22 JULY 1972, Page 9

The American Scene i nnocence

nnocence and intolerance

Henry Fairlie

We still do not know what kind of candidate George McGovern will be. His ac ceptance speech was addressed far more to the delegates inside the convention hall than to the electors beyond it; which did not matter, as it turned out, since he was delivering it at three o'clock in the morning. He was putting his seal on his nomi nation, rallying the faithful at the end of a week during which he had many times disturbed them; his mind had not yet turned to the campaign which is beginning. But, as a result of the convention, we know at least a little more about the kind of party which he will lead; about the nature of the forces which have captured it, and the extent of his control over them; and about the mood which they represent, and which they and he believe is also the mood of the country, waiting only for them, by their zeal, to release it. We must begin with the party. During my first visit to the United States in 1965, after the debacle of the Republican Party six months earlier, I was told by every native political observer that it was out of Power "for a generation "; three-and-a-half years later, it won the presidential election. Much the same was said of the Democratic Party after the convention four years ago; but not even at six o'clock in the morning, during last week's all-night sessions, could I take my eyes off it, and cease to contemplate its resilience. It was like a great snake, unlocking its jaws to swallow the 80 per cent of the new delegates who had been sent to it for its supper. One could watch the whole body of them begin to travel its entire length, arms and legs sticking out here and there, as they protested at their fate, until the muscles of the party were silently ex ercised once more, to crack them. The pic ture is irresistible. At first, the snake expands to become the shape of its victim; but if, as the bulge moves on, one looks back at the distance which it has already travelled, the snake has returned to its own shape. There is a temptation to look too much at the bulge just now, and forget that the jaws have been locked again, and a muscular digestion is already in process. It had discarded every relic of a unit rifle in the voting of state delegations imagine the Labour Party Conference doing that; it flung out Richard Daley — imagine the Labour Party throwing out, say, Arthur Deakin at the height of his Power; it had liberated every delegate to be himself or herself on the floor, so that the homosexuals, male and female, kissed and prayed on it when their amendment went down to defeat — imagine, well just imagine, that. Yet, from gavel to gavel, there was hardly a spasm of the unexpected.

Incredibly, the Democratic Party was there whole at the end of the week. Richard Daley's delegation was expelled; but it was one of Richard Daley's men Who was allowed by the new delegates to remain as chairman of the Illinois delegation, and who then enthusiastically an nounced the vote of his state which gave George McGovern the nomination. Frank King, the labour leader from Ohio, was not in control of his delegation, and even ac cused the leader of the McGovern delegates on it of being unstable; but he in the end reported its votes with good humour, and rose to his feet when George McGovern, in his acceptance speech, mentioned "my old friend, Frank King." The examples were many. On the platform, the established officials of the party — no less established because two of them who were brought to the fore to conduct its proceedings were black women; and these no less inclined to gavel down any opposition because they both possessed unusual charm, and one of them was distractingly lovely — openly co-operated in bending the rules to suit George McGovern. The nomination of George McGovern was steam-rollered through the convention in altogether traditional ways, simply because, by the time it met, there Was no one else with whom to flatten it.

Between the old and the new it was not always easy to tell the difference. Most of the reporters — and most political report ers in the United States are volunteer propagandists for the reform wing of the Democratic Party — took the smoothness of the convention as proof that the new delegates are upper middle-class children equally of good will and good manners. In a way, it is true. There is an innocence in them which reminded one of Michael Oakeshott's remark in 1956, that "politics is an activity unsuited to the young, nut on account of their vices but on account of what I at least consider to be their virtues." In short, they are Hobbits, seeing the Democratic Party as a hobbit-hole where elves and dwarves and men can all love.

Yet we know that, with all their innocence, they are also intolerant; and that their intolerance has deeply shocked many o ft'ne older members of the party. "New politics, new politics, what's that?" Pete Camiel, the leader of the Democratic Party in Philadelphia was heard to mutter. "From what I've seen tonight they give no quar ter, and they take no prisoners." There is no dissociation here; the intolerance is a reflection of their innocence. To the young, as Michael Oakeshott said, "politics must be an encounter of dreams in whic'h we hope to impose our own."

Anyhow, there the minorities all were in their quotas, give or take a few. Just as one had first been able to see the meaning of the quota system when its results were at last concentrated in the meetings of the Credentials Committee before the convention, so one could now see it even more concentrated in the convention itself. George McGovern himself has been in fected by its logic. "It would be better," said the (very liberal) constitutional authority, Alexander M. Bickel, before the convention met, "if Senator McGovern quit promising proportional representation to everyone, save only the Amish and the Hassidic Jew, on everything from the Supreme Court and the Cabinet to the Bureau of Animal Husbandry "; but he still promises.

Why should not short people be given representation by quota? Three studies made in three American universities have recently demonstrated to their own satis faction that there is a prejudice against short people; that there is conscious and unconscious " shortist thinking." A writer in the current issue of the Humanist — I presume that his tongue is in his cheek, but one is never sure these days — points out that our vocabulary is full of " shortist " words: " shrimp," " pipsqueak," runt," and little shit "; and that the synonyms of " short " in Roquet's Thesaurus include: "incomplete," "defective," "inadequate," and "stunted." As he concludes, "It is clear that our whole social and educational system insidiously discriminates against the short person from the very early years, imbuing him with a sense of inadequacy."

To which one is tempted to answer that this may be the reason why short men — like Scotsmen — seem to be disproportionately in positions of power; and opens the further thought that a lot of anti-semitism may in fact be displaced shortism.'

The first major challenge at the convention was to the delegation from South Carolina, because only 30 per cent of its members were women. The frivolity of the challenge, and the fact that it was defeated because George McGovern was engaged in a parliamentary manoeuvre essential to his chances, should not obscure the fact that homosexuals by 1976 may be demanding proportional representation, and the short by 1980. After all, the mover of the Gay Liberation amendment pointed out that there are 800,000 homosexuals in New York City — I 'have forgotten how many million in the country — and there is nothing in the principles which were flaunted by the absurd New York delegation this year which can resist the demand for an exact quota of delegates.

At the meetings of the Credentials Committee one had observed the dynamism of the quota principle; once could not observe its impact. It was predictable: when the respresentative principle is reduced to the quota representation of particular groups, the issues which are agitated and the policies which emerge are the expression only of the special interests of these groups. Even as it was written and passed, without the amendments which were proposed, t'ne platform af the Democratic Party this year is a series of unqualified demands that the country should provide to each particular interest which it represents what ever that interest may request. I see

that the Times describes it as "truly radical ". Let someone on its staff read it

again, because the advertised idealism of the new delegates has in fact produced an ignoble document. The same delegates who constantly drone, "ask what you can do for your country ", have issued a catalogue of what they expect t'he country to do for each special group by whom the Democratic Party has, quota by quota, been captured. The principle in the platform is not " truly radical ", it is truly bribery; and, for the life of me, I cannot see why George McGovern's original proposal to give each man and woman and child in the country an annual payment of $1,000 should not come under the Corrupt Practices Act ", whatever it is called here. There is little concern, radical or othewise, with any general interest in the platform this year; and again, given the representative principle which was operating, this is not surprising. Only the exact quota of a special group is held to be in a position to define the interests of that special group, and whatever it demands shall without question or hindrance be given unto it.

This is no more radical than would be an open avowal by the Republican party next month that an exact quota of oil men wants, and so should be given, an increase in the depletion allowance.

The objection is not to the increased participation of blacks or of women (I am less certain about the Hobbits): far from it, I think it is overdue, and I find it stimulating and enrichening. Equally, I will not trouble to answer the probable retort that I welcome their participation only as long as they do not ask for anything for themselves: I think that there is much for which they are entitled to ask. In fact, their participation answers one of the fears which I expressed in The Life of Politics: that representative democracy is at the end of its tether because, with the existence of universal surffrage, there is no significant new group which can be brought within the pale of the constitution to Invigorate it. I overlooked the fact that people will from time to time re-define themselves into new groups, in response, as we have all learned to say, to a new ' consciousness.'

This is what is genuine in the 'new

politics' and their ' particpatory democracy'; and one can even let the Hobbits in, since it makes them happy. Above all, this is what has happened this year in the United States and in the Democratic Party — in neither case is it surprising that it should happen in them — and it was very difficult to gaze at the delegates when they were congregated on the floor, and not be moved by the mere spectacle of their presence, recognisable at once since the characteristics by which they choose to define themselves are biological: colour and sex and age. I believe that this biological definition is a false scent (even in the case of colour), but I have no doubt of the importance of the illuminations that the representative principle can adapt itself to such re-definitions of 'consciousness,' and that a representative institution can respond to them.

The objection is to the quota, because it encourages two retrograde notions: that the interests of the black or the woman (or the white and the male) can be represented only by one of their own number; and that it is the function of the black or the woman (or the white or the male) to represent only their own interests. In short, the quota denies much of what is most precious in the representative principle: that we can each apprehend a particular interest which is not our own, and that we can all apprehend a general interest which is beyond our own. It denies the whole citizen in us. It denies that we can have the sympathy and the imagination to act correctly in another's cause. It denies that we can be more than selfish.

This narrowing and diminishing of human concern is intolerable. When the abortion amendment was put to a vote at the convention, some males on the delegations, most notably, from Massachusetts and New York, themselves in favour of abortion, surrendered their seats and their votes to women alternates because it is a " woman's cause.' But it is not only — or even primarily — a woman's cause, since everyone's own concept of human life is at stake; and, even if one does not agree that the foetus has a right to life, and that therefore a voice must be found for it, it is still true that, on many less profound issues, there are inarticulate groups whose interests are threatened by the assertiveness of articulate groups, and that other voices must protect them. One dreads to think of the horrors which would have been perpetrated and perpetuated if various special interests in the past had been allowed to define issues as of concern only to them on which they alone could vote. All of this may seem far from what actually happened to George McGovern last week. (Even if it were, I would still hold that it was the most important issue which was brought to the surface.) But in fact his own difficulties lie exactly here. Whenever his nomination — the general interest of the new delegates which transcended their particular interests — was in danger, his staff imposed a discipline which was impressive and even brutal. It was this that caused Gloria Steinhem to weep when George McGovern ruthlessly abandoned the Women's Caucus on the issue of South Carolina's delegation; it was this that sent Shirley McLaine puffy-eyed to the rostrum to plead, against her convictions, the arguments of George McGovern that abortion is not an appropriate issue for a presidential campaign; it was this that caused a public brawl — in washerperson's language, I suppose one must now say — between Shirley McLaine and Bello Abzug. But, whenever the discipline was relaxed, whenever the general interest in his nomination was not immediate, he found himself in trouble. It was noticeable for the most part in the wasted time, culminating in the one disaster of the convention: the insistence of the delegates that each of them should have an individual voice in nominating and electing a vice-presidential candidate, a process which took so long that the presidential candidate for whom they had worked so hard did not give his acceptance speech, on which he had worked so hard, until prime time on television, from coast to coast, had long since evaporated. As their frivolous votes were announced — for Martha Mitchell and for Eleanor McGovern — they had in effect silenced their leader.

It was at these moments that the quota principle whipped round to bite George McGovern, as it did later in the same day. He had nominated Pierre Salinger to be the vice-chairman of the Democratic National Committee, now enlarged by quotas. No matter that he had already nominated a woman as the chairperson of the committee; its new members refused to have Pierre Salinger, he withdrew his name to avoid George McGovern's embarrassment, and a black was installed. George McGovern himself, who was present, abjectly acquiesced. He had in fact earlier gone out of his way to make a symbolic obeisance to the quota principle, when he insisted that the three persons who put the name of his vice-presidential candidate in nomination should be a black, and a chicano, and a girl of twenty years from Missouri. To achieve this symbolism, he withdrew an invitation to Warren E. Hearnes, the Governor of Missouri, to nominate the senator from his own state. A girl from Missouri instead of the Governor of Missouri, who had already borne many insults! This is not valour, it is recklessness. The objection to Warren Hearnes and Pierre Salinger, of course, was that they were male and white and over forty: 'the largest minority in the convention." as one delegate said. These were stumbles of the kind which, if they occur in an election campaign, can be fatal. But they were stumbles caused by George McGovern's own susceptibility to the pressures of the special groups on which he relied in his primary campaign, and who are now represented in quota, and as quotas, in the reformed party which he leads. Their influence has been noticeable as his search for the party leadership has changed into a search for natidnal leadership. They are merciless in analysing every statement which he makes, translating slips of the tongue into heresies which they demand that he should at once recant, and so making him appear even more vacillating than he in fact is. Unless he takes hold of them, down to the very precinct level at which he first aroused them, his national campaign will be splintered in the kaleidoscope of their intolerant and selfish interests.

I think that there is a mood in the country which he and his supporters could release. "America, come home," is a good slogan, if he develops it to emphasise its positive aspect, and not the negative and isolationist. But what is true in the mood, what is true in him, what is true even in his supporters, could turn very sour if he continues to capitulate to the selfishness which is also implicit in it and to the exaltation of selfishness in the party's platform; if he appears to represent only quotas of special interests against which quotas of other interests will understandably react by asserting their own. It is impossible for him to generate an effective national campaign by proclaiming: to each interest according to its immediate desires.

But one must return to the Democratic Party itself, because it was its week. The image with which I began is in the end what matters. It has a lot to digest, but it held together because it could feel its own capacity to extract from the new what is useful and true in it. It may not be able to make the election certain for George McGovern, but it has begun to make a future certain for itself.