We watched the Democratic Convention in Chicago on television for several nights (but not the evening of Humphrey's nomination) at our hotel in San Francisco after we had returned from dining out. We got the proceedings through the authoritative tones of Walter Cronkite, since CBS was the only network wich we could receive well. But in general we did not see much of the preliminaries and had to follow the convention in the newspapers. Neither of us cared about watching television anyway.
We were sickened by the proceedings in Chicago; the sadistic police beatings of the protesters, the political inflexibility of the Johnson-Humphrey forces which controlled the convention and refused to accept a peace plank in the platform, the unresponsiveness of the machine -politicians to the clearly indicated desires of the party regulars. I had cared little for Humphrey before the convention, and the convention added to my distaste. It does not matter whether Humphrey was in the past a leader in pushing for the rights of the Negro, or labor, or was a consistent liberal anathematized by the conservatives. What matters is that on the crucial foreign policy issue of the post-world war II era (so far), Humphrey has consistently upheld the administration position. Vietnam, (secondarily the Negro Revolution), has become the issue which has separated the old liberalism from new left. Humphrey chose to stand on the old liberalism; he chose to stand for a foreign policy tradition given its classic formulation by Herbert Croly and its classic instrumentation by Woodrow Wilson, but which is now rejected by the new left. More important, perhaps, is that the American people seem to be rejecting the traditional liberal foreign policy. Whether the public will now return to the conservative foreign policy tradition of spheres of influence and economic imperialism (in contrast to the liberal foreign policy tradition of militarily policing the world) remains to be seen. I hope not; but it is too much also to hope that the public should turn to a foreign policy of American international neutrality and American support for international government.
It does seem clear that the liberal foreign policy is being rejected by the people. Humphrey cannot be expected to lead in any new era or to work within a new era. Nixon cannot either of course.
What the Humphrey Democrats are saying is that we must accept Humphre because the alternative is Nixon. The choice, they are saying, is between the lesser of two evils. But this year I do not intend to vote for any evil at all. If McCarthy makes the New York ballot I will probably vote for him; if he does not, I may vote for Eldridge Cleaver, on the Peace and Freedom ticket. But I must vote for a positive good. Perhaps Socialist.
Excluding for a moment some important senators like MacCarthy, Gruening, it may be said as a generalization, that the quality of national leadership in America is very low. So low as not to be quality at all. The question is, why? Why is America's national leadership incapable of intelligent vision? Why are leaders elected to the national level who are incapable of vision, acting to principle, and reasoning?
The answer to these questions that has come to my mind in the past month is that there is no separation in the political process by which leaders are brought from the local level to the national level. I think that there should be a sharp division between the local (including state) and national levels of politics.
The local level is always the level concerned with the day to day problems of administration and political dealings. The local level must of necessity have leadership concerned in a shortsighted way with problems and pragmatic solutions. It is the level of spoils division among constituencies, of compromise among factions, of balancing of interests, of countervailing singularities and concentrations of power.
The national level, to the contrary, must be the level concerned with policy, national coordination, unification, and direction.
When there is a continuum between the local and national levels, as there is now, the national level becomes merely a higher level on which to carry the politics of the local level. The spoils fight goes on in the Congress in money appropiations, factionalism and interest politics infects tariffs, import duties, import quotas, subsidies, etc. Politicians as a general rule rise from the local level to the national level as their local power grows. To maintain that local power they wage the same spoils fight on the national level that they did on the local level. Consequently, the pettiness, shortness and viciousness of vision, vulgarity, localism, and pragmatism which characterize the American people and American politics on the local level are carried to the national level. Vision and national purpose, direction, cannot be tolerated on the national level because these would demand that the primary charactristic of national politics be principle, rather than compromise. It is compromise by which the spoils (or the currently fashionable word, "subsidy") politics is carried on. Compromise is the characteristic of national politics because national politics is merely local politics carried to another level.
If this is the origin of the low quality of national leadership (viz. that the roots of national leadership are in local politics), the question is (how do we produce a national leadership of quality), how do we separate local and national politics?
The Republicans and the conservatives would answer that government must be decentralized and function s and controls, the power, of government moved to the local level, out of Washington, out of the national level. T_ O'_ (while not aligning himself with the Republicans and the conservatives) says that the governmental bureaucracy must be decentralized and physically moved to the local level, where it can be more responsive to the people.
These solutions would of course remove the spoils politics from the national level. But these solutions would not provide national leadership. Furthermore, they would return the spoils politics to the local level, where there would be no control over the politics, no direction, nothing to curb and re-make the viciousness and pettiness that characterizes the local government.
I will agree that perhaps moving the bureaucratic administration to the local level will aid in meeting the needs of the people more responsively. But there must be control from the national level to make the local politics conform to a national vision. Take the Negro Revolution, for example. If the political process and power were returned to the local level, it seems clear that the native racism and sadism of the American people would repress the Negro brutally. Only the national government can prevent this. The achievement of the Negro Revolution demands notlocal politics (at which level black power would certainly be overwhelmed by white repression, e.g. if the Negros gain conrol of a city, the whites in control of the state repress them, poltically), and does not demand compromise in national politics. To the contrary, the achievement of the Negro Revolution demands adherence to princple on the national level. Foreign policy will provide another example. Only when the national leadership is separated from the conservativism of the local constituencies, the special interests of the military-industrial complex, the economic interests of the oil companies, or the banana companies, can a foreign policy be formulated which will embody a national purpose. A national purpose which will be the fulfilment of our unique character, that will promote the fulfillment of the unique characters of other peoples, within a framework of international peace, and security.
I do not know how this separation of local politics and national politics can be achieved. It must be done in such a way that the great classic freedoms and liberties of Western Civilization are preserved, and extended to all sectors of our society, Negro, poor, etc. It must be done in such a way that the people actually have more government over themselves, but without giving the people the opportunity to put into politics their own worst vices like racism, sadism, etc. It must be done in such a way that a national vision can be generated which will gain the adherence of the people without resort to totalitarianism and the dictation of conformity. It must be done in such a way that the persons of great vision and mind are placed in national leadership.