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
From the Book Jacket: 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.
Lawrence O’Donnell on The Commonwealth Club
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.
Bio. Lawrence O’Donnell hosts “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” at 10 p.m. on msnbc. Each night, O’Donnell relies on his extraordinary background in politics, entertainment and news, to provide the last word on the biggest issues and most compelling stories of the day. O’Donnell joined msnbc as a political analyst in 1996. He is an Emmy Award-winning executive producer and writer for the NBC series “The West Wing” and creator and executive producer of the NBC series, “Mister Sterling.” From 1989 through 1992, O’Donnell served as Senior Advisor to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. In 1992, he was Chief of Staff to the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works. From 1993 through 1995 he was the Chief of Staff of the Senate Finance Committee. He first began working with Sen. Moynihan as Director of Communications in the Senator’s 1988 re-election campaign.
A writer prior to entering politics and government, O’Donnell published the book Deadly Force (1983), which was adapted as a CBS movie in 1986. He has written essays and articles for several publications including The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine, People, Spy, and Boston Magazine. O’Donnell has also appeared on NBC News’ “Today,” “Good Morning America,” “Nightline,” “Charlie Rose,” and several other programs. Suffolk University awarded O’Donnell an honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters, in 2001. Born in Boston, O’Donnell is a graduate of Harvard College.
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