The story by M.E. Sprengelmeyer is HERE.

The video by Judy DeHaas is HERE.

The transcript of the Hayden interview is HERE.

Portraits are by Chris Schneider.

Below is a bit of the back story on the making of the 1968 chapter.

* * *

The first stop on our tour was an unassuming little office in Culver City, Calif., where we sought out '60s activist Tom Hayden to talk about the lessons of 1968.

He's a prolific writer, and his workspace is so crowded with memorabilia, books and photographs that it's like the (left) wing of an American history museum all cramped into a space the size of an old highway motel room.

We were there to talk about free speech and security issues, and his experiences organizing the anti-war protests that ended in what some still call a "police riot" in Chicago.

Although Hayden sees little chance of a repeat in Denver, he warns that hype and security clampdowns to prevent worst case scenarios can lead to confrontations that would not happen otherwise.

"Too much order creates disorder is the way I've always put it," Hayden said.

Hayden also offered an interesting story about what happened in 1996, when Democrats brought their convention back to Chicago, with Hayden as a delegate.

In 1996, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley wanted to do something to get past the bloody memories of 1968, when his late father was the mayor. But he wouldn't go along with Hayden's plan for a monument dedicated to the demonstrators who clashed with police in 1968.

"And the right wing of the Chicago Police Department went nuts," Hayden said. "They were handing out t-shirts: 'We kicked your dad's a-- in '68. And then kicked your a--.'"

The week of the convention, Hayden helped lead a memorial rally for the 1968 protesters. And there was a surprise appearance from the younger Mayor Daley.

"Unannounced, he walked out on the stage and he said, 'My name is Richard J. Daley. I am the Mayor of Chicago and I want to welcome you to Chicago,'" Hayden said. "People were like startled and they laughed, and then they applauded him. It was perfect for him. There was nothing to quote. No downside, and it was a very nice moment."

See the interview transcript for more.

Next stop: George McGovern's office in Mitchell, S.D.

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