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The 1968 US 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.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Dwight on 11-12-17
Brilliant synthesis of history past and present
Lawrence O’Donnell combines an impressive command of facts with exceptional skill in the art of storytelling. His account of the radical transformation of the political convictions of so many Americans in that single, fateful, traumatic election year touches me deeply, as one who experienced that transformation personally. The rich portraits of that diverse cast of characters from my parents’ generation, almost all gone now, offer so much crucial insight into the counterpart cast of characters of my own generation, up to and including the most deplorable contemporaries, now mirroring Nixon in ways unimaginable until the fateful year just past. The narrative of losing Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy, so familiar, brings painful tears one more time for what might have been. O’Donnells mastery rises to Shakespearean, quite fitting for a historical arc encompassing material for perhaps half a dozen Shakespearean tragedies.
26 of 28 people found this review helpful
By Ruth Ann Shives on 11-22-17
I learned so much.
I lived through the 60’s and thought I was aware. Listening to Playing with Fire brought a lot back but more importantly helped me to understand what was really going on. The story of that era was well written and difficult to put down. I would advise you to have a listen, you won’t regret it.
16 of 17 people found this review helpful