Jeffrey Lord has an interesting article over at AmSpec today–like the Democratic Convention of 1960 that nominated JFK and the Republican Convention of 1860, the 2012 GOP convention may be significant in signaling an influential generation change in a time of widespread societal shift and dissatisfaction with the establishment. Lord makes the point that while a clear front-runner may be elusive (as it was in 1860, and to some degree in 1960), the overall field is very, very good, with many young, idealistic leaders surfacing that may easily form the direction of the party and to a lesser degree the nation for the next 20-40 years.
The 2012 Republican National Convention, which will begin on August 27 in the Tampa, Florida arena known as the St. Pete Times Forum, promises to be a rarity. A once-in-a-generation clustering of aborning political stars that has perhaps not been seen since Democrats gathered in Los Angeles in 1960 to nominate — after an extraordinary fight — Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy.
Indeed, the 1960 gathering of Democrats was perhaps the most remarkable political gathering of its kind in the last 40 years of the 20th century. Attending the convention that week in July were names known and mostly nationally unknown. Names that would become famous over the next quarter century, associated with all manner of historical events and national traumas, some for better and others decidedly for worse.
Aside from even the Presidential race, there are many promising figures in lesser roles. Looking back at 1960, in particular, Lord profiles each of the front-runners that battled it out for the nomination, and then goes on to list the many younger politicians, operatives, and candidates that would be influential in the coming decades. And he also speaks to the significance of this point in time:
What makes the 2012 Republican Tampa gathering the place to watch is not just the new nominee himself or herself. The atmosphere of crisis that pervades the country in unsettling fashion today, not dissimilar to the feeling felt by so many millions of Americans in 1960 as the Cold War ratcheted up, is having its own way of generating heat from what seems today to be a disparate yet increasingly powerful set of new names and faces.
Regardless of who garners the nomination, and how competitive the convention becomes, Lord has it right that we have a very promising group of young leaders vying for the Republican nomination this year, at a time when the US public is dissatisfied with the establishment and hungry for serious change. While it should be an interesting election convention to watch, its most significant attendees and far-reaching effects may not be immediately obvious, or even for some time to come. Eighteen-sixty and 1960 were elections that defined a generation of policy and players. Twenty-twelve is shaping up to do the same.