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

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

by Lawrence O'Donnell


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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 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!

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780399563164
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/06/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 115,846
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)

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.

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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Playing with Fire: The 1968 Election and the Transformation of American Politics 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Shelley Butler More than 1 year ago
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!
MKH More than 1 year ago
This is an interesting and very readable account of the 1968 election. My only complaint is that I don’t feel the author treated Humphrey fairly. Like many Americans at the time, it was difficult to abandon the Domino Theory and realize that Viet Nam was a costly mistake. Humphrey is merely a footnote throughout the book until the Chicago convention and the fall election when Humphrey, despite incredible odds, almost defeats Nixon.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
troutrivers More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book. But I only give it 2 stars because the author continually inserts comments about the current president. For example, when discussing the day LBJ pulled up his shirt to show the press his recent gallbladder surgery scar the author states that such borish behavior was by an incumbent president was never repeated until Trump took office. There is no example given of such behavior - just the throw away cheap insult. Unfortunately the author inserts similar remarks throughout the text. We get it, liberals do not like Trump. They are totally discombobolated by his presence in the White House. But such remarks, often simply smears such as the example here, detract from the author's very interesting recounting of the very volatile election of 1968.