With the Bert Lance/Charles Manatt affair the Mondale people got so absorbed with looking ahead, leaving San Francisco, and preparing their campaign for the South in the fall that they failed to realize the crucial importance of where they were - in California.
It is not just a matter of violating common courtesy - stripping party chairman Manatt of his political duties in his home state on the eve of the convention. That speaks for itself. Nor, as a matter of political calculation, does the promotion of Mr. Lance - to head of the Mondale campaign, with presumed control of the party apparatus - itself need second-guessing. Lance has helped build bridges for Mr. Mondale in the South. Mondale needs something more than increased black voter registration to win that region against Ronald Reagan.
Georgia, Jimmy Carter memories or not, is Mondale's Southern base. Its strategic importance is reflected in efforts to promote Atlanta as the party's 1988 convention site.
But this is 1984. The site is San Francisco. And the gaping division that should most concern the party is far deeper than regional. It has been sharply represented by the candidacies of Mondale and Hart from the start of the primaries. But it goes back at least a political generation to Hubert Humphrey (Mondale's mentor) and George McGovern (Hart's).
It is a split in basic political values. On the economy, giving the Hart wing's values first, it is pro-management vs. pro-worker; economic growth and free-market capitalism vs. government controls and a planned economy; consumerism and environmentalism vs. production and jobs; high-tech and information industries vs. smokestack industries; investment in education and research vs. social programs; tax incentives vs. subsidies.
In foreign policy: non-interventionism vs. anti-communism; nuclear arms talks now vs. bargaining from strength; nuclear build-down vs. nuclear freeze; free trade vs. protectionism; energy independence vs. pro-Israel politics.
Similar splits exist in ideology, style, politics, and demography.
Such contrasting profiles of the Democrats, as outlined by political analysts like I. A. Lewis, clarify what we have seen in 1984. They show a younger, forward-looking Democratic Party that wants to be on the leading edge of change, and a backward-oriented or hold-the-present party, looking for safety in a weakening establishment grip.
Mondale took one step to span the generational divide in picking Geraldine Ferraro to run with him. For the moment this has begun to win back the attention of young males, not just young females, since both genders must grapple with changing work and family demands.
It seems forgotten that Gary Hart won the California primary handily. Stereotypes that focus on California's fringe cultures miss how much the state typifies the nation. The state remains on the leading edge of change, and San Francisco is a flagship among progressive cities.
California is not just the home of the most-coveted group of electoral votes. It holds a certain chronological edge over much of the nation. This week it provides the Democrats a unique opportunity to take a clear look at their own future.