The celebrated host of MSNBC's The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell presents an account of the 1968 presidential election to evaluate its lasting influence on American politics and the Democratic party, exploring the pivotal roles of RFK and McCarthy, two high-profile assassinations and the Chicago riots. "The 1968 U.S. Presidential election was the young Lawrence O'Donnell's political awakening, and in the decades since it has remained one of his abiding fascinations. For years he has deployed one of America's shrewdest political minds to understanding its dynamics, not just because it is fascinating in itself, but because in it is contained the essence of what makes America different, and how we got to where we are now. Playing With Fire represents O'Donnell's master class in American electioneering, embedded in the epic human drama of a system, and a country, coming apart at the seams in real time. Nothing went according to the script. LBJ was confident he'd dispatch Nixon, the GOP frontrunner; Johnson's greatest fear and real nemesis was RFK. But Kennedy and his team, despite their loathing of the president, weren't prepared to challenge their own party's incumbent. Then, out of nowhere, Eugene McCarthy shocked everyone with his disloyalty and threw his hat in the ring to run against the president and the Vietnam War. A revolution seemed to be taking place, and LBJ, humiliated and bitter, began to look mortal. Then RFK leapt in, LBJ dropped out, and all hell broke loose. Two assassinations and a week of bloody riots in Chicago around the Democratic Convention later, and the old Democratic Party was a smoldering ruin, and, in the last triumph of old machine politics, Hubert Humphrey stood alone in the wreckage. Suddenly Nixon was in the lead, having masterfully maintained a smooth façade behind which he feverishly held his party's right and left wings in the fold, through a succession of ruthless maneuvers to see off George Romney, Nelson Rockefeller, Ronald Reagan, and the great outside threat to his new Southern Strategy, the arch-segregationist George Wallace. But then, amazingly, Humphrey began to close, and so, in late October, Nixon pulled off one of the greatest dirty tricks in American political history, an act that may well meet the statutory definition of treason. The tone was set for Watergate and all else that was to follow, all the way through to today."--Dust jacket flaps.
I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway. Although encouraged, I was under no obligation to write a review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
O'Donnell brought back many of my memories of the street violence during the Democratic National Convention. I also remember my total devastation when finding out that Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated in June 1968 after his victory in the California primary. I also remember my relief when Lyndon Johnson declined to run for another presidential term. 1968 was the time when I became extremely interested in politics. I remember how important it was from my personal standpoint and from the country's in our getting out of the Vietnam War.
This book is also a homage by O'Donnell to Eugene McCarthy. McCarthy decided to take on Lyndon Johnson and the Democratic Party in order to stop the Vietnam War. There is also a villain in the book. The villain is Richard Nixon who was willing to undermine Pres. Johnson's peace efforts so that he would be elected President.
The narrative of this book is extremely compelling. This may have been the most consequential year of my life and maybe in the history of the United States. Much of our poisonous politics can be traced back to 1968 due to Richard Nixon and George Wallace. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in our history and our politics.