Listening to U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders shout his opinions like a drunk in a barroom during this week’s Democratic presidential debate on CNN brought back memories of strolling through Chicago’s Grant Park during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. I was then a radio newsman and this was the first major national story I had ever covered. And what an experience it turned out to be. Thousands of protesters had traveled from all parts to the country to demonstrate against the Vietnam War and other perceived government shortcomings.
I was dispatched to Chicago by Baton Rouge radio station WJBO. Most folks under forty years old have no clue that radio was once a reliable source of news and public affairs. This was before the medium was taken over by right-wing nuts like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and other failed disc jockeys who discovered outlets for their uninformed opinions and distortion of facts.
Anyway, in 1968 there was much speculation in Baton Rouge that Louisiana’s then Governor, John McKeithen, might be selected as the running mate of Hubert Humphrey, a near cinch to become the Democrat’s Presidential nominee succeeding Lyndon Johnson under whom he served as Vice President. McKeithen’s hope was not a delusion of the magnitude of Bobby Jindal’s attempt to be taken seriously as a national candidate.
Indeed, Humphrey and McKeithen were longtime friends and post-graduate classmates at LSU. Humphrey had even dropped hints about selecting his buddy to join the ticket. But it was all a ruse designed to unite the support of Louisiana’s convention delegation, which was in discord over several issues — civil rights in particular. As it turned out, McKeithen and the Louisiana media, were fooled by the ploy.
Unlike Governor Smarty Pants Jindal, there is no evidence Bernie Sanders suffers from hallucinations of grandeur. Nor is he the subject of trickery like John McKeithen. He is a serious candidate hollering about important issues of disparities between rich and poor, and the lack of opportunities for the middle class. But the nation doesn’t elect 74 year old curmudgeons, though Sanders has remarkable support among a lot of young voters. No matter, early support and getting the nomination are far apart. Nonetheless, he reminds of the voices I heard in Grant Park nearly a half century ago.
It was three years before I corked the bottle, but even in my alcoholic haze I remember listening to speakers in Grant Park. After a violent confrontation with police during a march down Michigan Avenue before the opening of the convention protesters ended up in the park surrounded by National Guard troops. During my walks through the park I heard the shouting rhetoric of speakers exposing different causes. Most of the young people in Grant Park were described as “hippies,” though there was a large representation of older demonstrators and civil rights activists.
As far as I know, Bernie Sanders was not present. He and his first wife were tending to 85 acres of land in Vermont. Sanders says he was never a “hippie.” But if his voice was as strong then as it is now, he would have done a helluva job espousing that issues haven’t changed much since 1968—just slightly improved in some instances.
That is disappointing. Following the convention, I recall coming away with considerable optimism about the future. I told friends that in a few years when the so-called hippie generation reached maturity they would transform society to meet many of their ideals. It didn’t happen. Now, most of the hippies are old curmudgeons like Bernie. Worse, too many of them made a few bucks and became Republicans.
So I can thank Bernie for the memories of a more hopeful time. Wish it had turned out differently.