Journalist Jon Ward tells the story of how and why the Democratic Party cracked up in the late 1970s through the lens of the Carter-Kennedy fight for the 1980 presidential nomination. The peanut farmer from Georgia and the son of privilege from Massachusetts were on a collision course that began in the early 1970s. Each had an intense dislike of the other at first site.
Ward argues that Kennedy Camelot era ended with the first political defeat of a Kennedy in 1980. Here I beg to differ. Camelot died when Kennedy drove his car off a bridge in 1970 in Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts killing Mary Jo Kopechne. As an aside although Ward is technically correct in placing Kopechne from Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania but she, in fact, grew up in the suburban New Jersey town of Berkeley Heights since infancy.
The author is very good at describing the give and take of the 1980 campaign. He is especially good at describing the famous Roger Mudd interview of Kennedy where Kennedy couldn’t explain why was challenging the president of his own party and stuttered throughout most of the interview. I had my own experience with Kennedy in 1980 at a rally in Los Angeles. After Kennedy finished speaking he asked for questions and he just happened to call on me. With all of the TV lights on me I asked him what he proposed to do about increasing capital formation. It was not a question he expected from this very liberal audience. After hemming and hawing he brought up the Republican sponsored 10-5-3 depreciation program. Kennedy blew it.
My main quibble of the book is that Ward defines the Kennedy-Carter clash in breaking the Democratic Party. To me that was a proxy war for the real problem. Simply put under the weight of stagflation followed by very high inflation, the Democratic nostrums stopped working coupled with the appearance the Democratic Party became the party of retreat abroad which opened the way for the candidacy of Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s sunny optimism became the antidote for the failed Democratic policies of the 1970s.
I enjoyed reading Ward’s book. It brought back many memories and he put us in the room where the Carter and Kennedy strategies were made in the face of a very fluid political environment.
- Hardcover: 390 pages
- Publisher: Twelve (22 January 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1455591386
- ISBN-13: 978-1455591381
- Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.5 x 23.6 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 653 g
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- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 37,717 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)