Thursday, March 31, 2022

Relax: Chicago has done this before

     When news broke Wednesday afternoon that Chicago is being considered as host of the 2024 Democratic National Convention, the reporter behind the scoop, NBC News national political correspondent (and my former colleague) Natasha Korecki tweeted out my story about the 50th anniversary of the disastrous 1968 Democratic convention, which so scarred the city and sullied its reputation.
     While it’s nice to be remembered, I’d hate for that tumultuous event to once again define what happens whenever Chicago hosts out-of-town guests. That disaster isn’t the only convention we’ve had. Chicago is the most popular city in the country for such events, having hosted 11 Democratic and 14 Republican gatherings including the first one in — did none of you pay attention in school? —1860 when the newly-formed Republican Party, worried that huddling in an Eastern city would “run a big chance of losing the West,” picked Chicago as a symbol of “audacity.”
     They gathered at a large log building at the corner of what is now Lake and Wacker Drive and nominated, indeed rather audaciously, a homespun downstate lawyer and failed senatorial candidate named Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was tempted to hurry to Chicago, but his cronies waved him off, worried he would undo the backroom deals they struck to get him the nod. “Honest Abe” was a fine campaign slogan, but could be difficult in practice.
     I won’t go through all the conventions, there are history books for that. Though Chicago can boast that our conventions tend to stand out, and not just because of rioting. There was the 1920 Republican Convention nominating nonentity Warren G. Harding, basically because he looked like a president and nobody knew he had an illegitimate daughter, the deal putting “smoke-filled room” into the political vernacular (actually smoke-filled rooms, 408-10 of the Blackstone Hotel).
     Or the 1932 Democratic convention where Franklin D. Roosevelt helped usher in our modern campaign age with two political firsts: being the first nominee to show up and accept in person, and the first presidential candidate to fly in an airplane. The flight was delayed due to storms, and FDR explained, apologetically, “I have no control over the winds in heaven.”
     Our next convention could very well instead reflect the 1996 Democratic convention, sending Bill Clinton on his way to re-election and helping revitalizing the West Side an in general allowing the city to shine instead of screw up.

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  1. Now, please don’t come down on me like a ton of bricks; I’m very sensitive. But it rubs me the wrong way when you toss off phrases like “did none of you pay attention in school?” It feels rather condescending. Did I have that particular fact immediately at hand? I confess not, although I suspect I could have come up with it upon reflection. But frequently enough I am aware of whatever it is you preface with similar verbiage, and I’m not sure why you’d want to imply that you assume a majority of your readers are uninformed.

    Maybe it’s just me, and others find it amusing and light-hearted. I told you I’m sensitive!

    1. A ton of bricks? Moi? Coey, I'm cut to the quick. I thought of the "did none of you pay attention" line a bit of avuncular levity. I've used it before; in fact, I worried I was using it Too Much. Apologies, I hate people who flaunt their knowledge. I certainly have all sorts of voids—I forgot the existence of Eugene Sawyer entirely in yesterday's column. So apologies for any ruffled feelings. That was not the intent.

    2. Please, flaunt away! I enjoy learning things here, from you, Uncle Neil, and from other readers.

    3. I'm afraid the remark did come off as slightly patronizing, but if I felt anything personal, it was well deserved. I was there in 1968 or in the vicinity. As a cab driver back then, I wasn't interested in joining the melee and if I thought of my job as being any sort of responder, it would have been as a "last responder," someone to go in after the trouble is over to pick up the pieces and bring them home. I did indeed pick up someone a couple of blocks from the action: she excitedly told me that the cops were beating up people on Michigan Avenue to which I replied, "Oh...where would you like to go?" My father was there too, injuring himself leaping out of a squad car to knock other people's children over the head...for a change. For subsequent conventions, I stayed home, read the newspaper and then forgot it all as soon as possible.


    4. Being a shy wallflower, myself, not a brassy dame like Coey ; ), I've refrained from commenting on this particular topic. I don't take such asides personally, but I'd have to agree with her that they seem kinda condescending. Frankly, "did none of you pay attention in school?" seemed more avuncular and good-natured to me than the occasional superfluous interjection of "Sigh" in a column where you're explaining something that should be obvious. In pondering this in the past, I've just concluded that the reason you assume that plenty of your readers need to be informed about something before proceeding is because, having fielded the amount of feedback that you have through a 35-year career as a very accessible columnist, you're well aware that many *are* less than informed.

      That being said, charging you with being condescending is pretty ironic, because one of the many laudable features of your column is your willingness to assume your larger audience's intelligence. It's certainly not a lowest-common-denominator effort, but one that employs challenging language and references that are not the standard fare throughout the rest of the paper (or most papers) by any means.

  2. Yet another great image of Cleveland in 2016, Mr. S. That's Public Square, looking south toward the convention itself, and those are officers of the California Highway Patrol in the foreground. I lost count of how many different police patches I saw during those four days. Florida had the best ones, with the oranges on them.

    Speaking of big fat oranges, I'm relieved that Chicago does not want to host the Republicans in 2024. Where Trump goes, trouble inevitably follows. Hopefully, he'll be a convicted felon by then, and disqualified from running again.

    I knew that Chicago has had many conventions in the past...but 25? Had no idea the number was that high. Both parties picked Chicago four times...during the campaigns of 1884, 1932, 1944, and 1952.

    Along with 1860, 1920, and 1932, another stand-out year in Chicago's convention history had to be 1944, when a second "smoke-filled room" gave the thumbs-up to a still-obscure Harry Truman, a choice that certainly changed world history...if not human history.

    Best wishes to Joe in '24. Here's to another '96...and not another '68.

    1. Are convicted felons barred from running for president?

    2. No. If you recall, Eugene Debs ran for president from prison. There wouldn't have been a point if he couldn't have been elected.

    3. Officially, Trump can run in 2024. However, there may be another way Congress can prevent a second Trump term--by invoking Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which states, "No person shall hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same."


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