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Playing with Fire: The 1968 Election and the Transformation of American Politics

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Playing with Fire: The 1968 Election and the Transformation of American Politics
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From the host of MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, an important and enthralling new account of the presidential election that changed everything, the race that created American politics as we know it todayThe 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 with 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 the frontrunner, 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.Playing With Fire is the perfect holiday gift!

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Overview

From the host of MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, an important and enthralling new account of the presidential election that changed everything, the race that created American politics as we know it today

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 with 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 the frontrunner, 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.

Playing With Fire is the perfect holiday gift!

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Product Details
Sales Rank:
12,965
Pages:
496
Publication Date:
11/07/2017
ISBN13:
9780399563140
Product Dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.40(h) x1.70(d)
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
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About the Author

Lawrence O'Donnell is the host of The Last Word on MSNBC. Formerly an Emmy Award-winning executive producer and writer for "The West Wing," O'Donnell also served as senior advisor to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY), chief of staff to the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works and the Senate Finance Committee. He is the author of Deadly Force and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and elsewhere. Born in Boston, O'Donnell graduated from Harvard College.

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Table of Contents

Seizing the Moment 1

1 Declaring War 13

2 "Why Isn't He a Priest?" 23

3 Sleepy Hollow 31

4 "A Hard and Harsh Moral Judgment" 42

5 Dump Johnson 49

6 The General 55

7 "We Will Never Be Young Again" 68

8 Old Politics 79

9 "A Decent Interval" 91

10 Peace with Honor 103

11 Peter the Hermit 110

12 "Clean for Gene" 120

13 The New Nixon 133

14 "Nixon's the One" 154

15 "Abigail Said No" 166

16 The Poor People's Campaign 185

17 "Something Bad Is Going to Come of This" 196

18 "Stand Up and Be Counted" 210

19 "It's Not Important What Happens to Me" 218

20 "I've Seen the Promised Land" 231

21 The Happy Warrior 241

22 Don't Lose 250

23 "Everything's Going to Be Okay" 262

24 Stop Nixon 273

25 "Great Television" 285

26 The Last Liberal Standing 305

27 The Peace Plank 316

28 "The Whole World's Watching" 345

29 "The Government of the People in Exile" 360

30 The Perfect Crime 376

Epilogue 410

Acknowledgments 429

Notes 431

Bibliography 461

Index 471

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Editorial Reviews
Viewers of O'Donnell's [political talk] show will recognize, in Playing With Fire, his faith in the redemptive power of public service—for all its disappointments and foolishness. As a former Senate staffer, O'Donnell takes a practitioner's delight in the machinations of politics: He finds, and manages to convey, excitement in things like the movement of delegates from one camp to another. As a former producer and writer of the television drama The West Wing, he also knows how to pace a story, and could not have dreamed up a more compelling cast of characters.10/02/2017
O’Donnell, the host of MSNBC’s The Last Word, turns to print with an in-depth examination of the tumultuous 1968 election year. Supporting his work with credible sources, O’Donnell argues that 1968 forever changed the direction of American politics. The year was marked by President Lyndon Johnson’s extraordinary decision to decline a second term, the divisive and violent 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, and bitter nomination fights at both parties’ nominating conventions, all put into high relief by the Vietnam War and the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. O’Donnell also posits that Nixon’s defeat of the more liberal Nelson Rockefeller for the Republican nomination sounded the death knell of that party’s liberal wing. Offering a unique thesis on what drove the year’s events, O’Donnell advances the idea that Eugene McCarthy’s decision to run against Johnson led to Johnson’s decision not to run, which spurred R.F.K. into the race and earned Hubert Humphrey the Democratic nomination. O’Donnell further speculates that, had McCarthy not run and Johnson stood for a second term, regardless of who won the 1968 election, R.F.K. would have been elected president in 1972. Instead there was Nixon and Watergate. O’Donnell untangles the many forces that made 1968’s election a watershed event. (Nov.)"In this delightful combination of vivid storytelling and sharp political insight, Lawrence O'Donnell brings to life the most fascinating election of modern times. His book is filled with memorable anecdotes and colorful characters, from Roger Ailes and Richard Nixon to Bobby Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. But beneath the rollicking tale is a truly profound historical truth: how the Sixties still reverberates in our nation's soul." —Walter Isaacson

"But O'Donnell, a former aide to Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, understands politics and its impact. He writes with an assurance and steady sense of pace that makes much of this seem new." —Ray Locker, USA Today 

“I love the way Lawrence thinks, I love the way he writes. Playing with Fire is him at his best — this is a thriller-like, propulsive tour through 1968, told by a man who is in love with American politics and who knows how all the dots connect.  Brilliant and totally engrossing.” ―Rachel Maddow

“From the anguish of the Vietnam War to the dazzling minds and feverish ambitions of the 1968 presidential election, Playing with Fire not only tells the story of one extraordinary year in American politics, it brings back to vivid, riveting life the men and women who changed the course of history.” ―Candice Millard, Author of Hero of the Empire

“A breathtaking, "buckle your seatbelt" ride through what might be the most dramatic and brutally consequential presidential election in modern U.S. history. Lawrence O'Donnell leaves no detail and no key historical player unexamined as he maps out the often treacherous route to America becoming its modern political self. Playing with Fire is a brilliant and necessary read for everyone who cares about politics, and loves history.” ―Joy-Ann Reid

“If ever there was a bygone presidential campaign crying out for the Game Change treatment, it’s the one that convulsed America in 1968—and Lawrence O’Donnell delivers the goods in Playing With Fire. Wars at home and abroad, secret plots and assassinations, riots in the streets and punches thrown on the convention floor, poets and protestors, movie stars and Kennedys, hippies, Yippies, and Black Panthers: 1968 had it all and then some. And now it has a chronicler in O’Donnell who brings coherence to the chaos, rendering the story with the crackle and flow of a dynamite Hollywood screenplay.” ―John Heilemann

“An excellent account of the 1968 presidential race, a political season of spoilers, outsiders, and broken machines eerily like our own time . . . [A] sharp, nuanced account . . . A careful, circumstantial study that compares favorably to Theodore H. White's presidents series and that politics junkies will find irresistible.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred)

"Asmoothly written history of the 1968 campaign..., he tells the story exceedingly well. Appropriately, there is nothing dull about this book, just as there was nothing dull about this specific election or period in American history...O’Donnell writes accessibly for all readers, creating a beneficial work for anyone interested in modern political history." — Library Jorunal

"O’Donnell capably sets the historical context...O’Donnell’s breezy style, an outgrowth of his broadcasting persona, makes the chaos decipherable...Satisfying popular history." — Booklist

"[An]...in-depth examination...a unique thesis on what drove the year’s events...a unique thesis on what drove the year’s events." — Publishers Weekly10/15/2017
Nearly a half century has passed since the 1968 election that put Richard Nixon in the White House, setting in motion waves of political forces that have yet to ebb. Here, O'Donnell, host of MSNBC'S The Last Word and former producer/writer for The West Wing, crafts a smoothly written history of the 1968 campaign, beginning with congressman Eugene McCarthy's shocking decision to challenge Lyndon B. Johnson for the nomination. O'Donnell provides background information on people such as presidential hopeful Robert Kennedy, businessman and politician Nelson Rockefeller, former vice president Hubert Humphrey, and Alabama governor George Wallace, among many others. The author also provides insight on debates between intellectuals Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, Jr., which shaped convention coverage in 1968. While O'Donnell covers familiar territory, he tells the story exceedingly well. Appropriately, there is nothing dull about this book, just as there was nothing dull about this specific election or period in American history. VERDICT Recent studies such as Michael Nelson's Resilient America or Michael A. Cohen's American Maelstrom offer more research, but O'Donnell writes accessibly for all readers, creating a beneficial work for anyone interested in modern political history.—Ed Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames★ 2017-07-17
An excellent account of the 1968 presidential race, a political season of spoilers, outsiders, and broken machines eerily like our own time.It makes for a fascinating thought experiment to imagine what might have become of America and the world had Robert F. Kennedy been elected president in 1968. He was, after all, the only Democrat who could "beat President Johnson, and then beat any Republican"—good reason, as MSNBC political commentator O'Donnell (Deadly Force: The True Story of How a Badge Can Become a License to Kill, 1983) recounts in this sharp, nuanced account of the election cycle, for Democratic leaders to press an initially reluctant Kennedy to run. When they did, they effectively betrayed party stalwart Eugene McCarthy, whose "legions of antiwar student supporters were sounding angry at the possibility of Bobby trying to steal Gene's thunder" and who distinguished himself as an "antiwar candidate credibly challenging a war-making president." But Kennedy was assassinated, the Democratic Party splintered into liberal and conservative wings, and Richard Nixon maneuvered his way to the Republican candidacy past a green but definitely interested Ronald Reagan, who had "won the governorship [of California] by beating the man who beat Richard Nixon for the governorship." Nixon was helped along by an emerging TV executive named Roger Ailes, who would soon perfect a brand of yellow journalism that runs strong today and who recognized that "the most powerful force blocking Nixon's path to the White House was television," with its remorseless attention to darting eyes, mutters, and five o'clock shadows. Notes O'Donnell, "Ailes became more influential in Republican politics than Nixon ever was," giving the 1968 campaign a dimension of continuing influence—for if no Nixon, then no Trump, who shares with the disgraced president more than unprecedentedly huge armies of protestors at their respective inaugurations. A careful, circumstantial study that compares favorably to Theodore H. White's presidents series and that politics junkies will find irresistible.
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Customer Reviews (5)
What a brilliant book! This story is so up close and personal that ...
What a brilliant book! This story is so up close and personal that you feel as if you are there. Not only did I learn so much about the characters involved at this pivotal time, but gained a whole new perspective on the behind-the-scenes of elections. At first I was a bit anxious about reading what I had thought to be a dry account. Boy! Was I ever wrong. The book is filled with insight, emotions, theatrics and all kinds of characters. Regardless of your political persuasion, READ THIS BOOK!
- Shelley Butler
November 24, 2017
- Anonymous
February 19, 2018
One Piece of the 2016 Puzzle
Along with Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland and Kurt Andersen’s Fantasyland, O’Donnell’s eloquent recounting of the 1968 election and the surrounding social upheaval is a compelling narrative that helps us understand how so many Americans could become deluded enough to vote for Trump.
- Anonymous
February 10, 2018
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Playing with Fire: The 1968 Election and the Transformation of American Politics
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