The Two Democratic Victors

Indeed, there’s a happy precedent for unions pushing a center-left presidential nominee to embrace a more progressive, and popular, platform. In 1948—the last time the Democrats held their convention in Philadelphia—President Harry Truman, the party’s nominee for re-election, favored a bare-bones, insubstantial civil rights plank. The CIO unions, particularly Walter Reuther’s United Auto Workers, had joined with other progressive organizations to back a full-throated civil rights plank, though the White House did not encourage their efforts. Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey had said he’d give the speech putting the plank before the convention, but fearing White House disapproval, he decided the night before not to speak. UAW attorney Joe Rauh argued with Humphrey all night, until, at 5 a.m., Humphrey agreed to give the speech. When he did, the following day, it was a stemwinder, sweeping the delegates off their feet. At the prompting of their union-member fellow delegates, they voted for the plank; four Southern state delegations walked out and formed the short-lived Dixiecrat Party, which ran South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond for president. But the plank, which Truman then embraced and ran on, won him much liberal support and enabled him to reduce support for the third-party candidacy of former-FDR-Vice-President Henry Wallace to just 2 percent in the November election.

Will the unions do for Clinton what they once did for Truman? Will they play the role they’re well positioned to play, helping shape a progressive program that will appeal both to Clinton and Sanders supporters and the electorate at large? They’ve worked hard to win the votes they’ll wield at the convention. They should put them to good use.


Harold Meyerson is the executive editor of The American ProspectHis email



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