A thorough examination of one of the most divisive political campaigns in American history.
In an April 2018 Wall Street Journal article, Pat Buchanan, looking back on his time as an aide to Richard Nixon, wrote that 1968 was “America’s most divisive year since the Civil War had begun.” In his latest book, Schumacher (Dharma Lion: A Biography of Allen Ginsberg, 2016, etc.) depicts that year’s tumultuous presidential campaign as “the culmination of a mighty struggle lasting for at least a decade, beginning with the early civil rights movement and continuing through the Vietnam protests.” The author begins with background information on each of the major players in the campaign: the anti–Vietnam War contender (Eugene McCarthy), the doomed advocate for civil rights (Robert F. Kennedy), the vice president caught between the liberal wing of his party and the administration he loyally served (Hubert H. Humphrey), the wily segregationist with a dying spouse (George Wallace), and the “loser” who successfully rehabilitated his image (Nixon). The yearslong struggle intensified during the campaign, climaxing with the shocking violence in the streets of Chicago during the Democratic National Convention. Ultimately, the violence helped catapult the “law and order” Nixon to victory. Schumacher intersperses this narrative with many intriguing anecdotes, including hapless Republican candidate George Romney’s needing 34 tries to pick up a spare in a New Hampshire bowling alley, a cash-strapped McCarthy campaign selling the lunch leftovers of actor and supporter Paul Newman, and Wallace’s consideration of “Colonel” Harland Sanders (of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame) as his running mate. Overall, the book runs a little long, and some of the candidates—Humphrey and Kennedy in particular—do not come across as well as the author intends. Schumacher also might have provided more context, including Lyndon Johnson’s 1968 nomination of the controversial Abe Fortas as chief justice of the United States.
Readers seeking an entertaining and informative study of the 1968 campaign would do well to start here.