IN 1964 an eve-of-execution atmosphere enveloped San Francisco as the Republican Party convened to nominate its presidential candidate. Lyndon Johnson was at the zenith of his popularity. The G.O.P. was preparing to counter him with Barry Goldwater, an all-but-certain loser. The economy was booming, taxes were down, the cities were more or less tranquil, and Viet Nam was a relatively far-off rumble.

In 1968 the mood is palpably different. This time the Democrats are in decline, taxes and living costs are up, the cities are seething, and...

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