Let Her Be Nominated (A Sentimental History Lesson)
As some may recall, one of my political heroes is the late Arizona Congressman, Morris Udall, who ran a misbegotten Presidential campaign in 1976, logging a seemingly endless series of close-but-no-cigar losses, usually to Jimmy Carter (including a heartbreaking Dewey defeats Truman squeaker in Wisconsin), and sometimes to Scoop Jackson (including New York), before being eclipsed as Carter’s main rival in the late-going by Jerry Brown, Hubert Humphrey and Frank Church. “Ole Second Place Mo” struggled on to the convention, with Carter’s nomination a foregone conclusion.
At the convention Mo’s name was placed in nomination, along with Carter’s, Brown’s and right-to-life lunatic Ellen McCormick. Brown actually seemed to be under a delusion he could win, while McCormick had a cause, but Udall had something else in mind. He took a last bittersweet bow, and then rallied the troops.
Barring McCormick and Alabama’s egregious Governor, George Wallace, Carter had tied with cold-warrior Scoop Jackson and the erratic Jerry Brown as my last choice. The classy but folksy wit/legislative craftsman Udall was a pragmatic liberal (Fred Harris was that year’s Kucinich), who stood for all the right things and said them the right way.
Carter, by contrast, seemed a little like Jackson-lite on foreign policy, was no great liberal on domestic issues, and had offended by his sanctimony, his pandering to social conservatives, his constant flip-flopping and some seemingly revealing slips of the tongue (at one point he said government should not move to disturb the “ethnic purity” of neighborhoods). In many ways, Carter seemed little better than the moderate Republican incumbent, Gerald Ford.
Udall knew his supporters, and many other party liberals felt this way, and he knew that those feeling could cost the party the election. Counter-intuitively, but wisely, he saw that the best course for party unity was to have his named placed in nomination. His choice for the task was Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, a victim of Nixon’s infamous Saturday Night Massacre.
COX: Mr. Chairman, Delegates, and ladies and gentlemen.
This year, there came out of the politically small State of Arizona a candidate beloved among his constituents, admired by his colleagues in the House of Representatives. but little known to the wider public.
He knew that the chief need of the Nation was to restore confidence in the honor of Government, and in the honesty of the political system.
He knew that enduring trust in Government could not be restored by the politics of image. That the responsibility and opportunity of a candidate, like public officials, is not to dictate to us, nor to tell us what the polls say a majority of us want to hear, it is to help us work out together the new meaning amidst the complexity of modern life of the ancient promise of liberty, equality, dignity and opportunity for all men and women, to restate that meaning and to help us find together ways of converting the promise into reality.
The press marked the little-known candidate a loser. By the count of votes, he did come in second, but he succeeded in the larger aim. His defeat was a greater triumph than victory, for he proved that a public figure, even in a long and heated political contest can exemplify the best of the American spirit, that honor need not yield to ambition, that open-mindedness and willingness to listen are not inconsistent with devotion to principle, that civility can accompany tenacity, and that humility should go hand and hand with power.
By example he dissipated the despair and raised the spirits of millions of young men and women wishing to enter politics as an honorable profession.
With graceful humor in the face of defeat, he reminded us all that we are all Americans, and in the end are all engage in a joint adventure, joint in the sense that even those with whom we most strongly disagree are not enemies, as the Nixon White House erroneously supposed, but fellow voyagers in the same boat, where the neglect of anyone is a wound to every other.
Joint in the sense that lying, snooping, cheating, deviousness and other breaches of reason and civility which destroy our mutual trust can never be justified, by whomever used and regardless of the objective.
Joint, too, in the sense that none can move very far toward his personal goals unless the vessel moves, and the vessel cannot move if some voyagers pull ahead, others backwater, still other demand a new boat, and others drop out to go fishing.
In honoring this gallant candidate. we rededicate ourselves to his ideals and to this high adventure.
Ladies and gentlemen. I am proud to nominate for the Presidency of the United States. and I present to you now, the Honorable Morris K. Udall of Arizona. [Applause]
[A demonstration occurred on the floor.]
UDALL: Thank you, thank you very much.
If this goes on much longer, I just might accept the nomination, and I know that -- [Applause]
I am not sure the Georgia folks would appreciate that, and besides, this is a night for peaches and peanuts, and not a very good night for cactus. [Applause]
So let me say just a few things to this Convention. We are a big, brawling political Party, and we fight. Somebody said that when Democrats assemble a firing squad, they always gather in a circle. [General laughter and applause]
But when we get together, watch out, and tonight we are together, and I am up here to see that in this critical next 100 days this Party stays together, and that it deliver a beating to those Republicans that they richly deserve, and we are going to give it to them. [Applause]
Before I say what I came to say, I want to thank that good man Archibald Cox--how proud I am to have him place my name in nomination--because he has a special place in our hearts and in our history, and I want to say how proud I am of that army of Udall campaigners who gave us time and money and votes and dedication and saw us through the most second-place finishes in the history of politics. [Applause]
Down in Boot Hill Cemetery in Tombstone there is a grave-marker and all it says on it is "Johnson, he done his damndest", and I guess that is the story of the Udall campaign.
We thought we had a special campaign, old and young. We did our best, and we hit hard, but we hit fair, and we tried to talk issues or to talk about change, and we were not afraid to be gentle with each other, and we tried to laugh a bit at ourselves now and then. [Applause]
But it is all over now, and in a few minutes this Convention will vote, and I want that vote to be one of good will and I want it to be of good conscience.
I've got some Delegates at this Convention. [Applause]
I came here to authorize every Delegate in this hall elected under my banner to cast the vote of his conscience and to vote as they wish, and I release those Delegates to do that now. [Applause]
For myself, those who know me, as I leave this Convention Hall tonight, I'm going to have on one of those green buttons that dogged me all over America -[Applause]
Jimmy, if you are listening tonight, if I can't put your buttons down, I'm going to put them on, I guess. [Applause]
And tomorrow morning, I am enlisting as a soldier in the Carter campaign, and I will do everything I can to have this man elected. [Applause]
We had a big field and we had a lot of tough fights, and I guess sometimes the words got a little loud and a little harsh, but I remembered an old prayer that was written for Democratic primaries, and it said, "Oh Lord, help me to utter words which are gentle and tender, because tomorrow we may have to eat them." [Laughter]
When Jimmy says he'll beat you, he'll beat you, and he beat us fair and square, and I say to America and to all of the delegates here tonight, this is a good man, Jimmy Carter, and he will make a strong President, and I am behind him. [Applause]
Just a few more things, if I may, because what leads us is almost as important as who leads us. We are the oldest political party in the world and we are the oldest party and we survive despite our fights because of two things. In every generation we have to change our country to make it work, and Democrats have always led the change, and in that constant fight between the forces of wealth and privilege and the hopes and needs of our ordinary people, we have been with the people.
And yes, this generation is going to have to build some bridges and climb some mountains as the others have, and in every generation there are the pessimists and the skeptics who say you can't do it, and they are pending a lot of skepticism these days.
They tell those good men, Hubert Humphrey and Congressman Gus Hawkins, it's all right to make speeches about your full employment bill but it costs too much, and it will cause inflation.
They tell us we really can't help our cities, we really can't do tax reform. They tell us that Senator Kennedy's health bill won't fly, but we are going to fly the B-1 bomber at a $40 billion tag. [Applause]
This is nonsense, and it's dangerous and our history rejects it, and our Platform rejects it. [Applause]
So I say let the word go out of this Convention this week, we've got a program and it's in our Platform, and it's supported by our candidate, and we say what we mean and we mean what we say, and we say that the working people of America, you are tired of promises and excuses and welfare checks and you want jobs and you are going to have jobs in the next Administration. [Applause]
We say that our minorities and our women have not had a fair shake in America, and they are going to get a fair shake in the next Administration. [Applause]
We say that our cities are rotting and decaying and it's spreading and it's destroying people's lives and hopes, and I saw these cities in Boston and South Bronx and Philadelphia and Detroit, and they're destroying people's lives. And we're going to make our cities work again.
We are going to help them. They need help and our cities are going to have help, and so are the people who live in them. [Applause]
We say here tonight to these oil companies and giant conglomerates that have dominated our lives and fixed our prices and corrupted our politics and exported our jobs, we've had enough, and we're going to have competition in America for a change. [Applause]
If the Party of Theodore Roosevelt, who busted the trusts, won't help us bust them up again--and it won't--then the Party Franklin Roosevelt is going to do the job alone, starting next year. [Applause]
Yes, we say tonight that we reject that bogus idea that somehow we have to choose between jobs and the environment. This Ford Administration is the worst Administration on the environment since Warren G. Harding, and you ought to run him out of office for that alone. [Applause]
We're not going to say to our grandchildren 25 years from now, your air is poisoned and your beaches are fouled and your wilderness areas and your fishing streams are gone, we had to have jobs in our generation.
We are going to have jobs, and we are going to have a clean environment to hand on, both. We are going to do both. [Applause]
Because a people which does not respect its land and its mountains and its beaches and its waters does not respect itself, and we respect our environment, and we are going to preserve it. [Applause]
Finally, we say here in this Platform and this Convention, we are going to get a handle on this bloated Defense budget and this arms race and we are going to slow them down, because -- [Applause]
Because we believe with Harry Truman that the nations that give the most to the Admirals and Generals and the least to the people are the first nations to fail.
And so, my friends, tonight I say to you one final thing, America is a good country and we are a good people. Our country isn't working very well. We have lost our confidence and we lost our way, and with the help of the Independents and the sensible Republicans that go with us when we are right, we are going to win a victory in November. We are going to turn this country around and we are going to make America work again.
This good country is going to work again, and thank you very much.
There probably wasn’t a dry eye in the house; there certainly wasn’t a dry eye in my house. Jimmy Carter never appealed much to me, and in 1980, I worked for the nomination of Ted Kennedy, but that night I resolved to work for Carter’s election, and continued to support him vigorously until he appointed a cabinet full of Georgia cronies and tired party hacks.
Griffin Bell for AG? WTF not Barbara Jordan?
I note that, up until recently, it was the rule, rather than the exception for losing candidates to have their names placed in nomination, even when the winner was already quite presumed. Bill Clinton did nothing to stop Jerry Brown in 1992, and it didn’t harm him a bit. And Mo Udall’s last bow was quite helpful to Jimmy Carter in healing some open wounds in the party’s unity.
Hillary Clinton, whose performance at the polls certainly entitles her to a far greater claim to a last bow than “Ole Second Place Mo”, proposes to perform a similar function this year. The party’s open wounds, especially among middle and older women, are far more gaping than any perceived disunity in 1976. Letting her speak and take that bow before honorably rallying the troops seems the smart move. Those who fear it misunderstand that the only way Clinton can serve her own interests is to do the job well.
It’s win-win for everyone.
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