Washington — Democracy in action, the Democrats called it, proudly.
That was in 1972 where the delegates assembled at the national convention did , indeed, offer a good reflection of those who make up the party. Obviously, grass-roots Democrats were going to select the presidential nominee. The party's chieftains' voice was muffled.
So whatever else might be said about the elevation of George McGovern to head the ticket that year it was clearly not out of any smoke-filled room.
So now the Democratic leaders, the members of Congress, the governors, the mayors, and so on, have moved back into the presidential-nominee selection process.
In essence, they didn't think that democracy had worked very well.
They were convinced that more-seasoned politicians would have come up with something better in the last few presidential-election years.
And they have edged their way into the delegates circle, with enough mandated representation at the convention to assure an ability to heavily shape if not control the final results.
What precipitated this power move was not so much McGovern as it was the rise of Jimmy Carter. McGovern was a maverick. But he was a US senator. He had lots of friends in both houses of Congress. Those who didn't agree with him usually found him agreeable, a pleasant fellow.
Although he became a leader of the dissidents, of the young and the minorities, McGovern was at least one of those who came out of the system, out of the establishment.
But Carter was something else. Carter was a stranger. He was an outsider. By working exceedingly hard and campaigning with a zeal seldom before seen on the political scene, the relatively unknown former Georgia governor won enough delegates in primaries to capture the nomination.
What's wrong with that?
Well, a great many of the establishment Democrats felt that democracy had misfired. It made them almost angry that Carter then went on to win the election. They never did warm up to him when he was President.
They tried to head off Carter's nomination in 1980 -- and found that even their exceptionally potent effort, spearheaded by Ted Kennedy's candidacy, was not enough to keep an incumbent president from running again.
But now, with Carter out, the Democratic power people have acted to ensure that, as one of them commented recently at breakfast, ''There will be no more Carters.''
Carter was able to use the primary process to his advantage, giving the first test, the Iowa caucus vote, his full attention at a time when other candidates saw little point in seeking to pick up support in what was essentially a meaningless vote.
Carter's decision to go all-out early and in Iowa paid off. He really didn't even win. The ''uncommitteds'' beat him. But the impression was that he had scored an impressive victory, since he did finish above other Democratic presidential hopefuls.
From this Carter was able to pick up much publicity and early momentum, from which he soon gained a lead which he never relinquished.
So the party chieftains are trying to see to it that no ''upstart'' in the future is going to be able to get off to an unbeatable start. Or, at least, they are going to make it more difficult for this to happen.
They have called for shortening the primary-voting period, moving the Iowa caucus and the first New Hampshire primary nearer to the primaries that now will follow close on their heels.
Thus, they hope to diminish the impact of those early tests -- making it more likely, as they see it, that the front-runner, as perceived by press and public, will gain that position only after having succeeded in a number of primaries.
So democracy marches on but -- at least as seen by many grass-roots Democrats -- in a backward direction.
The party bosses see it differently. They say that the young and the minorities still will be well represented at the national convention. And they insist that by ruling that more than 500 elected and party officials will be among those delegates they are merely making sure that those who deserve to have a voice in naming the presidential nominee are not left out of the process.