“Playing with Fire,” by Lawrence O’Donnell is an insightful, horrifying look at Presidential politics during the 1968 election. It actually starts off with the election of President Kennedy in 1960 where Mr. Kennedy was put over the top, most probably, by Chicago Mayor Daley by making sure Kennedy won by enough votes to carry Illinois and hand him the presidency.

Nixon didn’t dispute the election, possibly the only decent thing the man ever did. After the assassination of President Kennedy and the re-election of Lyndon Johnson in 1964 by a landslide, Johnson decided to seriously increase our presence in Vietnam and at one time there were over five hundred thousand U.S. troops in Vietnam and a President who didn’t want to hear any bad news about the war and so his advisers fed the man made up facts that made us look like we were on the verge of victory.

But the body bags kept accumulating and suddenly the ruse was over. The first politician to come out against the war was Senator Eugene McCarthy and with only the radicals on the left with him he decided to run for president against the current president who was of the same party which was unheard of.

He came in second in The New Hampshire primary but performed 30 points higher than anyone imagined and he was actually looked upon as the winner. His momentum continued and his message was simple, “Stop the War,” (LBJ, how many Americans have you killed today).

After much hesitancy, Robert Kennedy decided to run for president, and Johnson decided to drop out, not wanting to lose to another Kennedy. Kennedy immediately became the favorite and won a number of primaries as his message became closer and closer to Senator McCarthy’s message of stopping the blood shed. After winning the California primary, Robert Kennedy was assassinated and until this very day the question remains that if he had not been killed and became president how different the landscape of American politics would have looked?

At the Democratic Convention in Chicago, Vice President Humphrey was nominated for the Presidency; even though McCarthy had more primary votes which didn’t mean all that much back then when only fourteen states held primaries. The Democratic machine controlled who won and they were not electing Senator McCarthy. In the streets of Chicago there was demonstrations and riots and police brutality that made as much news as the convention itself.

Nixon was the Republican candidate and as the polls got closer and they had both candidates within one percentage point, Richard Nixon secretly interfered with the Paris Peace conference going on to stop the war. After all the parties had agreed to a plan to stop the war, Nixon convinced the South Vietnamese President to pull out of the negotiations because if he, Nixon, was elected he would give them a much better deal. That act of treason resulted in an additional five more years of war and an additional twenty-one thousand US deaths and God only knows how many civilian deaths.

The consequences of Nixon’s actions while in office forced the low-life to resign, and the primaries for both parties, taking place in all fifty states, became the new norm for choosing a presidential candidate. The candidate who achieved the magic number of votes would become the presidential nominee for each party.

This book is a million times more detailed than this review, but if one thing came across clear and simple and that was how corrupt democracy can be with the right players at the table.

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