It was just five years ago, and most of the media attention was on convention stagecraft and the horserace dynamics of the presidential race – change vs. experience, Clinton dramas and VP rollouts, who was a celebrity and who was out of touch. But actually at stake was the choice being offered on issues that mattered. Here are the Top Five, and what seemed to differentiate the Democratic and Republican candidates at the time:
The Economy: Barack Obama pledges to help-middle class families struggling with rising costs and stagnant pay, reform healthcare and education, and renegotiate free trade agreements. John McCain argues for keeping the Bush tax cuts but decreasing government spending, reforming social security, and cutting taxes on middle class families by abolishing the Alternative Minimum tax.
Iraq & Iran: Obama argues that there’s "no military solution" in Iraq, calling for withdrawal of most troops and a UN convention on national reconciliation. He says he would meet Iranian leaders without preconditions, pursue “aggressive personal diplomacy,” and change Iran’s behavior through incentives. McCain says that US forces should remain until Iraq is able to defend itself, backed troop escalation, and thinks withdrawal “timelines” could trigger genocide in the region. He wants to get other democracies to escalate economic sanctions against Iran, and backs a military solution if necessary to prevent its alleged nuclear weapons plans.
Climate Change: Obama wants to cut US greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, says it should lead the global effort, and favors investing $150 billion over 10 years in clean energy. McCain would consider joining with other nations to reduce emissions if China and India agree to participate.
Abortion: Obama says women should make their own choices "in conjunction with their doctors and their families and their clergy.” McCain argues that the landmark Roe v Wade decision should be overturned, would appoint judges who support that position, and backs aid for state efforts to boost adoption.
Healthcare: Obama calls for universal coverage but not compulsory insurance – except for children, subsidies to make coverage more affordable, and making insurer cover pre-existing conditions. McCain wants tax incentives to encourage people to get personal health insurance.
9/4: Minnesota Newspeak
9/3: The Palin Factor
9/2: RNC Attendance Gap
9/1: Amy Goodman Arrested
8/31: Shifting Electoral Winds
8/29: The American Promise (Obama's speech, Palin Pick)
8/28: The Anti-War Message
8/28: Realizing the Dream (Nomination Video)
8/27: Hillary Hits the Mark
8/26: Heart & Family Values
8/25: Cindy Sheehan Bugged?
8/24: Florida and Michigan Votes Restored
8/23: Obama Taps Biden
(Full stories in News Section)
The Conventions and Beyond: A Guide
*Political Conventions: A Video History
*2008: Daily Highlights and TV Coverage
*Other Events: Alternative Media, Protests, Ralph Nader, Ron Paul
*News: Obama Taps Biden, Presidential Debate Schedule
*History: The Rise and Fall of the Original Third PartyPolitical Conventions: A Video History
2008: Daily Highlights and TV Coverage
The Democrats in Denver, August 25-28. Monday: Michelle Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Edward Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and Jesse Jackson Jr.; Theme – One Nation. Tuesday: Hillary Clinton, Mark Warner (keynote), Patrick Leahy, and Kathleen Sebelius; Theme – Renewing America’s Promise. Wednesday: Bill Clinton, John Kerry, Harry Reid, Bill Richardson, Evan Bayh, Joe Biden, and Tom Daschle; Theme – Securing America’s Future. Thursday: Obama accepts at Invesco Field; Theme – Change You Can Believe In. Clinton gets a roll call vote. Obama picks Biden for VP.
The Republican in St Paul, September 1-4. Monday: Laura Bush, Cindy McCain; Theme – Service. Tuesday: George W. Bush, Joe Lieberman, and Fred Thompson; Theme –Reform. Wednesday:Rudy Giuliani (keynote), Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, and Sarah Palin; Theme – Prosperity. Thursday: Tim Pawlenty, Tom Ridge, McCain acceptance speech; Theme – Peace. McCain picks Palin for VP. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney cancel appearances.
Catching the Conventions on TV
On cable MSNBC plans 20 hours of coverage daily, while CNN offers a “multi-platform” approach, including intermittent live coverage. ABC, NBC and CBS air one-hour reports at 10 p.m. (EDT) each day, Aug. 25-28 and Sept. 1-4. PBS airs three hours of coverage nightly, beginning at 8 p.m. The Daily Show on Comedy Central broadcasts from the convention cities. BBC’s World News America airs coverage at 7 and 10 p.m. weeknights during both conventions, with Ted Koppel as a contributing analyst. C-SPAN offers "gavel-to-gavel coverage" beginning at 6 p.m. August 25 for the Democrats and 3:30 p.m. Sept. 1 for the Republicans.
The Big Tent: A 9,000-square-foot, two-story structure with work space for bloggers and new media journalists. It was a collaboration between the Denver groups Progress Now and Alliance for Sustainable Colorado, teaming up with Daily Kos, Google, and YouTube.
The Starz Green Room: An alternative media hub for elected officials, Democratic staffers, foreign dignitaries, business executives, media and the entertainment industry. The most visible, reflecting the progressive pecking order, were expected to be Van Jones, Arianna Huffington, John Podesta (head of the Center for American Progress), Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos, Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel, and writer David Sirota. Various celebrities also stopped by.
Ralph Nader: The independent candidate for president (currently on the ballot in 31 states) planned rallies during both conventions to protest the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and press for inclusion in the presidential debates. Nader's rally in Denver was set for Aug. 27, the day Joe Biden gave his VP acceptance speech. The Minneapolis rally was scheduled for Sept. 4, the day McCain accepted the GOP nomination across the river in St. Paul.
Ron Paul: The former GOP candidate held a counter-convention before and during the Republican gathering, August 31-Sept. 2. According to Paul, the speakers would include Jesse Ventura and Barry Goldwater Jr. He also planned a counter-rally in Minneapolis on Sept 2.
Protests: Re-Create 68 and other groups organized rallies, marches and concerts during the Democratic Convention, beginning with an End the Occupation march and rally on Sunday, Aug. 24. Yuppies.org warned of “massive” anti-war protests, but attendance was disappointing. Denver police set up holding pens in case the protests get “too unruly.” The city passed a law barring people from carrying certain protest "tools" (chains or quick-setting cement) and noxious substances (urine or "feces bombs") that could be used to ward off authorities.
When 2,000 people participated in a peaceful anti-poverty march at the Republican Convention on September 2, police opened fire with gas and projectiles. On the previous day, 283 people were arrested after police fired projectiles, pepper spray and tear gas to disperse a crowd of 5,000 demonstrating near the convention site. Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman was among those arrested.
A dozen groups planning protests sued the U.S. Secret Service and City of Denver over plans to confine them to a parade route and fenced-in zone, saying that their Constitutional rights to free speech were being violated. U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger agreed that the protesters would suffer some infringement on their freedom of expression but said those interests must be balanced with security concerns.
The ACLU obtained a copy of a Denver Police Department bulletin advising officers that violent protesters at the Democratic Convention might be identified from their use of hand held radio, bikes, maps, and "camping information. The Bulletin provided a "watch list" of items that police are to associate with violent protesters.
Both Denver and St. Paul became virtual fortresses during the conventions, protected by airplanes, helicopters, barriers, fences and thousands of police officers, National Guard troops and Secret Service agents. In Denver, police spent at least $18 million on equipment alone, bolstered by National Guard troops and hundreds of officers from surrounding suburbs. In St. Paul, police called on 80 law enforcement agencies to provide 3,000 officers to supplement the city's 500-person force. Congress earmarked $100 million for security at the two meetings.
Florida and Michigan Votes restored
8/24: The Democratic National Committee vote unanimously Sunday to restore full convention voting rights to Florida and Michigan delegates. The two states had been penalized for holding their primaries in January, violating party rules.
Obama Taps Biden8/23: Barack Obama selects six-term US Senator Joe Biden to be his vice presidential running mate. Biden, who has represented Delaware in the US Senate since 1972, ran briefly ran for president in 1988 and again this year. A resident of northern, upscale New Castle County, he is also well known in Pennsylvania, a swing state in the 2008 race.
Biden currently chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His Senate career highlights include presiding over contentious Supreme Court nomination hearings for Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas, and development of the 1994 Crime Bill. He was instrumental in pushing the Clinton administration toward air strikes on Yugoslavia and initially supported the Iraq War, although he has since become a critic of how it has been waged. In 2004, he suggested that John Kerry pick John McCain as his running mate.
The speculation turns to McCain’s choice. Leading contenders include former opponent Mitt Romney, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former Ohio Congressman Rob Portman, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, and US Senator Joe Lieberman, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee in 2000. The Republican Party base wants someone with a conservative record on social issues such as abortion, but McCain could decide to go with Ridge to counter Obama’s selection of Biden.
Presidential Debate Schedule Set
8/23: The first presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain will be held on Sept. 26 at the University of Mississippi. The topic will be foreign policy, moderated by Jim Lehrer, host of PBS’ NewsHour. The second debate will be Oct. 7 at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, moderated by Tom Brokaw. The format will be a town hall-style discussion. The final debate will be Oct. 15 at Hofstra University in New York, moderated by Bob Schieffer, host of Face the Nation. All debates will be 90 minutes, 9-10:30 pm. The Vice Presidential candidates will debate Oct. 2 at Washington University in St. Louis, moderated by Gwen Ifill, host/moderator of PBS’s Washington Week.History
The Rise and Fall of the Original Third Party
It began with a charge of murder. In 1826 William Morgan, a 52-year-old Freemason and printer from Batavia, New York, had become dissatisfied with his lodge and announced plans to publish the details of Masonic rituals. When it became known, however, he was harassed, and, that September, seized by unknown parties and taken to Fort Niagara. Morgan was never seen again.
Although his fate was never determined, it was widely believed that he’d been kidnapped and killed by fellow Masons, a suspicion that increased hostility toward the order and lead to the formation of the first national third party in the United States. Spreading rapidly from upstate New York to all of New England and eventually west, the Anti-Mason movement soon became a political party, and subsequently introduced important innovations, including nominating conventions and the adoption of party platforms. Yet a decade later the party was over.
Morgan’s disappearance led many people to believe that Freemasons weren’t loyal citizens. Since judges, businessmen, bankers, and politicians were often members, ordinary people began to consider it an elitist group and possibly a powerful secret society. Others suspected links to the occult and ceremonial magic.
One persuasive argument was that the lodges' secret oaths could bind members to favor each other over “outsiders.” Because the trial of the alleged Morgan conspirators was mishandled and the Masons resisted further inquiries, many concluded that they controlled key offices, abused their power to promote the interests of the fraternity, and were violating basic principles of democracy. Enraged, they decided to challenge what they considered a conspiracy.
In western New York, citizens attending mass meetings in 1827 resolved not to support Masons for public office. The National Republicans were weak in New York at the time, and shrewd political leaders used anti-Masonic feeling to create a new party to oppose rising “Jacksonian Democracy,” which favored a more powerful president, expansion of the right to vote, the patronage system, and geographical expansion. The fact that Andrew Jackson was a high-ranking Mason and frequently praised the Order didn’t help. One of the most prominent Anti-Masons was former President John Quincy Adams, who wrote a series of stern letters condemning the institution after Morgan’s disappearance.
Numerous Anti-Masonic papers were published, four of them –The Anti-Freemason, AntiMasonic Christian Herald, Free Press and Anti-Masonic Baptist Herald – issued from the same printing office in Boston. Anti-Masonic spelling books, school readers and almanacs were distributed, and Anti-Masonic book stores and taverns opened. In some churches it became a religious crusade.
Upstate New York was the flashpoint but the excitement soon spread through New England and reached as far west as Northeastern Ohio. In some parts of that state, lodge halls were reportedly destroyed by mobs, property and records were carried away, Masons were ostracized and businesses closed.
A national organization was planned as early as 1827, when New York leaders attempted, unsuccessfully, to persuade Henry Clay, a former Mason, to renounce the Order and head the movement. His slippery reply to an inquiry on his opinions about the group was that he’d become a Freemason as a young man but hadn’t given the order attention for a long time. In fact, Clay was a former Grand Master, but the growth of the movement led him to practically disown it.
In the 1828 elections the new party proved unexpectedly strong, eclipsing the National Republicans in New York. Within a year it broadened its base, becoming a champion of internal improvements and protective tariffs. The party published 35 weekly newspapers in New York, including the Albany Journal, edited by Thurlow Weed, who went on to become a powerful political boss. Openly partisan, one Journal comment on Martin Van Buren included the words "dangerous," "demagogue," "corrupt," "degrade," "pervert," "prostitute," "debauch" and "cursed" in a single paragraph.
When the Anti-Masonic convention met in Philadelphia in 1830 it adopted the following platform: “The object of Anti-Masonry, in nominating and electing candidates for the Presidency and Vice Presidency, is to deprive Masonry of the support which it derives from the power and patronage of the executive branch of the United States Government. To effect this object, will require that candidates besides possessing the talents and virtues requisite for such exalted stations, be known as men decidedly opposed to secret societies.”
The Party invented the political convention, electing local delegates to chose state candidates and pledge their loyalty. Soon the Democrats and Whigs recognized the value of the idea for building a party and began holding their own. By 1832 the movement’s focus on Masonry faded, but it had spread to more states, becoming especially strong in Vermont and Pennsylvania.
Vermont’s Anti-Masonic Interlude
In 1831, William A. Palmer was elected governor of Vermont on an Anti-Masonic ticket, and remained in office until 1835. In 1832, when the national Party ran a candidate for president, it was the only state to cast its electoral votes for the nominee, William Wirt, a former Mason.
Palmer was a former judge and US Senator with an established reputation. Formerly a Jeffersonian Democrat, he led in the popular vote for governor in 1831, but it took nine ballots in the state legislature before he was chosen. He won again the following year, but still didn’t get a clear majority of the popular vote. This time it took 43 legislative ballots before he was re-elected. In 1834, he won on the first ballot, but only because the other parties, anticipating the collapse of the Anti-Masons, hoped to win over its constituents.
Palmer also led in the popular vote in 1835. But this time he couldn’t win in the Legislature, and after sixty-three ballots Silas Jennison, winner of the Lieutenant-Governor’s race, was selected. The rest of the Anti-Masonic ticket was indorsed by the Whigs. The opposition to Palmer was due primarily to his Democratic leanings and the belief that he intended to support Democrat Martin Van Buren for the presidency the next year.
Governor Palmer believed that secret societies were evil. But he didn’t take radical stands in his speeches. In his first inaugural address, he declared the intention to appoint only men who were "unshackled by any earthly allegiance except to the constitution and laws," and suggested legislation to prohibit the administration of oaths except "when necessary to secure the faithful discharge of public trusts and to elicit truth in the administration of justice." He wanted to "diminish the frequency" of oaths because of the "influence which they exercise over the human mind."
Anti-Masons ultimately succeeded in forcing Vermont’s lodges to close – for a while. But that left the state party with less reason to exist, and in 1836 Vermont’s Anti-Masonic leaders joined the new, anti-Jacksonian Whig Party. The Whigs didn’t last long, and Vermont later changed its allegiance to the emergent Republican Party, which opposed the expansion of slavery.
John Charles Frémont, the Republican candidate for president in 1856, won about 80 percent of Vermont’s popular vote. In 1860, it backed Abraham Lincoln, giving him the largest margin of victory of any state. For the next 100 years, Vermont remained solidly Republican.Scourge of the Masons
Thaddeus Stevens was born in Vermont, but made his name in Pennsylvania. He openly became an Anti-Mason in 1829 when he supported Joseph Ritner, the party’s candidate for governor, who was defeated that year but won a surprisingly large vote. A few months later Stevens became a delegate to the second State Anti-Masonic Convention, and then attended the first national convention in Philadelphia in September, 1830. He attracted attention by delivering speeches strongly attacking Masonry. In one of them, "On The Masonic Influence Upon The Press," he deplored the lack of publicity given to the convention and attributed it to Masonic influence."Look around,” Stevens declared. “Though but one hundred thousand of the people of the United States are Free Masons, yet almost all the offices of high profit and honor are filled with gentlemen of that institution. Out of the number of law judges in the State of Pennsylvania, eighteen-twentieths are Masons; and twenty-two out of twenty-four states of the Union are now governed by Masonic chief magistrates. Although not a twentieth part of the voters of this commonwealth, and of the United States are Masons, yet they have contrived, by concert, to put themselves into eighteen out of twenty of the offices of profit and power."
In 1833 Stevens was elected to the Pennsylvania legislature on the Anti-Masonic ticket. His legislative talents showed themselves from the start. An excellent debater with a devastating wit that cut his opposition to shreds, he also knew how to maneuver behind the scenes and bide his time.
His big chance came in 1835, when Anti-Masons took control of the legislature in coalition with the Whigs. Wasting no time, Stevens proposed a law designed to suppress secret societies and became chairman of a committee to investigate the "evils of Free Masonry." The proceedings that followed have been likened by Masonic writers to the Inquisition and led to Stevens being labeled the "Grand Inquisitor." Thirty-four witnesses were summoned, including some who had renounced Masonry.
The most dramatic incident occurred on January 18, 1836. Prominent Masons who had previously refused to appear before Stevens’ committee were being compelled to testify. Among these were ex-Governor George Wolf; George M. Dallas, Masonic Grand Master of Pennsylvania at the time, and ten year later US Vice President under James Polk; and Joseph R. Chandler, editor of the United States Gazette, published in Philadelphia. When ordered to answer questions, however, all three refused. In all, 25 witnesses were placed in the custody of the House Sergeant-at-Arms. After several days, when some of the Whigs broke with the Anti-Masons, the prisoners were released and Stevens' campaign ended.
Stevens stood almost alone in trying to maintain the Anti-Masonic party on a national basis. When the 1835 State Anti-Masonic Convention endorsed William Henry Harrison for President, he initially refused to accept it because Harrison wouldn’t pledge to use the government to go after the Masons. Due to his continued efforts to keep the Anti-Mason Party alive, Stevens couldn’t secure enough support to be elected to Congress until 1848. From then on, however, he began to attract attention with anti-slavery speeches, and subsequently helped to launch the Republican Party.
In 1858 Stevens returned to Congress as a Republican and soon assumed leadership of the House, where his strong abolitionist sentiments, plus his legislative skills, gave him tremendous power during the Civil War.
End of the Road
The Anti-Mason Party conducted the first U.S. presidential nominating convention in Baltimore in 1832. Its candidate, William Wirt, won 7.78 percent of the popular vote and Vermont’s seven electoral votes. The highest elected office ever held by a member of the Party was governor: besides Palmer in Vermont, Joseph Ritner served as governor of Pennsylvania from 1835 to 1838. By 1833, however, the organization was already in decline in New York, its members gradually uniting with the National Republican Party and opponents of Jacksonian Democracy in the Whig Party.
Following the election of Governor Ritner, a state convention was held in Harrisburg to choose Presidential Electors for the 1836 election. The Pennsylvanians picked William Henry Harrison for President and Vermont’s convention followed suit. But when national Anti-Masonic leaders couldn’t obtain assurance from Harrison that he wasn’t a Mason, they called a national convention. Held in Philadelphia in May, 1836, it was a divisive gathering. A majority of the delegates agreed that the purpose of the party remained anti-masonry but decided not to back a national ticket that year.
The third and final Anti-Masonic National convention was held in Philadelphia’s Temperance Hall in November, 1838. By this time, the party had been almost entirely engulfed by the Whigs. The convention unanimously nominated Harrison for President and Daniel Webster for Vice President. But when the Whig National Convention chose Harrison and John Tyler, the Anti-Masons did nothing and soon vanished.
Under the Anti-Mason banner savvy politicians were able to briefly unite many people who were discontented and suspicious of political elites. In the end, however, the fact that William Wirt – the Anti-Mason choice for president in 1832 – wasn’t just a former Mason but defended the Order during the convention that nominated him, suggests that, despite the party’s name, that single issue wasn’t so central after all, and clearly not enough to sustain a national movement for long.
Last updated September 4, 2008