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Burden of Proof

Democratic National Convention: Is the Convention Really Open to All?

Aired August 14, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET



JOHN F. KENNEDY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We wish to keep it strong; we wish to keep it free. It requires, at this critical time, the best of all of us. And I can assure all of you here, who have imposed this confidence in me, that I will be worthy of your trust, will carry the fight to the people in the fall, and we shall win.



VICE PRES. AL GORE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've got a strong economy. That's a success story. But now let's look to the future and let's recognize that a lot of people have not been participating in that prosperity, and they need somebody in the Oval Office who is a champion for them, who will fight for them, and who will make life better for them.


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: They're back. After 40 years, the Democrats return to Los Angeles. But who does get to attend the convention? and is it really open to all?

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF, live from the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, with Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack.

VAN SUSTEREN: Hello and welcome to this special campaign 2000 edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We're coming to you from the new Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, where the Democratic party is kicking off its convention. The last and only other time a convention was held in Los Angeles was 1960, when John F. Kennedy was nominated to be the Democratic candidate.

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Forty years later, the city of angels is host to America 2000. And much has changed in the way the Democrats tally their delegate votes and select their nominee.

Joining us here in Los Angeles, Eli Segal, a Clinton adviser who served as chief counsel to the McGovern Commission, organized after the 1968 election to revamp the nominating process. VAN SUSTEREN: Also joining us is Willie Brown, who is the mayor of San Francisco, California, and Harold Ickes, who is the former deputy White House chief of staff, with a long legacy within the Democratic Party and its conventions.

We're also waiting for a special policy speech by Vice President Al Gore from Independence, Missouri. We'll carry that speech live when it begins.

Mayor, let me start with you. Typically, conventions over history have been for the purpose of choosing leadership, and also defining party principles. It seems to me, and this is a criticism that Roger and I had of the Republican Convention, that's already been done. Has the relevance of the conventions changed?

MAYOR WILLIE BROWN (D), SAN FRANCISCO: I think, from the standpoint of selecting candidates and shaping policy, yes. The conventions have changed dramatically. The last real contest we had on the Democratic side was in 1972, I believe, when we had the challenge to the McGovern's right to be nominee. Since then, we've pretty much structured the convention so that primary process, which is urged and encouraged throughout the nation for all of the people who are part of the party, they become participants in that. No more back room kinds of activities. And that has served the party extremely well.

VAN SUSTEREN: How are they really, though, participants?

BROWN: They are participants because, one example in California, every Democrat is eligible to be a delegate to the convention. In the old days, it was not that way. People of no means whatsoever, welfare recipients, individuals from labor organizations at the lowest level in terms of membership are able to participate.

Likewise people who are major factors, major contributors, and then there are those of us who hold public office that are carefully selected to be a part of a delegation.

And that process repeats itself throughout the nation, and that has opened the process far beyond and greater than any other political party ever in the history of this nation.

COSSACK: Eli Segal, why have these conventions, if in fact it is totally scripted, and we know that it is totally scripted. In fact, neither party wants something to happen that isn't totally scripted. And, in fact, all of the decision were made long before we got here, both at the Republican, too. Why even have this thing?

ELI SEGAL, CLINTON ADVISER; Well, that's a good question. I think, as recently as 1968, virtually all of the delegates were chosen by a handful of people, not by primary. People forget that the primaries are comparatively new institutions in the party. These leaders would come to the convention, Chicago, California, Los Angeles, wherever, and they would sit and figure out what made the most sense. There is a real question now, whether the convention is anything more than a relic of the past. It is kind of the Law of Unintended consequences kicked in here. No one had in mind that we would democratize the process and make all people eligible to vote and participate for the first time, that we would reach the stage where the decision were made by the voters, which is what we really had in mind, we came to the convention essentially for coronations.

VAN SUSTEREN: Harold, answer this for me, if the platform is created here at the convention, but the candidate doesn't have to, I mean, it is not an enforceable contract, and the mayor and Eli says, everybody gets to participate. If you participate in something that has no binding nature anyway, how are you participating?

HAROLD ICKES, FORMER W.H. DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, I think the convention still has some relevance, in the sense that it does permits the parties to showcase their candidates, obviously the presidential nominee and vice presidential nominee. The contract is a set of party principles, nobody I think who understands how it is put together thinks it is going to be enforced word by word, but it does layout some very broad principles, and that is something the American people look at, as well as what the presidential candidates are saying as they campaign going up to the general elections.

COSSACK: Is the platform something that the candidate now is contracted to, to use your word? Is that something that, whatever the platform says, the candidate then says I'm there with you.

ICKES: No. The fact is, circumstances change. A platform is drafted at a particular point in time. And circumstances change, and obviously political contingencies require changing of views as the period goes forward.

I don't think anybody expects a platform that is drafted in year one is going to be looked at in year four sentence by sentence. I think it is the broad principles that count, and that's what both parties look at.

COSSACK: All right, let's take a break. When we come back, how the 1968 election changed the convention landscape for the Democratic Party. Stay with us.


Three white police officers at Fresno State University were awarded $4 million after a jury declared that African-American officers were given preferential treatment.

In the lawsuit, filed in 1997, the plaintiffs claimed they were demoted or forced out of their positions at Fresno State from 1994 to 1997.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) VAN SUSTEREN: Good news for our Internet-savvy viewers: You can now watch BURDEN OF PROOF live on the World Wide Web. Just log on to We now provide a live video feed, Monday through Friday, at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time. If you miss that live show, the program is available on the site at any time via "video-on-demand." You can also interact with our show and even join our chat room.

COSSACK: Following the 1968 election, the Democratic Party reorganized its convention process to reach out to more of the rank- and-file members of the party. I want to remind you that we're also waiting for a policy speech by Vice President Al Gore from Independence, Missouri. And when that speech arrives, we will carry it when it begins.

Eli, I want to talk to you a little bit about the revamping in 1968. You were a part of that. Why, why did you do it? What was necessary?

SEGAL: The 1968 convention was not something any of us are proud of, Roger. It was a time of great turmoil inside the party. It was a chance to see whether you could have democracy and television operating at the same time, and clearly we failed. There was a whole host of procedures in place at that time which kept people outside who wanted participate in the great debate of the year, which was the Vietnam War.

And consequently, many of the people who participated in 1968 were delegates that were elected many, many years before the Vietnam War had become important to the American voters. So it was determined at that convention that there was so much turmoil that we could never do that again. We needed to democratize the process. And again, as I said earlier, there were no primaries until 1968. We had four or five primaries. Everyone else was chosen by a handful of then -- what we call now bosses.

And we determined that was not the way for the Democrats to bring new blood and fresh blood into the party. So it was determined, in the moment of our greatest anxiety and pressure, we are never going to do it again. We were formed to make sure that many more people, young people, people of color, were going to participate in the party who had not participated until that point.

We were on a process there which has led, frankly, to where we are now. Democratize the process, move back to the primary and the voter, and made the convention a lot less relevant than it is now.

VAN SUSTEREN: Mayor, are you satisfied that what was done in 1968 has truly democratized in the sense that people of color, women and, you know, people with disabilities, and that everyone has a voice, or was it an effort, but not an accomplishment?

BROWN: It really is an evolving process. And it's pretty much near perfection. We have some, I think, 18 percent African-Americans. We only make up about, I don't know, 12 or 13 percent of the Democratic actual numbers. But we are 18 percent, so we are over- represented so to speak. Latinos are somewhere between eight and 10 percent of the people of the delegates. That's a low mark. We ought to be much higher by sheer numbers. And we will be as time proceeds.

We clearly have gay and lesbians. And we have them in great numbers. We don't have just one from Arizona, whom we parade throughout the operation over and over again. And we have the same with people with disabilities. That's what we are really proud of. The ADA is something that the Democratic Party championed. And we do so with great relish as we go about doing our party kinds of things. And so, yes, those reforms that came out of Mr. McGovern's efforts, Eli Segal's efforts, first showcased in 1972.

And they have continuously invaded the process until the present day: You don't dare produce the delegation without the proper balance, because it will not be certified to be seated on the floor.

COSSACK: Harold, let make a statement to you and see if you agree with it. What you have done, therefore, is democratize a process which is essentially irrelevant. You have made a democratic -- make sure that there's democratically-elected delegates, all parties, all people -- are all people represented, but in fact, the delegates really don't mean very much.

ICKES: No, the delegates do mean a great deal.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me just stop you for one second. We've got to go to Atlanta. We are going to listen to Natalie Allen -- Natalie.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Greta, thank you.

A story that we've been following today, a Russian nuclear submarine sits at the bottom of the Barents Sea. It is in 300 feet of water, with 107 to 130 people aboard. Again, this is a nuclear sub. It does not have nuclear weapons, but it does have nuclear reactors, which are reportedly operating at normal levels.

We have with us an expert on military affairs. He is Paul Beaver, with the "Jane's Defence Weekly," a well-respected military publication.

Mr. Beaver, I am told that you have even spoken with the Russian sailors on this sub and are advising them about what to do, correct?

PAUL BEAVER, "JANE'S DEFENCE WEEKLY": Well, Natalie, that's taking it a bit far. No, but I have been talking to people in Russia that are close to this problem. It's a catastrophic accident for the Russian navy. It does seems that the Kursk, which is an 18,300-ton, cruise-missile-carrying submarine, actually was in collision with another vessel. We don't know what that was, what nationality, but it was in collision with another vessel.

It's gone to the bottom of the Barents Sea, in between 300 and 500 feet of water. There are casualties on board. And we don't know at the moment whether the submarine is in a strong state. The nuclear reactors have both scrammed. That means they have both shut down. And as far as we are aware at the moment, the crew are working to repair the damage, and the Russians are trying to extract them from that stricken submarine. ALLEN: We're looking at video of the submarine like the one that has had the collision today. What would be a solution for them? Or what are the options in trying to rescue these people?

BEAVER: Well, it is a real problem. At 300 to 500 feet you can actually swim to the surface. It is dangerous to do so. And (INAUDIBLE) that has been done by the British Royal Navy. They have tired to do this. They have tested it out with sailors. And they found that you can do it. It is not what you want to do because it does affect your lungs and hearing, your eyes and whatever. So it is possible to do a free escape, as long as they've got the escape equipment.

The other thing you can do is to put another submarine across -- a special rescue vessels -- it's called a DSRV, a deep submersible rescue vessel -- and pull off people perhaps, say, 24 at a time. That's possible. The Americans have that capability, the submarines, the Mystic and the Avalon that were famous in Hunt for Red October -- those are real submarines that were used in that film. And they are perfectly capable of doing that if the Russians want to have them.

We understand the Russians have got those submarines as well. But first, they'll be trying to get life report down there to get tools, equipment, and air into that submarine.

ALLEN: Right, I was going to ask you: What are the dangers for the people being at 350 feet below the surface?

BEAVER: Well, 350 feet, it's not the place you would want to be normally. And you certainly wouldn't want to be there if you weren't in a submarine. This submarine is capable of diving to something in the order of 1,100 feet, according to the Russians I've spoken to. So as long it's -- as pressure haul remains intact, then it is perfectly safe at that depth. And so are the nuclear reactors, by the way.

They are in a compartment, which is capable of being hit by torpedoes and withstanding the shock loading of a torpedo hit. So they are perfectly capable of withstanding 300 (INAUDIBLE) 500 feet (INAUDIBLE)

ALLEN: And...

BEAVER: But the situation of course is (INAUDIBLE) and something needs to be done to get those people out as soon as possible.

ALLEN: And as far as you know, there has been no decision yet on when a rescue might take place.

BEAVER: No, as far as I'm aware, the Russians are still contemplating what they are going to do. It is getting dark up there very shortly now. We have got about three or four hours left of daylight. They will still be working through the night, I think. The Russians are being rather pessimistic at the moment. Their official spokesman is almost giving up hope. I hope that that isn't the official navy's position. These people can be rescued from this submarine, even if it means an international effort to do so. Both Britain and United States would be capable of helping the Russians. I certainly hope that the Russians invite them to help.

ALLEN: And did you say nuclear reactors were made -- were shut down, and are there any nuclear weapons on this submarine?

BEAVER: Yes. My understanding is, when the submarine went to the bottom, the normal reaction is to scram the reactors, to shut them down, because it needs to have cooling water. Those cooling water ducts are on the bottom of the submarine, so they would get fouled up if they were on the bottom. So they would shut down reactors. That's not a problem. They still have the capability of scrubbing the air and keeping that (INAUDIBLE), I understand.

But the submarine is not carrying nuclear weapons. There is an agreement, an unofficial agreement between NATO and the Russians, not to carry tactical nuclear weapons at sea. And that includes the sort of weapons that you would expect to have on a cruise-missile carrier. As far as the Russians are concerned, this is a tactical submarine. And so, therefore, the cruise missiles and the torpedoes carried on board would not have nuclear warheads.

ALLEN: And as you told me a moment ago, it did have a collision with another vessel, but you don't know about that vessel.


BEAVER: We understand from the Russians -- our best sources in Russia tell us that this was the result of a collision. It was not the result of a problem in flooding the torpedo tubes, for example, in missile handle or torpedo-handling exercises. This is the result of a collision. Now, what the collision was with, we don't know.

It could have been the bottom, it could have been another ship. The ship -- the submarine is 85 to 100 nautical miles north of the Russian coast. That puts it into international waters. And so, as far as we are aware at the moment, there's not a problem.

ALLEN: Paul Beaver, we thank you so much for talking with us. Paul Beaver is with "Jane's Defence Weekly," and he is an expert on military weaponry. Again, that nuclear submarine, at 350 feet of water, at the bottom of the Barents Sea. No words yet from the Russian on how a rescue or when a rescue might take place. One hundred thirty people on that submarine.

We will take break. More of BURDEN OF PROOF after this.


COSSACK: We are back. We are talking about the Democratic party, and the rules, and the delegates, and how they become delegates, and what they do.

Harold Ickes, right before our break, I asked you whether or not, the Democratic Party had succeeded in democratizing a group, the delegates, that really in effect have nothing to do, but are picked democratically.

ICKES: The delegates have a great deal to do. The question is: When do they exercise their will? There's been a dramatic shift from the convention where delegates, and it wasn't even the delegates, it was the party boss that made the decision. It has now been shifted to the people, the rank-and-file people who vote in the primaries, the delegates that they are accumulated and voted on by those rank-and- file voters, and the decision now is made well before the convention convenes.

That has been in conjunction with the rise of media, which has permitted candidates to jump over the head of the party bosses. That's why you've seen, in my view, a reduction of the influence of the party apparatus, and a rise of the influence the influence, especially in connection with presidential candidates, where the presidential candidates control the process. The party, in some sense, is almost irrelevant. The choice is made by delegates before the convention, not at the convention.

COSSACK: No more smoke-filled rooms?

ICKES: Room that's are full, but no smoke. Hot air.

VAN SUSTEREN: Eli, give me an education. How is the way the Democrats do it different from the way Republicans do it, in terms of selecting delegates, or even the allocation of delegates per states? So that I can better understand it, compare and contrast for me.

SEGAL: Well, I think, right now, the conventions are pretty similar, although the recent history they have not been, the Democrats really have focused a great deal in Democratizing process, a term we've been kicking around a great deal.

VAN SUSTEREN: How? I mean, I hear that word all the time, you guys keep using it with me, but I'm still a little bit uncertain how this is such a great democratic process compared to the Republicans?

SEGAL: I think both conventions, until I would say 1948 in the Democratic Party at least, the convention was always a big deal, but it was a quiet big deal, which a couple hundred people got together. The Democrats broke out of that box, first in 1948, around a platform fight, when Strom Thurmond walked out of the convention, the Democrats essentially said: We are not the party of Strom Thurmond, we are not the party of Dixiecrats. The Democrats used the convention to say who they were in 1948.

In the '50s, they did more of that. They said that you had to take something approaching a loyalty oath, the Democratic, that you would support the national ticket. The Democrats really, since 1940s, have really focused a great deal about using the convention as a vehicle, as a tool to get more and more people in. They made clear in '64, we were not going to tolerate racial discrimination anymore in the selection process. We decided after that to continue the process of making it fair. This was never part of the Republicans' mandate in how it looked at the convention. VAN SUSTEREN: How does someone actually become a delegate? Let's say I'm an African-American woman, I want to become a delegate, how do I become one?

SEGAL: First of all, we still have a situation where it differs in every single state. More and more now, delegates are people who are closer to the grassroots, they are activists who are involved in their communities much more than in the past.

In the past, the delegates were completely irrelevant. They were hand-picked by a combination of mayors and governors, et cetera. If you are involved in your community, and you are involved in politics, you will follow the procedures in that state to let it be known that you are interested in this. And frankly, I think many of the people here really are just what they would hope they would be. The point you are making is the good one that they don't have much to do anymore.

VAN SUSTEREN: How can they be democratic if every state has a different procedure, it doesn't seem...

BROWN: That's part of the democracy.

COSSACK: Mayor Brown, if you were going to change this convention or change any part of it, what would you do?

BROWN: Well, I think, first and foremost, I would acknowledge that we no longer are selecting the candidate at the convention. I would also set a process in motion that would ensure wider range of public hearings for the shaping of the platform. And I would hold the respective candidates accountable to participate in that, all persons who are applicants to be the Democratic nominee would participate in that process.

And then finally, when the convention itself takes place, I would have, through the congressional process, require the news media organizations to cover the convention wall to wall.

The convention essentially would be the respective parties delivering their opening message for the forthcoming campaign. It would not be unlike the debates that are currently occur, except that it would be among Democrats only or among Republicans only. And I think, as Eli told me earlier off camera, it could be done in one or two days, it would reduce the cost, frankly, associated with these conventions, and I think it would make it more affordable in every way for everybody. It would be a far more interesting show. After all, I think you would cover such a thing live wall to wall when you know that it's going to be that kind of an event.

VAN SUSTEREN: Howard, superdelegates, what are they? how are they determine? and are they bound to candidates?

ICKES: Superdelegates are basically designated by, in our delegate selection rules on the Democratic side, the members, most all Democratic members of Congress, Democratic governors and...

BROWN: Big city mayors.

ICKES: Big city mayors, yes.

BROWN: State party officials.

ICKES: State party officials, DNC members. Basically, there is a tension, and initially after '68, there was sort of a backlash against the iron rule of the party bosses for lack of a better phrase.

There was almost complete democratization, and then, since then, there has been an ebb and flow with more and more of the party leaders being brought into the process on an almost automatic basis.

I think that's good. We need, obviously, party leaders are elect, they are in touch with their constituents. The real gripe in 1968 was the delegates were elected, sometimes hand-picked by state chairman, two and three years before the convention, completely out of touch with today, what is happening today, i.e., the Vietnam War, which was hotly fought over, and which gave rise to the problems in 1968.

So there is always a tension. You want grassroots people, give them a right to participate, they do participate, and yet you do need the participation.

BROWN: There's one more plus in the process that Eli has create and you have produced, and that is, the nominee already has that army of individuals who have gone through whatever the approval of process happens to be, because the nominee, Al Gore, could not claim the state of California as part of his delegate votes here without having first gone to them and asked for their blessings.

So these delegates not only have run for themselves, but they have run, pledged and committed to elect Al Gore. And that's a change, because in the old days, when the party boss selected the delegate, the delegate was beholden to and adhered to the party boss, not to the mandate of the people.

COSSACK: I want to just go back to my final rant about the platform. Does the platform mean anything? When we did this with the Republicans, Ben Ginsberg said that it was nothing more than an exercise in participatory democracy and a lot of fun for the delegates. Does it mean anything?

SEGAL: I would say it means a lot less today than it used to. I think the best way of talking about when it was important, the Vietnam plank was vital, civil rights planks in 1948 vital to define the character of the Democratic Party.

COSSACK: So why have one?

SEGAL: The platform now is an arm of the presidential candidate, for the most part, but it also embodies the principles of the party. If you read these two platforms, the platforms say different things, they mean difference things, we are going to run on different things.

BROWN: Well, just take...

COSSACK: Mayor, I got to ask you to cut this quick because I've got to get off.

BROWN: Environmental issue and choice, you see a difference in the two statements of the party, and that is important.

COSSACK: All right. That's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests -- I never tell Mayor Brown to make it quick -- and thank you for watching.

Today on "TALKBACK LIVE": movies and politics, is the Democratic Party influenced by Hollywood? That's at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time, noon Pacific.

VAN SUSTEREN: And tomorrow, join us for an inside look at the Justice Department. Would a Gore Justice Department be different from President Clinton's Justice Department? and what type of attorney general would Gore nominate? That's tomorrow, on another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF.



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