I was a member of Gene McCarthy's National Staff in '68 & had a room on the 15th Floor of the Hilton in Chicago at the Convention. My main job was to keep young idealistic McCarthy volunteers out of the clutches of the SDS & Yippie ideologues who were plotting [and committing] mayhem in the weeks leading up to the Convention. Everyone on the street knew that something was going to blow, and the Lincoln Park sit-ins invoked revolutionary ideals right in front of the Chicago police.
I was in the Wabash storefront during the days before taking kids around Chicago to canvass for McCarthy in the friendly northern suburbs in a truck lent to me by an Ann Arbor Ford dealer. On the evening of the opening, I can remember Rev. Ralph Abernathy in the "Poor People's Parade" moving down Michigan Ave to the Balbo intersection in front of the Hilton. The Soviets had just crushed the "Prague Spring" and Gene McCarthy had pronounced the brutal subjection of the Czechs as "unimportant," demonstrating his cavalier insouciance and politically tone-deaf sensibility simultaneously.
I went down to the street & met Norman Mailer & David Douglas Duncan, there for the dramatic events, and then walked to Grant Park, and joined a line of peaceful protesters. Suddenly bottles came from behind us over our heads and hit the police cordon line between ourselves and the hotel. Then the police charged, under a hail of flying glass [this part is always omitted by the silly narratives concerning police brutality]. Indeed, the police did use their truncheons and one kid next to me was hit in the head as simultaneously a police helmet hit the ground next to him [the sound made me think that "that is the sound of someone's head being exploded"], and I walked slowly through the police lines untouched [I was a husky 6-foot plus athletic type in conservative garb] saying "take it easy" while the police busied themselves hitting students, particularly young women. [There are no heroes in this narrative.]
I was sent to court to bail out the McCarthy kids arrested in the brouhaha & then made my way back to the hotel, starving & with brains leeched out by sustained inhalation of tear gas. The next half-hour is indelible in my mind. I had bought a whitefish fillet earlier that day & went to the deserted commo center on the 15th floor to eat my deli delight. After finishing the fish, I looked out the open window and saw a line of 12 police in two lines of six standing in front of the hotel directly below me. I dropped the head/backbone/tail cartoon of a whitefish onto the line of cops, then went to a party in an adjacent room down the hall. Therein, I rapidly consumed at least three scotches on the rocks & we discussed throwing ash trays and dirty dishes out the window onto the police. I sort of went blank or blacked out soon after & stumbled to my bedroom alone & double-locked the door. While sleeping like a log, I was awakened by shouting in the hall & then pounding on the door, along with a girl saying "there's no one in there." I went back to sleep, but awakened around eight AM to find the hall littered with bandages & people wearing bandages. I was told the police came to the 15th floor with a fish [!!] and broken glass on a shovel and proceeded to open the rooms with a skeleton key and beat up the McCarthy workers therein. I escaped only because for one of the few times in my life, I had double-locked the hotel door.
I returned to Ann Arbor after picking up all the petitions signed across the country on about 100 bundles of paper---invaluable for later use and which I had found abandoned in the Wabash HQ---and leaving them with my parents in Wauwatosa WI. Afterwards, in Ann Arbor, I participated in an SDS convention which had me hosting Mark Rudd as a houseguest. I met Bill Ayers and Diana Oughton [who was soon to die in a bomb explosion in Greenwich Village]. Diana was sweet enough, but basically under the wing of reckless adventurers. Ayers and Rudd were pompous little mountebanks utterly full of themselves. Hayden was a human computer with political info, and a pock-marked ectomorphic version of Panamanian dictator Noriega. I can always recall Rudd sitting in my bedroom smoking my weed telling me to "Dare to Cheat, Dare to Win."
Certainly an appropriate statement from a spoiled brat Jewish kid from Livingston NJ. Ayers was worse, with his daddy's money supporting him while he played at being a revolutionary. Both live on today as examples of American toleration of dissent, something that neither of them would ever permit were they ever given the power to prevent it A couple of Castro & Kim Jung-Il wannabes who live on beyond their just deserts.
In April, '69, I got a letter from the State Dept. inviting me to join the Foreign Service and I left Ann Arbor for good. Strangely, I found myself on a plane to Azerbaijan while working for Amoco Corporation in the mid-nineties seated next to Sam Brown, whom I had worked with in the '68 McCarthy campaign & who was Clinton's "Ambassador-at-Large" to Eastern Europe on Human Rights affairs. We spent three days together as he monitored an election in Azerbaijan & I explained the oil industry to him---he didn't seem interested in the details. Daniel Flynn defines Brown's mindset very well:
That the events in Chicago might have catalyzed the nation’s rightward turn never seems to occur to such nostalgists. Instead, they blindly celebrate an event that helped cause the political developments they lament. Apart from the immediate effect—Democratic voters’ withholding votes from a party that seemed unable to govern its own convention, let alone the nation—the events of 40 years ago led to a long-term transformation of the Democratic Party. Democratic delegate Ben Wattenberg observed of the party’s 1972 convention: “There won’t be any riots in Miami because the people who rioted in Chicago are on the platform committee.” Consider the treatment of Mayor Daley, who had opened the 1968 Democratic Convention, at the 1972 gathering. The party’s credentials committee, steeped in George McGovern–inspired reformist impulses, refused to seat Daley’s slate of delegates elected by Cook County voters. Instead, the committee replaced the slate with an unelected one led by Jesse Jackson that more closely resembled the diversity that the party’s new quota system demanded.
This rule-or-ruin mentality ruined Hubert Humphrey’s chances of ruling, and it continues to this day. Instead of FDR’s party of the working man, the post-’68 Democrats have been easy to caricature as the Abortion Party, the Blame-America-First Party, and the Soft-on-Crime Party. In the ten presidential elections since the bloody ’68 convention riots, Democrats have won just three to the Republicans’ seven. This Republican dominance exactly mirrors Democratic successes in the 40 years prior to 1968.
Perhaps the Republicans will cede the White House to the crazies who forty years ago were in their late teens or early twenties & have never grown up. More likely, once again the Hate-America wing of the Democrats might alienate the "silent majority" of Americans who realize the USA is, in Kobe Bryant's words, "the greatest country in the world."