The Year the Dream Died: Revisiting 1968 in Americaby Jules Witcover
Month by month, Witcover re-creates 1968 as he travels with, and reports on, the political fortunes of Lyndon Johnson, Eugene McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Robert Kennedy, George Romney, and Hubert Humphrey. He conveys the actual words of national figures and commentary by rock artists, media people, economists, Vietnam veterans, and Haight-Ashbury hippies. That year… See more details below
Month by month, Witcover re-creates 1968 as he travels with, and reports on, the political fortunes of Lyndon Johnson, Eugene McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Robert Kennedy, George Romney, and Hubert Humphrey. He conveys the actual words of national figures and commentary by rock artists, media people, economists, Vietnam veterans, and Haight-Ashbury hippies. That year Witcover crossed the country from New Hampshire to California; he was standing on the rioting streets of Washington with Robert Kennedy after King was shot; he was in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel the night Kennedy was gunned down. An eyewitness to history, he presents a unique perspective that captures the mood of a nation and the life of ordinary people as shattering news erupts from assassins' bullets and backroom deals. Witcover broadens our understanding of how that year sowed the seeds of liberalism's demise, the shame of Watergate, Reagan's long reign, and today's new Democratic agenda.
Witcover (Crapshoot: Rolling the Dice on the Vice Presidency, 1992, etc.), a nationally syndicated political columnist for the Baltimore Sun, draws on reminiscences by Al Gore, John Ehrlichman, Allard Lowenstein, and George McGovern, among others, to chronicle the year in which "the dream" gave up the ghost. Which dream is unclear: Robert Kennedy's? Martin Luther King's? Richard Nixon's? Curtis LeMay's? Witcover's account is shot through with a lack of clarity, and the author seems mostly content to recall the days of tear gas and free love with tired (and often ungrammatical) truisms: "Through the medium of television that was a babysitter for many of them through their formative years, these young Americans saw the Vietnam War up close and they despised it"; "The names [of rock groups] alone, aside from the music often so discordant and confusing to older ears, drew a distinct generational line between the now generation and its parents." Witcover's narrative acquires depth only when he recalls his own experiences as a reporter, reliving the good old days of seemingly unlimited expense accounts and one-on-one interviews with the politicos of the day, most notably a carefully suntanned Nixon. Had Witcover written his book as a reporter's memoir of events he himself covered, it would surely have been to better result than this exercise in pop history, which closes with silly speculations on, for instance, what might have happened had Robert Kennedy lived to run against Nixon.
As an overview of 1968, several books, notably Stephen Spender's The Year of the Young Rebels and Todd Gitlin's The Sixties, cover the same ground, and much better.
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