The Fight that Broke the Democratic Party

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The Trump presidency had done a tremendous amount of damage, to our country, our society, our culture, and civilization in general. It is appalling. The only thing more appalling than Trump himself at this point is the gaggle of Senate Republicans who support Trump. They are the sticking point. Were they to give the go-ahead, Trump would be out of office in ten days.

But there is a small number of good things to come out of all of this. Very small, and generally not worth mentioning. But I’ll mention one anyway: A plethora of mostly excellent books about politics, history, the presidency, impeachment itself, and the Trump presidency in particular. And now, we have a new one which is advanced as a cautionary tale for Democrats, as we start to work towards the 2020 primary season.

The book is Camelot’s End: Kennedy vs. Carter and the Fight that Broke the Democratic Party, by Jon Ward.

From a strange, dark chapter in American political history comes the captivating story of Ted Kennedy’s 1980 campaign for president against the incumbent Jimmy Carter, told in full for the first time.The Carter presidency was on life support. The Democrats, desperate to keep power and yearning to resurrect former glory, turned to Kennedy. And so, 1980 became a civil war. It was the last time an American president received a serious reelection challenge from inside his own party, the last contested convention, and the last all-out floor fight, where political combatants fought in real time to decide who would be the nominee. It was the last gasp of an outdated system, an insider’s game that old Kennedy hands thought they had mastered, and the year that marked the unraveling of the Democratic Party as America had known it.

CAMELOT’S END details the incredible drama of Kennedy’s challenge — what led to it, how it unfolded, and its lasting effects — with cinematic sweep. It is a story about what happened to the Democratic Party when the country’s long string of successes, luck, and global dominance following World War II ran its course, and how, on a quest to recapture the magic of JFK, Democrats plunged themselves into an intra-party civil war.

And, at its heart, CAMELOT’S END is the tale of two extraordinary and deeply flawed men: Teddy Kennedy, one of the nation’s greatest lawmakers, a man of flaws and of great character; and Jimmy Carter, a politically tenacious but frequently underestimated trailblazer. Comprehensive and nuanced, featuring new interviews with major party leaders and behind-the-scenes revelations from the time, CAMELOT’S END presents both Kennedy and Carter in a new light, and takes readers deep inside a dark chapter in American political history.

Remember that? A lot of people don’t, thus the “hey, nobody knows this thing happened” theme of the publisher’s writeup. But many of us DO remember that, and even those of us who worked for the Kennedy campaign at the time (ooops) look back and realize that this was a bad thing, and it really did break the party. Sorry. Maybe this is why I am today less than tolerant of cult worship of primary candidates.

Anyway, I’m not recommending this book one way or the other, since I’ve not read it (though I will as soon as I’m done with this other book on Nuclear Power that I’m reading now). But it does come well recommended, so I thought I’d tell you about it.


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4 thoughts on “The Fight that Broke the Democratic Party

  1. Hm. I don’t know that this broke the Democrats (being old enough to sort of remember this) but I think it certainly made it clear that Kennedy had too much baggage, and it was around this time I think that Chappaquiddick became a buzzword — I was about 11 at the time and even I can recall how it became almost a joke. (I think SNL ran with it a couple of times, though I could be wildly misremembering the timing)

    Either way, it’s interesting as a look about how primaries have changed, I bet. So I would give it a read for sure.

    I do remember when Kennedy basically announced on TV that he wasn’t running — did that run nationally or just in Massachusetts?

    When you say working in the Kennedy campaign was a bad thing, do you mean because it hurt Carter’s chances (I would offer that it probably did less than a lot of other things) or just because the campaign had a reputation for being a bit all over the place?

  2. Broke in the sense that it was the last time the Democratic party could be described as having a liberal core? I’d agree with that. The party has moved to the right/center (the region many Republicans of yore once inhabited) as the Republican party has moved into the authoritarian/love of strong-man style leadership/embracing of racism and bigotry/responsibility and integrity be damned position it currently occupies.

    Are you thinking of other ways it’s broken?

    1. Well, I didn’t actually write the book, so what I’m thinking doesn’t matter that much. But I think what the guy is thinking might include that.

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