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The Path to Polarization: McGovern-Fraser, Counter-Reformers, and the Rise of the Advocacy Party

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 February 2019

Adam Hilton
Affiliation:
Mount Holyoke College
Corresponding
E-mail address:

Abstract

American politics has been transformed by the emergence of the advocacy party—a form of organization in which extraparty interest groups, advocacy organizations, and social movements substitute for the diminished institutional capacity and popular legitimacy of the formal party apparatus. Many scholars have rightly pointed to the presidential nomination reforms made by the Democratic Party's post-1968 Commission on Party Structure and Delegate Selection (known as the McGovern-Fraser Commission) as a key contributor to polarization by increasing the influence of ideological activists. However, I argue that polarization is not the direct result of the actions of McGovern-Fraser reformers, but rather the outcome of their pitched battle with intraparty opponents of reform, who, while failing to prevent changes to presidential nominations, were ultimately successful in defeating the party-building dimension of the reformers’ project of party reconstruction. The product of their intraparty struggle was a hybrid institutional amalgam that layered new participatory arrangements over a hollow party structure, thus setting the Democratic Party on a path toward the advocacy party and its polarizing politics.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019 

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Footnotes

Acknowledgments: For all their very helpful suggestions, I extend special thanks to Leo Panitch, Gwen Alphonso, Richard Bensel, Marisa Chappell, Dan Galvin, Marjorie Hershey, Rob Mickey, Bruce Miroff, Elizabeth Sanders, Byron Shafer, Stephen Skowronek, two anonymous reviewers, and the editors of Studies. Generous support was provided by the Lyndon Johnson Presidential Library, Harvard University's Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library, Mount Holyoke's Office of the Dean of Faculty, as well as York University's Faculty of Graduate Studies.

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40. “Come Home, Democrats,” box 48, folder: Democratic Party, Coalition for a Democratic Majority, By-Laws, Minutes, Etc., James O'Hara Collection, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI.

41. Penn Kemble and Josh Muravchik, “The New Politics and the Democrats,” Commentary, December 1, 1972.

42. CDM Notes, October 1974, box 48, folder: Democratic Party, Coalition for a Democratic Majority, October 1973–November 1974, O'Hara Collection.

43. Remer Tyson and Ralph Orr, “Woodcock Frets Over Democrats’ Selection System,” Detroit Free Press, July 27, 1975.

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45. Commission on Party Structure and Delegate Selection, Mandate for Reform, box 157, folder: Mandate for Reform, George S. McGovern Papers, Seely G. Mudd Library, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ.

46. Ibid.

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47. McGovern to Commission Members, “Proposed Guidelines, ‘Full, Meaningful, and Timely Opportunity to Participate’ in Delegate Selection Process,” September 1969, box 157, folder: Democratic National Committee—Commission on Party Structure and Delegate Selection 1972, McGovern Papers. For an in-depth analysis of each guideline, see Crotty, Decision for the Democrats, 59–103; Shafer, Quiet Revolution, 133–93.

48. Mandate for Reform: A Report of the Commission for Party Structure and Delegate Selection to the Democratic National Committee, box 157, folder: Mandate for Reform, April 1970, McGovern Papers.

49. As two political scientists concluded a few years after, “compared to the total population, the 1972 convention was in most respects more representative than was the 1968 convention.” Soule, John W. and McGrath, Wilma E., “A Comparative Study of Presidential Nomination Conventions: The Democrats 1968 and 1972,” American Journal of Political Science 19 (1975), 502CrossRefGoogle Scholar. A Harris poll also found that a majority (52–25 percent) of Americans expressed a “highly positive reaction” to the 1972 Convention. Richard Harris, “52% Back Reforms by Dems,” New York Post, August 19, 1972.

50. Mandate for Reform, McGovern Papers.

51. Donald Fraser to Dave, March 27, 1972, box 149.C.14.2F, folder: Miscellaneous Packet II, Donald Fraser Papers, Minnesota History Center, Saint Paul, MN.

52. Commission Staff to Commission Members, “Purpose of Hearings,” April 15, 1969, box 1, folder: Correspondence to Commission Members, Democratic National Committee Records, National Archives, Washington, DC. A full account of the range of opinions and recommendations offered at the regional hearings is, of course, beyond the scope of this article. However, the representativeness of the following account is confirmed by the Commission staff in a document composed midway through the hearing schedule, summarizing its recurrent themes. See Commission Staff Memo to Commission Members, “Task Force Hearing Themes,” May 27, 1969, box 6, folder: Subcommittees: Party Structure, DNC Records, National Archives, Washington, DC.

53. Report of the Grass Roots Participation Subcommittee, August 22, 1969, box 149.C.12.3B, folder: Democratic Party Reform, 1969, Fraser Papers.

54. Commission Staff to Commission Members, “Purpose of Hearings,” DNC Records.

55. Leroy Collins to Party Structure Subcommittee Members, April 4, 1969, box 6, folder: Subcommittees: Party Structure, DNC Records.

56. Testimony of Stephen Jelin, chair of the Citizens’ Caucus of the Franklin Country Democratic Party, box 13, folder: 4A Detroit Hearing, April 26, 1969, DNC Records.

57. Testimony of William Haber, box 13, folder: 4A Detroit Hearing April 26, 1969, DNC Records.

58. Testimony of Joseph Duffey, box 17, folder: Boston Hearing July 10, 1969, DNC Records.

59. Testimony of Katherine Robinson, vice chair of the New Democratic Coalition and member of NDC National Task Force on Party Reform, box 13, folder: 4A Detroit Hearing April 26, 1969, DNC Records (emphasis added).

60. Testimony of Robert Toal, chair of Indiana New Democratic Coalition, box 13, folder: 4A Detroit Hearing April 26, 1969, DNC Records.

61. Robinson, DNC Records (emphasis added).

62. Testimony of Eugene O'Grady, chair of the Ohio Democratic Party, box 13, folder: 4A Detroit Hearing, April 26, 1969, DNC Records.

63. George McGovern, “The Lessons of 1968,” Harper's Magazine, January 1970.

64. American Political Science Association Committee on Political Parties, Toward a More Responsible Two-Party System (New York: Reinhart, 1950)Google Scholar. This was noted at the time, especially by reform skeptics. See Kirkpatrick, Evron M., “‘Toward a More Responsible Two-Party System’: Political Science, Policy Science, or Pseudo-Science?American Political Science Review 65 (1971): 965–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Ranney, Curing the Mischiefs of Faction. For the intellectual history of responsible party theory in postwar party reform, see Rosenfeld, The Polarizers.

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66. This idea is reflected in the Minutes for Commission Meeting, April 28, 1972, box 149.C.12.3B, folder: R/C—Charter 1972, Fraser Papers.

67. Donald Fraser to Lawrence O'Brien, March 17, 1971, box 149.C.12.3B, folder: Commission on Party Structure and Delegate Selection, 1971, Fraser Papers; Lawrence O'Brien to James O'Hara, March 24, 1971, box 149.C.12.3B, folder: Commission on Party Structure and Delegate Selection, 1971, Fraser Papers.

68. For analysis of the O'Hara Rules Commission, see Crotty, Decision for the Democrats, 148–221.

69. See the transcript of the November joint meeting in box 149.C.14.2F, folder: Committee Meeting Notebook, Fraser Papers.

70. National Democratic Party Structure, Draft Cover Letter, box 44, folder: Democratic Party, O'Hara Rules Commission, Charter Proposal 2, O'Hara Collection.

71. Charter Proposal, box 44, folder: Democratic Party, O'Hara Rules Commission, Charter Proposal 2, O'Hara Collection.

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74. Transcript of Interview with Donald Fraser, August 9, 1972, box 149.G.11.10F, folder: Draft of Interview with Fraser with Jim and Iric Nathanson, Fraser Papers.

75. Neil Staebler, “Why a Charter,” December 31,1973, box 10, folder: CDM Task Force on the Party Charter (Sanford Commission), Rosenblatt Papers.

76. Draft Party Charter, box 44, folder: Democratic Party, O'Hara Rules Commission, Charter Proposal 1, O'Hara Collection.

77. James O'Hara and Donald Fraser to undisclosed recipients, box 44, folder: Democratic Party, O'Hara Rules Commission, Formation of Commission, Finances, O'Hara Collection.

78. Staebler, “Why a Charter,” Rosenblatt Papers.

79. Charter Proposal, box 44, folder: Democratic Party; O'Hara Rules Commission; Charter Proposal 2, O'Hara Collection.

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82. A complete list of CDM members is available at the companion website for Vaïsse's, Justin Neoconservatism: The Biography of a Movement (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2010)Google Scholar, http://neoconservatism.vaisse.net/doku.php.

83. Josh to Max, Tom, Penn and others, n.d., box 14, folder: Democratic National Convention 1972, Rosenblatt Papers.

84. Penn Kemble, “The Proposals for a New Party Structure: Some Alarming Facts,” n.d., box 14, folder: Democratic National Convention 1972, Rosenblatt Papers.

85. Agenda, November 8, 1972, box 7, folder: Board of Directors—Minutes, Rosenblatt Papers.

86. “Come Home, Democrats,” O'Hara Collection (emphasis in original).

87. Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph Institute press release, 1972, AFL-CIO Records.

88. Ben Wattenberg, quoted in David S. Broder, “New Democratic Coalition Plans Reforming Reforms,” Washington Post, January 7, 1973.

89. Midge Decter, quoted in “Power Struggle,” The New Republic, December 16, 1972.

90. CDM Notes, October 1974, O'Hara Collection.

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92. The New Class argument can also be found in Shafer, Quiet Revolution. For a critical debunking of this view, see Plotke, “Party Reform,” especially 228–29.

93. Kemble and Muravchik, “The New Politics and the Democrats.”

94. See Jean Westwood's written recollection of her involvement in the party reform movement and the NWPC in box 1, folder 8: Founders Notebooks, National Women's Political Caucus Records, Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

95. “Changing Chairmen,” Congressional Quarterly Political Report, December 16, 1972. Strauss was not a reluctant nominee for DNC chair. On his return from the Miami Beach convention, he told his wife, “I'm going to get control of the Democratic Party, throw these bastards out, and put this party back together and elect a president.” Having spent several years trying to revolutionize the party's fundraising apparatus, Strauss reported that he was “angry” and wanted to become chair “to get even” with the McGovernites who were jeopardizing the fruits of his efforts. See McGarr, Kathryn J., The Whole Damn Deal: Robert Strauss and the Art of Politics (New York: Public Affairs, 2011), 107Google Scholar.

96. David S. Broder, “Labor Exerting New Muscle in Democratic Party,” Washington Post, September 2, 1973. See also McGarr, The Whole Damn Deal, 115–27.

97. McGovern, quoted in McGarr, The Whole Damn Deal, 112.

98. Westwood, Jean, Madame Chair: The Political Autobiography of an Unintentional Pioneer (Logan: Utah State University Press, 2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

99. Wattenberg, quoted in Broder, “New Democratic Coalition Plans Reforming Reforms.”

100. CDM Press Release, “CDM Calls for Changes in McGovern-Fraser Guidelines,” April 26, 1973, box 48, folder: Democratic Party, Coalition for a Democratic Majority, Correspondence November 1972–September 1973, O'Hara Collection.

101. All quotes in this paragraph are from Towards Fairness and Unity for ’76: A Review of the McGovern-Fraser Delegate Selection Guidelines, box 149.C.12.3B, folder: Commission on Party Structure and Delegate Selection, 1971, Fraser Papers.

102. All quotes in this paragraph are from Towards Fairness and Unity for ’76.

103. These numbers are reported in CDM Notes, December 1973, box 48, folder: Democratic Party, Coalition for a Democratic Majority, By-Laws, Minutes, Etc., O'Hara Collection.

104. Crotty, Party Reform, 64.

105. Crotty, Decision for the Democrats, 230.

106. Democrats All: A Report of the Commission on Delegate Selection and Party Structure, box 27, folder 27, Charter Commission, Mildred Jeffrey Collection, Walter Reuther Library, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI.

107. Farenthold to McGovern, April 17, 1973, box 281, folder 43: Delegate Selection Project, NWPC Records.

108. Testimony of Eli Segal to Mikulski Commission, box 13, folder: Democratic Charter Commission, 1973, Jeffrey Collection (emphasis added).

109. Davis to Jeffrey, April 5, 1973, box 30, folder 15, Jeffrey Collection.

110. Donald Fraser, Testimony to Mikulski Commission, August 11, 1973, box 13, folder 11: Delegate Selection Committee 1973, Jeffrey Collection.

111. Kemble to Howard Klueter, July 19, 1975, box 41, folder: Delegate Selection/Proportional Representation, Rosenblatt Papers (emphasis in original).

112. Democrats All, Jeffrey Collection.

113. McGarr, The Whole Damn Deal, 162; Klinkner, The Losing Parties, 129–30.

114. DACEO Interim Report, box 196, folder 14: Democratic Advisory Council of Elected Officials, 1974, Leonard Woodcock Collection, Reuther Library.

115. Barkan, quoted in Paul R. Wieck, “Chairman Strauss’ Hot Seat,” The New Republic, April 20, 1974.

116. Coalition for a Democratic Majority, Unity Out of Diversity, box 48, folder: Democratic Party, Coalition for a Democratic Majority, Papers on Party Charter, O'Hara Collection.

117. Confidential Memo from Penn Kemble to undisclosed recipients, n.d., box 48, folder: Democratic Party, Coalition for a Democratic Majority, Correspondence, November 1972–September 1973, O'Hara Collection.

118. James P. Sterba, “Democrats Vote to Limit ’74 Meeting,” New York Times, July 23, 1973.

119. David S. Broder, “Mid-Term Agenda Divides Democrats,” Washington Post, July 23, 1974.

120. Sterba, “Democrats Vote to Limit ’74 Meeting.”

121. Patricia Derian to Robert Strauss, August 15, 1973, box 185, folder: (New) Charter Commission 1, October 1973–September 1974, Neil Staebler Collection, Bentley Historical Library.

122. “First Written Rules for the Democrats Won by Reformers,” New York Times, March 18, 1974. See also Carol Casey, “The Democratic National Charter and Mid-Term National Conference: A Background Analysis,” box 149.G.8.6F, folder: Charter Reform Research, Fraser Papers.

123. Al Barkan to George Meany, “Strauss and the DNC,” May 14, 1974, Committee on Political Education Files (unprocessed), AFL-CIO Records.

124. Report on Charter Commission, March 16–17, 1974, box 157, folder: Democratic National Committee; Draft Charter—1974 Convention (1972), McGovern Papers.

125. Ibid.

Ibid.

126. Quoted in Vaïsse, Neoconservatism, 95.

127. Barkan to Shapp, May 29, 1974, box 43, folder: Charter Debate, Rosenblatt Papers.

128. Democratic Governors Conference, “Resolution on the Democratic Charter,” box 16, folder 15: Charter of the Democratic Party 1974, Jeffrey Collection.

129. Democratic Members of Congress to Terry Sanford, July 31, 1974, box 16, folder 15: Charter of the Democratic Party 1974, Jeffrey Collection.

130. Press Release, “CDM Proposes Broad New Charter for Democratic Party,” July 22, 1974, box 48, folder: Democratic Party, Coalition for a Democratic Majority, Correspondence, November 1972–September 1973, O'Hara Collection.

131. Coalition for a Democratic Majority, Unity Out of Diversity, O'Hara Collection.

132. Press Release, “CDM Proposes Broad New Charter for Democratic Party,” July 22, 1974, O'Hara Collection.

133. Coalition for a Democratic Majority, “Resolution on the Charter,” box 47, folder: Democratic Party, Charter Commission, Drafts and Background Material 2, O'Hara Collection; Josh Muravchik, “The Democrats Divided,” The New Leader, September 16, 1974.

134. Coalition for a Democratic Majority, “An Analysis of the Draft Charter for the Democratic Party,” box 48, folder: Democratic Party, Coalition for a Democratic Majority, Correspondence, October 1973–November 1974, O'Hara Collection.

135. David S. Broder, “Rift Ends Charter Session,” Washington Post, August 19, 1974.

136. “Resolution on the Charter,” O'Hara Collection; Ben Wattenberg, quoted in Penn Kemble and Josh Muravchik, “Balancing the Democrats,” The New Leader, January 20, 1975.

137. CDM Notes, October 1974, O'Hara Collection.

138. Robert Strauss to Democratic Members of the House of Representatives, October 14, 1974, box 149.G.8.5B, folder: Party Reform, Fraser Papers.

139. David S. Broder, “Democrats Pass Rules to Slow Controversy,” Washington Post, October 19, 1974.

140. Arthur Krim and John G. Stewart of DACEO to Midterm Delegates, box 43, folder: 1974 Charter Conference, Rosenblatt Papers.

141. Ibid.

Ibid.

142. See the series of letters contained in box 149.G.8.4F, folder: Charter, Fraser Papers.

143. Robert S. Boyd, “Charter Nails Down Reforms But Is Short of Dems’ Goals,” Detroit Free Press, December 9, 1974.

144. Christopher Lydon, “The Democrats and Reform,” New York Times, December 1, 1974.

145. “CDM Begins New Phase,” Political Observer, box 32, folder: Newsletter—Summer 77, Rosenblatt Papers.

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153. Ibid., 2.

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