09/24/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

1968 to 2008: We Must Not Screw This Up

Forty years ago my family was taking its annual vacation, which in the summer of 1968 was a trip to the Democratic National Convention, where my father was an Arkansas delegate. We loaded up our station wagon, as we always did for our summer road trips across the USA, and my parents, Bill and Bobbye, drove us from Batesville, Arkansas to Chicago. Once there, we checked into the Palmer House, which we made our headquarters to enjoy the city, attend the convention, and stay out of the way of the violent clashes between protestors and police. Bill and Bobbye weren't going to let their children get close enough to get their heads bashed in. We were there to elect and support the next Democratic presidential nominee and have some fun.

We saw some action in Lincoln Park from the safety of our car. We once had to evacuate the hotel because of a stink bomb, but like everyone else across the country, we watched most of the juicy coverage on TV. I wore Hubert H. Humphrey paper dresses and boater hats and anything else the campaign was selling that was groovy and in. Humphrey was a progressive politician for his time, a great advocate of human and civil rights. I was proud to do it. He was my father's man.

Being a natural-born bomb-thrower myself, I recognize the temptation and even the need for the shake-up of our country that existed then. Later, I became more involved. I voted for George McGovern in my first election and wore a bracelet for an American soldier MIA in Vietnam for years. But, as we all now know, those Chicago demonstrations by the hippies, Yippies, SDS, and Black Panthers members effectively assured the narrow election of Richard Nixon rather than prevented it.

So the worm turns, and I recognize the much-needed shake-up of our country at this moment in our history. Who doesn't? We've sunk to the bottom of the national and international barrel under George W. Bush's presidency. But forty years after that important 1968 Democratic Convention, it's possible that we wouldn't have Obama's highly charged candidacy without the destructive bungling and terror of the Bush administration's last eight years.

This election cycle is a defining moment for the Democratic Party and a clarion call for our country. This change that we require is a 180-degree turn, and Barack Obama's leadership is the first true movement into the 21st Century and its new politics that put us back on track and in a global leadership position. We must not screw this up--or where will we be?

To Hillary Clinton's diehard supporters: If you truly want to see women uplifted and put in the positions where they should be, let go of the past and embrace the future of Obama's presidency. We Democrats (and Independents) are truly lucky to have such a candidate, who can nimbly beat John McCain if we all stand together.

To the Democratic Party and its members: Please learn to speak the language of your brothers and sisters who live across this wide expanse of country that's ours, red state or blue. We aren't alike. So what? Embrace our diversity. Be inclusive. Be true to the beliefs you say you have for the tired, hungry, and poor -- and understand their point of view. Put yourself in their place and where they're coming from. Don't intellectualize yourselves out of the circle of most American's lives -- just because you think you know better.

My father was a Yellow Dog Democrat, and he was extremely proud of that. He was an uncommon man who listened to, understood, and showed respect to common men no matter what they did. He gave them dignity, and this is our job too.

We must open our hearts and minds to embrace one another. Communicate with one another -- and take this power away from the Republicans who trick voters into thinking they'll do the best they can for them, when what they'll really do is enrich the corporate and deep pockets over these voters every time.

I went to a Democratic get-together in Paris and the moderator was a young man who obviously loved politics. But I was disturbed by the fact that he didn't seem to know his own party. He didn't know who his party was before the Reagan Democrats got stolen away. This smart moderator asked if there were any conservatives in the Democratic Party.

There were plenty. We just forgot how to communicate with them. To speak the same language. To connect with one another. Let's remember before it's too late.

Let's shake the Democratic rafters in 2008 -- and not let there be a repeat of 40 years ago.

Beth Arnold lives and writes in Paris. To see more of her work, check out

Cross-posted at

Subscribe to the Politics email.
How will Trump’s administration impact you?