By R.B. Scott
In the wake of terrifying assassinations -- first of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King then Senator Robert F. Kennedy, a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968 -- I became a registered member of the Democrat Party. It was a dark secret I kept from my Republican father forever.
It soon became painfully clear that my new party was self-destructing, an agonizing goodbye that endured nearly a half century. Recently its death by suicide was aptly memorialized by Glen Greenwald, the award winning journalist and a founder of The Intercept: “… Republicans do not dominate virtually all levels of government because there is some sort of massive surge in enthusiasm for right-wing extremism… This all happened because the Democrats are perceived — with good reason — to be out of touch, artificial, talking points-spouting automatons … who do the least amount possible for ordinary, powerless citizens while still keeping their votes.”
That’s what I sensed that summer of 1968, although I would have been at a loss then to describe it so colorfully. I was about to become a father. I was a junior journalism student at the University of Utah working full-time downtown as a reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune. Most days I wrote obits. They spilled out of my typewriter in triplicate and coldly structured prose as quickly as morticians dictated the raw facts of lives into my ear.
That’s why my editors figured there was no conflict of interest involved if I handled media relations locally for the presidential campaign of Senator Eugene McCarthy, the Bernie Sanders of his day. He was the favorite of earnest young liberals like me shucking their conservative Republican roots and opposed to the devastating war in Vietnam.
Kennedy’s death in early June had left McCarthy as the lone Democrat in the race. Then Vice President Hubert Horatio Humphrey, a reliable liberal tainted by his association with President Lyndon Johnson and the war, elbowed his way in. He arrived too late to win any primary contests, but soon enough to capture the nomination by way of political muscle and support from uncommitted favorite son candidates.
My responsibility was to prepare my hometown to be one of eight host cities for a nation-wide teleconference that just might create the overwhelming groundswell McCarthy needed to stanch the Humphrey insurgency.
Along the way, I would also need to persuade the young people canvassing for “Clean Gene” that it would be sensible to bathe first. “Wear shoes. Consider a fresh collared shirt,” I counseled. “Listen to them. Respond to their needs. Your goal is to persuade. They are inherently cool. They are citizens. They vote.”
Supporting the teleconference got a whole lot easier when the national campaign coordinators announced that Joanne Woodward would be the celebrity anchor in Salt Lake. She seemed straight from central casting, totally responsive to the needs of my city. She was politically savvy, a successful actress, in a committed marriage to Paul Newman, the mother of three daughters.
Arranging interviews was a snap. Several press conferences were scheduled. She would sit for extensive interviews with every important journalist in the state, meet privately with party leaders, and, critically, visit with David O. McKay, the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
And, then just a few days before she was to arrive, everything changed.
Woodward was needed to anchor with husband Paul in New York City. Julie Newmar was to be the replacement. “Don’t worry. Julie is knowledgeable about the candidate’s positions, she's great,” glib campaign leaders in New York assured, tone deaf to our real concerns.
It wasn’t Newmar’s appearance in “Serpent of the Nile” wearing only her smile and gold body paint that troubled us. Nor her deep sex-vixen vitae. This was 1968. The pill, pot and LSD had already invaded our isolated mountain sanctuary.
Our concerns were more current. Several weeks earlier Newmar had been the cover girl for Playboy Magazine. Her lithe, leggy and unadorned 5’11” body had been featured inside. In good conscience, I could not introduce her to the Mormon spiritual leader who’d just a few months earlier pointedly branded men’s magazines like Playboy pornographic!
Every media report of her visit mentioned the Playboy feature. Some noted that the lovely Miss Newmar arrived for interviews that hot summer day in a silk blouse clinging to her bra-less breasts, a snug skirt with teasing side slits, all accentuated by 4-inch spiked high heels and a flouncy wide-brimmed Guatemalan straw hat.
Later that summer I interviewed Humphrey after he had muscled his way to nomination. I rated him competent, rational and committed to ending the war ASAP. In November I voted for him., loyal Democrat that I had become.
My party affiliation lapsed naturally when I fled east. “Independent” made more sense. I was a journalist.
In a backhanded way, my proud independent history was interrupted briefly last summer when I registered as a Republican, hoping that I could help deny the current White House occupant a primary victory in California. It was not to be.
Now that Democrat party bigwigs have selected a new national chairman, Latino Tom Perez, the labor secretary under President Obama, I am once again reconsidering my unaffiliated status. Perhaps Perez is attuned to those Blue Dogs of the heartland who fled to Ronald Reagan and others who supported the unAmerican in the White House.
While Perez attempts to deliver on the promise to strengthen “our team …from the ground up… listen(ing) to Democrats at every level…” tiresome war horses like Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, the Dean Brothers and their heckle-down acolytes should either get with the program or shut the hell up.
If Perez succeeds, I may become a Democrat once again.