The story of internecine warfare in the Democratic Party.
In 1980, Jimmy Carter was in trouble. The sitting Democratic president was unpopular. Though the economy had been flagging for most of the past decade, as sitting president, he bore much of the blame even if he did not deserve it. Iranian revolutionaries had taken Americans hostage in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, and Carter seemed helpless. On matters both domestic and foreign, Carter was perceived as weak and out of touch. Even as he anticipated a tough election fight against whomever the Republicans nominated (Ronald Reagan, it would turn out), he faced a challenge from the left within his party. Ted Kennedy, the youngest son of the legendary political family, challenged Carter for the Democratic nomination that year. As Yahoo senior political correspondent Ward notes, “it was one of only a handful of times…that an incumbent president running for reelection had been challenged from within his own party.” Though Carter would emerge from that struggle, bruised and battered, he would succumb to Reagan in the general election. This is the story the author tells in this intriguing political history. In a fine dual political biography that becomes a riveting tale of a party seemingly in chaos, the author occasionally overstates his case—the Democrats were hardly “broken” as a party in the 1980s and beyond—and the dual-biography structure sometimes makes it seem as if Carter and Kennedy are somehow inevitably on a political collision course. Still, Ward provides deep insight into American politics in the past five decades. He writes fluidly and demonstrates a firm grasp of how politics work. It is also interesting that he writes in a time when there are increasing whispers that a sitting president might face an internal challenge to his renomination.
A useful reminder of a past era that resonates with contemporary politics.