Miami Beach police arresting a protester at the 1972 GOP convention
Miami Beach police arresting a protester at the 1972 GOP convention

Nixon Rewound

As he prepares to attend next Monday's Republican National Convention in New York City, Miami delegate Marco Rubio is already anticipating trouble. But not from the more than 250,000 anti-Bush protesters expected to march past the convention's Madison Square Garden site.

"I'm hoping to go to a Marlins game in New York," the Florida state representative quips in a telephone conversation with Kulchur, "but I'll be harassed there for a whole different reason." All joking aside, Rubio is well aware that a mass of activists plan on serving up a very different welcome from the city-sponsored "The Republicans Are Coming -- Be Nice" banners now fluttering atop Manhattan's sidewalks.

"Sure, you have images of some radical anarchist punk throwing a can of something on you -- it stays on your mind," Rubio admits. "But I'm not going to let a bunch of thugs determine what I do or where I go."

Rubio's bravado is interrupted by the sounds of his two young daughters squabbling in the background. "Hold on, I've got to keep my kids from killing each other," he chuckles to Kulchur. Then, summoning up the negotiating skills that have made him the state legislature's majority leader, he coos to his children: "Everybody, shhh.... "

Reminded that he'll be attending the convention with his brood in tow, Rubio begins reflecting anew: "Perhaps I should be more worried. If there's some sort of violent 1968-style deal going on in front of Madison Square Garden, I'm not going to endanger my family or myself to go to a political rally."

Indeed Chicago's 1968 Democratic National Convention, with its dramatic images of riot police clubbing antiwar protesters amid thick clouds of tear gas, has been a frequent media trope of late, with many commentators pondering a replay in New York.

Yet a better comparison than 1968's electoral contest, when the Democrats bitterly split over the Vietnam War, would be the summer of 1972's opposing presidential convocations, both of which unfolded right here in Miami Beach. Then as now, the broad spectrum of the Left desperately united behind a single candidate, with an Anybody But Nixon fervor standing in for today's Dubya-focused enmity. Even the Weather Underground, which only two months earlier had exploded a bomb at the Pentagon to protest the mining of North Vietnam's Haiphong harbor, was quietly backing Democratic standard-bearer George McGovern, informing supporters that his victory might enable them to "go home again."

Accordingly, just as with this past July's Democratic gathering in Boston, most demonstrators gave McGovern a free pass, choosing to hold their fire -- and their bail money -- for the subsequent Republican fete.

Then as now, there was more than enough hysteria to go around. Fearing mayhem "on an even greater scale than Chicago," Nixon White House Special Assistant Jeb Stuart Magruder wrote in his 1974 memoir that "we had a vision of an armada of thousands of wild-eyed hippies swimming across the inlet and overrunning our defenses."

Meanwhile, echoing the present-day leftists who insist on seeing Iraq's insurgents as "resistance fighters," Tom Hayden's Reunion autobiography recalls fellow antiwar leader Rennie Davis in Miami giddily declaring that "the Vietcong were Jesus Christ." Groups such as the Vietnam Veterans Against the War counseled constructive actions, but in the end thousands of protesters seemed more intent on expressing their rage -- regardless of how it was received by the public.

In local TV news footage assembled by the Louis Wolfson II Florida Moving Image Archive, and screened as part of its Rewind/Fast Forward Film Festival last month, Miami police can be seen ringing the Beach's convention center with buses like so many nineteenth-century Conestoga wagons circling to fend off an Indian attack. And as Republican delegates made a mad dash inside, Rennie Davis's crowd gleefully hurled eggs at them, smashed windows, and played cat-and-mouse games up and down Collins Avenue with tear-gas-firing officers.

Inside the convention center, however, it was business as usual, with Nixon ably delivering his stock law-and-order themes. And after the dueling footage aired across the country, the results were predictable. Come November, McGovern lost the election in the greatest landslide in American history, taking only a single state.

With that lesson in mind, New York magazine recently ran Father to Son: What I've Learned About Rage, a conversation between storied Sixties figure Norman Mailer and his son, John Buffalo Mailer, an executive editor at High Times magazine now champing at the bit to join in the Republican convention protests.

"If I were a voice in top Republican circles, I might be offering this advice: 'What we need for New York is a large-scale riot,'" mused the elder Mailer. "I don't have a great deal of hope that most of the people involved are really thinking of this election so much as expressing the need to vent, to gain some self-therapy."

Mailer's son argued back that a powerful new anticorporate movement would coalesce in the streets around Madison Square Garden. "You do get a sense that the spiritual revolution may be awakening," he insisted. Daddy Dearest's rejoinder? "All right, but if we lose the election, it's going to be a very expensive spiritual education."

Dutifully holding down its end of the script, the anarchist clearinghouse posted the Mailer exchange under the headline: Young Bore Interviews Old Man.

Republican Party officials also appear to be looking back to Jeb Stuart Magruder's playbook. Citing security concerns, of the 221 Florida delegates bound for New York, Marco Rubio's name was one of the few initially released to the public. Democratic Party leaders have been quick to mock this break with tradition, suggesting that the Republicans are "embarrassed by the number of delegates named Chad," but anarchist-themed Websites have already been ominously swapping information on the Florida delegation's itinerary.

With Florida and its 2000 election drama holding a special place in many activists' hearts, calls have gone out to shadow the Sunshine State's attendees from their Hilton Hotel digs to such special events as the $350-a-head Trump National Golf Course outing and the $175-per-person Barneys Fashion Show, where organizers promise "the gift bag alone will be the talk of the convention."

Even the scheduled Florida delegate trip to 42nd Street for a presentation of The Lion King has drawn anarchist ire. (Earlier plans to see Fiddler on the Roof were scrapped, though it's unclear whether this was the result of popular demand or the realization that the Jewish vote is no longer in play.)

"As the Republican elephant tramples into our city, thousands of mischievous mice will confront them in the streets!" announces one Internet-circulated broadside entitled Chaos on Broadway: A Call To Action! "The Republicans will be carousing on Broadway, watching shows, drinking martinis, and laughing over our ineffectiveness.... Or will they not make it to their parties?"

To be fair, the actual Florida delegation is a bit more diverse than the effete martini-sippers New York's anarchists apparently envision. A preliminary list, briefly posted on the Florida Republican Party's Website ("We had a staff member who got a little overexcited," explains Florida Republican Party spokesman Joseph Agostini), and reprinted in the Tampa Tribune, reveals 32 Miami members. Yes, many of the usual GOP suspects appear, such as Jorge Arrizurieta, the executive director of the nascent FTAA; attorney Eric Buermann, involved in the 2000 election recount; well-connected developer Sergio Pino; lobbyist Ana Navarro; and education philanthropist Stanley Tate.

But there are also figures that speak to the Republican Party's desire to literally change its face -- at least for its upcoming week of prime-time convention TV coverage. There's Pakistani-American Chamber of Commerce president Ahmed Kabani, Haitian-American businessman Sidney Charles, Cuban-American government affairs consultant Ariel Pereda -- at age 24 the youngest member in the nation among Bush's "Pioneer" donors who've raised more than $100,000 for his re-election campaign -- as well as Miami-Dade public high school teacher Wilhelmina Austin.

As one of the few registered African-American Republicans in Rep. Kendrick Meek's congressional district, Austin is already accustomed to operating in hostile territory. So the threatened demonstrations in New York don't worry her too much, she says. "They're always ribbing me," she laughs of her co-workers, but they can't sway her on defending President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act: "I've seen firsthand how much better for education Bush has been. For years the Democrats were just passing children on because of their age, without taking any responsibility for the children actually learning."

Still what bothers Austin most is the emotional wall she runs into at her school's teachers' lounge, wading into the flock of John Kerry boosters there. "They don't particularly care for Kerry, but they hate Bush," she says, a bit nonplussed. "They don't want to discuss the facts, they just hate Bush!"


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