A replay of the Republicans' recent pre-packaged Grade-b Detroit extravanganza isn't in the cards for the Democrats in New York. Democrats will be inclined to do a rerun of one of their own national conventions.
This years's script could be "Chicago II" -- less violent than the 1968 brawl, but equally damaging to the party. In Chicago, the convention bosses squelched all dissent and the delegates went home angry and divided, their party doomed to defeat.
Or the 1980 convention might be "Atlantic City Revisited" -- reminiscent of 1964, when the Democrats assembled in a volatile atomosphere but emerged with a convention marked by compromise and unity.
That year, the party was in turmoil over civil rights and rampant lawlessness across the South. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner had been murdered for attempting to register votes in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Massive demonstrations in Atlantic City were organized by civil rights activists, and a suicidal split threatened the convention. But negotiations involving Hubert Humphrey, Martin Luther King Jr. and Walter Reuther forged a compromise that saved the convention and ensured a unified party moving into the November elections.
A struggle in New York is no doubt inevitable and possibly healthy, but in the contex of 1980 it is dangerous. The Democratic Party isn't a monolith. Diversity is necessarily built in. I think of the party as a coalition that has to be reorganized every four years. Certainly a party that encompasses southern conservatives, the urban centers, labor, intellectuals, blacks, farmers, environmentalists and feminists needs realignment and a change of coalition members from time to time.
Logically, an accommodation of the disparate groupings would be expected to occur during the course of the convention -- if the powers that be within the party recognized the need to make room for everybody.
If not, Democrats should pray that it will happen sometime between the end of the convention and Nov. 4.
In any event, all the elements of a dissension-filled convention in New York exist in full character, poised to spoil the plans for a gala opening with prime-time coverage.
Of course, Chicago had its moments of high drama and, in spite of its destructiveness, nostalgia buffs might take pleasure in reliving some of the fantastic scenes. But . . . please, not this year.
You can expect people in the streets outside the convention. New York has throngs of community-based organizations that will be convinced that most of the television cameras in town are at Madison Square Garden, and they will create a public forum for opinions not aired inside.
This ferment of protest in and around the convention -- spiced with daily demonstrations by various Israel support groups, Khomeini loyalists, Khomeini opponents, gay activists, ERA organizers, full-employment advocates and a few crazies should provide fond memories of Chicago and other great convention battle sites.
Yet I would like to think that Democrats have also learned the lessons of the past -- namely, that this is a broad and diverse party, and it is incumbent on the party leadership to set a mood that respects and accommodates dissent.
In 1960 and 1976, Democrats were barely able to put together winning coalitions that captured the enthusiasm of urban and black voters. A 1980 campaign bent toward the right, ignoring the passions of the nation's minorities and the working poor, could compete only for a narrow constituency already largely corraled by the Regan candidacy.
What the Carter White House needs is a convention and a platform that will be rekindle the spirit and aspirations of a broader constituency.
Americans, black and white, refuse to accept the present admonitions that the nation has to get used to less, and less, and less.
It is American to work and organize and pray that one's children will see a more prosperous day. The Democratic convention need not repudiate that vision; the party should embrace it.
If Democrats must replay past convention dramas, they would be better served by the example of Atlantic City, with its negotiations and compromise, and eventual prospect of victory and progress, than by Chicago, with its confrontations, bloodletting and ultimate disaster.