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By J. C. Alexander Dallas In 1982 the political party of historical dominance in Texas has discovered that it needs itself. Four years ago the Democrats took themselves for granted, while the Republicans elected Bill Clements to the governorship. Still smarting from that defeat, the Democratic Party has united this year with an unusual degree of harmony. There’s always talk of “unity” at political party conventions. It’s the standard benediction for such gatherings. More often than not, however, all the talk of harmony has the quality of a cheap salve applied too liberally by party chiefs, the party faithful and others who toe the party line. It seldom cures the common ills. Perhaps nothing cures vanity quite like impotence or poverty, and the Democrats have experienced both lately. The ascension of the New Right, Ronald Reagan’s election to the presidency, the spector of a political process increasingly polluted by excessive and unmatchable amounts of campaign money, and the attendant results of these events that now dominate the way we are governed and live, have forced the Democrats to reach a bond they have seldom achieved. For two days at the recent Democratic state convention, “party unity” was more than just the bland mouthing of minions. If not dwelling in the hearts of all who were here, it at least seemed firmly planted in their heads, resolved of necessity to make it work. In 1982, the year of the calico ticket, the slate of Democratic candidates conservative, liberal, and’ moderate recognizes that the Lloyd Bentsens need the Jim Hightowers, the Mark Whites need the Jim Mattoxes. As Jim Hightower put it, “There’s somebody on there for everyone wild-eyed liberals like Lloyd [Bentsen], calm, middle-ofthe-road moderates like Ann Richards and myself.” It is a symbiotic harmony based more on calculation and an analysis of the numbers than on affinity of belief. In Ralph Yarborough’s words, “If you read that ticket and don’t see someone you don’t like as well as some of the others, you’re just not human. But go ahead and bite that bullet and vote the ticket.” The ranks of Democratic conservatism in Texas have demonstrated their willingness to flee to the Republican Party. Progressives and liberals haven’t a hope of electing their candidates by themselves. More specifically, it is the down-ballot candidates in this election who have proven their ability to motivate the electorate at the grassroots, a necessary ingredient for victory that those at the top of the ticket may not be able to produce. The top must depend on the bottom to hold. Amidst all the rhetoric and revelry, some interesting, odd, and amusing scenes stood out. Such as the sight of Billie Carr, Democratic National Committeewoman from Houston, who has never been ashamed of calling herself a liberal, embracing gubernatorial nominee Mark White in front of a roomful of progressive delegates, members of the Texas Democrats caucus. And Jim Mattox showing up at the Dallas Convention Center, out on the floor among the delegates, being led by a huge English mastiff on a heavy chain, as fitting a companion as there might be for Mattox in his campaign for attorney general. \(And the blind girl who owned the Democrats make Republicans. We make conditions prosperous enough to afford to be Republican. Let that ol’ boy get a power mower and a second car in his garage, and he thinks he has to put a Republican sign in his yard to show he’s arrived. Cong. Jim Wright I was a college student when Harding was president, I was practicing law when Hoover was president, and I was practicing law when Nixon was president. I’ve seen all the bad ones and Reagan is the worst of all of them. Ralph Yarborough We’ve had all this Reaganomics we can stand, friends. Reagamortis has set in. Jim Hightower dog treading with short nervous steps across the platform behind Mattox who And Ralph Yarborough, still among the greatest heart-warmers of the Democratic Party, who was called up time and again at this convention to exhort the membership to unity, including a call for the support of Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, the man who defeated Yarborough and replaced him in the U.S. Senate. And Jim Hightower telling the gaylesbian caucus that his race for agriculture commissioner is “more fun than choking chickens,” unaware of the special connotation that the word “chicken” carries in that community, and receiving a burst of resounding, if nervous, laughter from the crowd. Two planks in the platform adopted by the Democrats stand out, one endorsing a nuclear weapons freeze, the other calling for a switch from appointed to elected commissioners of the state’s Public Utility Commission. Nothing especially telling could be found in the response to the visitations of five aspirants to the presidency in 1984 former Vice President Walter Mondale, Sens. Gary Hart of Colorado, Alan Cranston of California, Fritz Hollings of South Carolina, and former Florida Gov. Reubin Askew. Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, who did not appear, was the clear favorite in a Dallas Times Herald poll of the delegation. Mondale’s speech to the convention struck the deepest, not only because his attacks on Reagan were the most acute but also probably because he had the savvy to bring Ralph Yarborough to the podium in the middle of his remarks, where the two stood together before the crowd. I have great difficulty finding meaning in political conventions, particularly of this sort; they seem so orchestrated, seamless and smooth. It’s easier to describe. and analyze the rifts, cracks and tears in politics. There weren’t any of significance here. The unity that was apparent, existed before the convention. It was displayed but not generated to any large extent by the occasion, more by the larger circumstance the Democrats now find themselves in. Circumstances we all find ourselves in. No Rifts or Tears at Demo Convention THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5