Barbara Keys reviews 'Playing with Fire: The 1968 Election and the Transformation of American Politics' by Lawrence O’Donnell

It was the year an American presidential candidate declared: ‘We got too much dignity in government now; what we need is some meanness.’ Even without this call to arms, meanness was abundant. A prominent journalist, on live television, derided a rival as a ‘queer’ and harangued him for having written a novel about a transsexual. The mayor of Chicago screamed, ‘Fuck you, you Jew son of a bitch,’ at a senator. A leading Republican privately told a journalist to ‘ask a psychiatrist’ about one of his party’s candidates. Another Republican said the party’s presidential nominee could not lose unless ‘he committed rape in public’. The Republican vice-presidential candidate called a Japanese-American reporter a ‘fat Jap’.

Violence was plentiful, too, at home and abroad. The United States was mired in an unwinnable war and riven by political divisions that erupted into street battles and riots. The Democratic Party fissured between an establishment candidate and an insurgency rooted in a youth revolt. Media guru Roger Ailes orchestrated an election campaign that blurred the lines between politics and entertainment. An actor tried to be taken seriously as a national politician.

Read the rest of this article by purchasing a subscription to ABR Online, or subscribe to the print edition to receive access to ABR Online free of charge.

If you are a single issue subscriber you will need to upgrade your subscription to view back issues.

If you are already subscribed, click here to log in.

Published in March 2018, no. 399

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.