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Nation: Liberals for Nixon and Other Realignments

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Though his campaign seemed to be gaining momentum last week, Hubert Humphrey remains in deep trouble. Not the least of the old liberal’s afflictions is the continued disaffection—and often outright hostility—of many fellow liberals. Walter Lippmann endorsed Richard Nixon, arguing that the Republican is a “maturer and mellower man” than he used to be and that the Democrats need a period of “rest and recuperation.” Murray Kempton wrote that the Democrats “deserve to lose.” Novelist Norman Mailer concluded that Nixon might not be all that bad (see THE PRESS). Michigan’s New Democratic Coalition refused to endorse the party ticket. California’s Young Democrats voted not “to even begin to consider” supporting Humphrey unless he agrees to meet six demands, including a pledge of immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Viet Nam.

For anti-Humphrey liberals, the war is the most passionate rallying cry, but not the only one. Having received the nomination on the strength of the urban machines and the big wheels of organized labor, Humphrey suffers from guilt by association. Martin Stone, a McCarthy leader in California, says of Humphrey’s future: “He’s finished. Nothing is going to change that. The old buffaloes are on their last legs.” California’s former Governor Pat Brown, an orthodox liberal of the Humphrey stripe, laments: “It’s a bad day for guys like me who have worked in politics all their lives. You know, those liberals can be bastards when they get their hooks into you.”

A Third Party. Other hooks are pulling at the two-party fabric itself. Aaron Wildavsky, chairman of the political science department at Berkeley, sees 1968 as a possible prelude to a general political realignment, with the Republicans having more at stake in the long run than the Democrats. Writing in the current issue of Transaction, Wildavsky reasons that if a “real Republican like Nixon cannot win under present favorable circumstances, there would not appear to be much hope for the Republican Party as it is now constituted.” The G.O.P.’s far right might be driven to merge with the Wallace faction. Other Republicans would then have little choice but to coalesce with middleroad Democrats. The extreme Democratic dissidents, without hope of controlling the party, would merge with the New Left to form a third party.

Wildavsky’s thesis is that the best chance of maintaining a stable two-party system is for Nixon to win. Out of power, the Democratic dissidents could work to capture control of the party from a discredited leadership.

But there is another possibility. If a Nixon Administration failed to defuse the law-and-order issue promptly, the fears and animosities that have made George Wallace a potent factor this year could well intensify, making the radical right a relatively durable force. Polarization of the far right and the liberals could make for a Republican regime of short, unhappy duration.

Disaster Area. For the Democrats, it has become obvious that, win or lose, they are left with the problem of marking out new constituencies. After nearly 40 years, the coalition assembled by Franklin Roosevelt is in the final throes of disintegration, a process that was slowed down but not halted by Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 victory.

The South is a Democratic disaster area, with conservatism the dominant motif. Regardless of his warm reception in North Carolina, Humphrey has lost even some moderate Southern leaders who helped nominate him. The urban machines in the North have been decaying for years, and Johnson has done nothing to reverse that trend. Working-class families grown affluent because of general prosperity are defecting to Nixon and Wallace. Negroes, while generally loyal, are distracted by the anti-Establishment mood of their militant elements and by grief over the loss of their favorite, Robert Kennedy. Some black voters may sit out the election.

Some Democrats look beyond November in search of new strength. In Atlanta, former Congressman Charles Weltner, seeking election after two years of voluntary retirement, talks of a coalition of “people concerned with the development of human potential”—educated professionals, “enlightened” businessmen, Negroes, the progressive elements of organized labor, moderate Southerners, new voters. In California, Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh looks for a similar grouping and adds another target: liberal Republicans who could be weaned from the G.O.P.

However uncomfortable its current condition, the U.S.’s oldest political party* is not quite in extremis. Many members remain loyal. Even in this conservative year, the Gallup poll finds that 46% of the public still identifies itself as Democratic (though it is not necessarily prepared to vote that way in November) compared with 27% who claim the Republican label. In 1860 the party was in such horrendous shape that it held two conventions and ran two candidates against Lincoln. But by the ’70s, the Democrats were united again. The rhythm of American politics invariably brings forward new issues and leaders to cope with them. Realignment within the party will create opportunities. Nothing is more essential for the party’s long-term prospects.

* The Democrats formally adopted their present title in 1840 after being known as the Democratic-Republican Party. The organization actually goes back to the Virginia-New York axis formed before 1800 by Jefferson, Burr, Madison and Monroe.

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