The Democratic Party is gathering in Denver this week to nominate Barack Obama as its presidential candidate in a stage-managed convention scripted for TV. But 40 years ago, police and protesters clashed during the 1968 Chicago convention providing hours of unexpectedly chaotic news coverage.
Fort Mill native Bayles Mack, then 33, attended the convention as a delegate from South Carolina.
"They bused us from the hotel to the convention center, but we went out all the time. We walked through the park, we went into the city to the local hangouts," Mack said. "We saw no problems. We heard about things, but we didn't see any of it."
Inside the convention center he was a Kennedy man; Following the assassination of Robert Kennedy, Mack initially voted against the majority of his caucus and supported Kennedy's surviving brother, Ted Kennedy. After several rounds he finally voted with the rest of the S.C. delegates for the eventual nominee, Hubert Humphrey.
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"The conventions used to be the elections," Mack said. "You could go to them uncommitted and vote for who you wanted."
Mack, a self-confessed political junkie, laments that nowadays the party nominees and their running mates are known before the convention starts. The primary system, of which he is no fan, is responsible for the change. It "skews the nominating process," Mack said. Now "it's just an orchestrated nomination" with no drama for the delegates or viewers watching at home.
"It seems to me you'd end up with the best, most electable candidate in the old way," said Mack, a lawyer who serves as the Fort Mill town attorney. "With the new way, you end up with who the people think is the best."
Despite the conventions of old providing for a certain level of uncertainty, Mack thought it did more to unify the party.
"It takes some of the sting out of [losing] because you get to see how it moves," he said of the nominating process of years past. "If you like politics, you want to see it open."
It remains to be seen if this year's convention will unite Obama supporters and Hillary Clinton supporters, many of whom have been at odds with each other throughout the primary season.
On the positive side, though, the new system allows convention delegates to focus more on the party platform, because the convention isn't spent on infighting between party activists over the nominee.
"The platform and credentialling committees are much bigger things now," he said.
Mack was also a convention delegate at the 1972 Democratic Convention in Miami. In the years since Mack has distanced himself from party politics. Partisanship gets in the way of governing sometimes, he said. But he still remembers his conventions fondly.
"I enjoyed it. It was a great time," Mack said.