14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Theodore White's considerable acumen and access to the corridors of power made him a worthy chronicler of the 1960 and 1964 presidential campaigns, but his tone of genteel liberalism made him seem an anachronism by 1968, the year of the Tet offensive, race riots, and the generation gap. But his "The Making Of The President - 1968" may be the best of his election chronicles precisely because of White's position at the nexus of one of America's great culture clashes.
It was the year Vice President Hubert Humphrey tried to shake off the cold grip of his unpopular boss, Lyndon Johnson, and run as his own man, while Richard Nixon sought to convince the electorate he was new and improved from the 1960 figure they rejected. Which one would be more successful?
There's not a lot of tension in the contest itself. White's readers knew who won, as do you. But White does shine in the wealth of detail he offers on the race, his philosophical analysis of shifting attitudes, and a cast of unique characters including the racist third-party candidate George Wallace, prickly peace advocate Eugene McCarthy, and hapless George Romney, an early GOP frontrunner of whom another Republican comments: "Watching George Romney run for the presidency was like watching a duck try to make love to a football."
There was tragedy in the 1968 race, too, most especially the murder of Democrat Sen. Robert Kennedy after his win in the California primary. White dedicates the book to Bobby and Jack Kennedy, and it's clear the reporter's heart was broken by what happened to them. Yet he manages to stand back and give an objective account of Kennedy's foreshortened run.
White seems to be everywhere, with Kennedy and his family at a California home the night before his assassination, with Humphrey at the Democratic convention in Chicago the night the town blew up in rioting and tear gas, with Nixon on Election Eve, flying over the nation as Nixon stares out a airplane window "as if by looking down and concentrating he could pull in more votes."
Nixon comes off well in this book. 1968 was his year, and White gives him his due. Perhaps White bought too much into Nixon's new public image; time showed those demons inside him were not dead but resting. But Nixon was also a figure of great dimension and brilliance, and White provides expert testimony for that. Plus Nixon best articulated a position on one core issue, law-and-order, which White and many other concerned observers, liberal though they were, could see America needed more of in 1968. Claiming this issue for his own gained Nixon the support of much of the moderate middle, the "silent majority" he spoke of on the stump.
White does have an ornate style that may bore some, and there's a lengthy postscript on what it all meant which was probably already outdated by the time the book was published. But "The Making Of The President - 1968" is by no means an outdated book. It's instead a primordial account of national politics as we now know them, with its sharp divides along racial, class, and ideological grounds, where the old ways, for better and worse, were being changed forever and the politicians were struggling to keep up. It should be required reading for political science majors; it's worthwhile reading for any citizen.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on December 11, 2006
In his previous books, Theodore H. White was able to use the presidential election as a platform upon which an impartial, fact-based, and compelling drama could be told. His chronicle of the election of 1968 still contains many of those assets - his description of the Nixon campaign is probably better than that provided by any of the other reporters at the time, his objectivity and fairness toward Humphrey is admirable (especially in light of the undeserved persecution he received from most other media outlets at the time), and his coverage of the emerging New Left (as found in the presidential campaigns of Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy) is detailed and compelling. So what is the problem? It lies in one serious deficiency - White's lack of understanding for, and virtual unwillingness to detail, the extremist groups that rose to prominence in 1968.
As much as White might have been loath to admit it (and as much as many thoughtful pundits rightfully regret it), the fact is that one of the most important phenomena of the 1968 presidential election was the way that it brought to national attention sections of the far-left and far-right that would eventually integrate themselves into the fabric of the two major political parties. When discussing the yippie movement, White throws objectivity out the window, and dismisses them all as being venereal diseased malcontents, "crazies", whose circus-like antics were not worth a moment's consideration; his moral contempt for the far-right (as represented by the third-party candidacy of George Wallace) caused him to hope that not discussing them would make them go away, and consequently, he barely gives them twenty pages of discussion in a book almost five hundred pages in length, despite the fact that Wallace won much of the South and received more than one-seventh of the popular vote. This does not make for either good storytelling or good reporting; some of the most interesting and important drama occurred within the fringes of American politics in that year, and the fact is that those same left-wing and right-wing extremists whom White wouldn't even grant the time of day are now significant players in American politics (the former compose the core of both the Green party and the campaigns of extremists like Al Sharpton, and the latter's descendants are now one of the most powerful constituencies in the Republican party). This inclination to turn a blind eye to that which he finds distasteful takes away from the comprehensiveness that made his first two books such classics, and are a serious shortcoming in this work.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2005
In this his third book about U.S. Presidential elections, Theodore H. White chronicles the campaign in a year when everything seemed to go wrong. As the author shows, 1968 saw stalemate in Vietnam, campus unrest, race riots, rising crime, and assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. White captures the flavor of the campaign, beginning with President Lyndon Johnson, whose popularity had fallen so far that he quit the race and rarely left the White House. I felt the author went too easy on Richard Nixon's questionable law and order campaign (and lack of specifics on Vietnam), but his description of Nixon's comeback is otherwise on target. We see Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey's as a decent, well-qualified candidate whose narrow loss may have stemmed from the convention riots in Chicago. The author drops all objectivity in his disdainful look at third-party candidate George Wallace, whose race-baiting campaign won five southern states and nearly 10 million votes nationwide. The book isn't perfect, but it captures the tenure of the times; a nation awash in wealth yet troubled by war and violence.
Theodore H. White (1915-1986) was a superb chronicler of U.S. politics during Presidential campaigns (1960-1972, plus 1980). Despite minor flaws, this superbly readable book captures the tenure of the USA in that troubled year.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 2002
1968 was a pivotal turning point in U. S. History in which there was a convergence of historical forces that caused distinctive changes and was marked by unexpected eruptions in the state of affairs. The reading of this book is much like a reading of Homer`s Iliad as it very engaging and very readable. As I personally recall this period in my memory when I was young (aged 13) I relive most of these events especially the time around Christmas when all these events were played out and the final act of the year was the circumnavigation of the moon by the Apollo astronauts and the first ever view of the Earth from space. We knew that we were in a new era.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 2009
The third entry in the "Making of the President" series continues to show that Ted White is a cut above other political journalists. White manages to balance the blow by blow of a presidential campaign with his quadrennial assessment of where the United States and the world are and where they are going. Few political authors begin a discussion of cities by explaining the etymological origins of the word. When political journalists talk about a candidate's swing through Chicago, few dissect each ethnic enclave of the city. Although perhaps a bit grandiose for some readers, White digs deeper into what makes politicians tick and how they assemble votes than any other political journalist before or since. Those that have claimed to be the next White are legion, but none have come close to the delicate balance he is able to deliver.
White even manages to keep his personal views from obstructing his writing. Just as in 1960 it was clear his favorite was JFK, this time White's personal connection is with RFK and later, he seems to be rooting for a Humphrey come from behind victory. But his treatment of Nixon, who he had covered for decades and showed dislike for in 1960, is more than generous. His relationship with Nixon would only improve by the 1972 book. Perhaps if I were reading White when he wrote I would find his personal relationships with the candidates more intruding, but I think he has found the right balance.
A few thoughts:
1. A reviewer notes that the conclusion of the book was likely outdated by the time the book was published. That is probably true. Specifically, White's warnings of a strong, Southern third party turned out to be false. However, a stronger Democratic candidate in 1972 and a healthy George Wallace may have made a Southern party more of a possibility. Regardless, there is still some relevance to White's concluding comments. In particular, his dissection of the Electoral College, its flaws, and its alternatives could have been written today.
2. White also concludes his books with a discussion of the issues he expects to affect America in the future. For example, in the 1964 book he discussed immigration. Here he discussed Japan among others. It turns out, White has excellent foresight.
3. White favors the insider primary process. When he discusses the proposal to replace it with a national primary, he shows his disdain. That may be because the insider process is easier to cover. After 1968, the amount of candidates entering the primaries would explode. Where previously lots of candidates may enter their names into the convention, many as favorite sons, post 1972 most primaries in either party would include candidates in the double digits at least as a starting point. White seems to prefer a world, and is great at covering a world, where two or three candidates are vying for the support of Mayor Daley in Chicago, a random union leader, or Nelson Rockefeller.
I do not just recommend picking up this book, but the entire series of books. The authors of political books today seem to have nailed down the blow by blow that White captures well, but they have failed to capture the deeper issues that White distills.
on May 27, 2012
1968 was one of the most tumultuous years in twentieth century America. There was the Tet Offensive in January that, while a military failure for North Vietnam, was a political failure in the United States. There was the assassinations of two loved public figures, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. The numerous race riots and street violence that plagued the nation. It was also a Presidential election year.
Early in the campaign, incumbent President Lyndon Johnson, facing failing health and unpopularity, decided not to seek another tern. This left the nominations of both major parties open. On the Democratic side there was Senator Eugene McCarthy, an ardent anti-war figure who gained much popular support from youths. There was also the popular Robert Kennedy, also an anti-war and civil rights figure. He was clearly the most popular candidate for the Democrats until he was assassinated shortly after winning the California primary. That left the nomination open to what might be seen as the inevitable, Vice President Hubert Humphrey.
On the Republican side of the campaign, there is Governor George Romney (interestingly also father of the current presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney) who ran a short campaign, but just did not find the support. Nelson Rockefeller also tried another run for the Presidency, but ultimately never got enough delegates. Also an early appearance on the national scene was made by Ronald Reagan. As history shows, the nomination would ultimately go to former Vice President Richard Nixon, also the Republican nominee in 1960.
Finally, as a rarity in American politics, was a formidable effort made by a third party candidate, Governor George Wallace, running on his infamous segregationist platform.
White also covers the Democratic and Republican conventions. While he writes off the Republican's as being boring and routine, he takes us through the famous 1968 Democratic convention where riots and protests plagued them and the Chicago Police.
In the general election itself, Richard Nixon won in one of the greatest comebacks in American political history.
I found this book to be an enjoyable look at the 1968 Presidential election. I would recommend this book to political junkies or those interested in Presidential history.
on March 16, 2012
The late Mr. White's third chapter in his impressive four-volume series, yet again, is a stellar example of great reporting and wonderful writing. The book was originally published in 1969. Beyond documenting notable events in the horrible year of 1968, the author takes pains in depicting the major players as all too human. It is very interesting to read the hopes, fears and expectations of such an accomplished reporter while our country was dealing with the Vietnam War scarred by an American body count of over 27,000, political assassinations, race relations and violent student unrest.
For this book, Mr. White had close access to such notables as Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson, Bobby Kennedy, Eugene McCarthy, George Romney, Ronald Reagan, Nelson Rockefeller and Chicago's Richard Daley. 1968 was a mess. Here's just some of the stuff that happened: the Tet Offense occurred in January which made our nation realize the government had been lying about our progress in Vietnam; Martin Luther King was assassinated in April; President Johnson decided not to run for reelection; student demonstrations on campuses culminating in their childish, violent antics at the Democrats' national convention in Chicago; race riots; and George Wallace's racist campaign that did have a major impact on the election. You also get to witness the new Republican strategy of capitalizing on the cultural divisions between the North and the South and hints of Ronald Reagan's road to future victory. It was especially haunting to read Mr. White's passage about interviewing Bobby Kennedy on the afternoon before the candidate was killed. The nation was scared and angry. You certainly can't blame them. Yet, despite all the problems, the liberal Mr. White had high hopes for President Nixon. Watergate was four years away.
This is simply outstanding reporting and topnotch history. The book helps put the silliness of the 2012 election into proper perspective.
on December 21, 2014
I have read the Making of a President 1960, 1964 and this one for 1968. Of these 3, the one on 1960 was excellent with a great opening chapter on John F. Kennedy waiting to hear whether he has won or not at the family base and headquarters for the Election day at Hyannis Port and the 1964 one on Lyndon Johnson's campaign was good too. It was a new genre of writing and reporting on Presidential campaigns in book form with some American history included by Theodore H. White to put the campaigns in historical context. But, I think his enthusiasm was not there as much or had waned, when he wrote the one on 1968.It is still well-written and detailed and on how Robert F. Kennedy was sadly in the campaign for only 3 months or more when he was assassinated and this campaign seemed to be a exhausting effort to observe and report on. It had become tedious. Not much joy anymore. The book was again scholarly, but more tiring even to read. He generously recommends other authors' political books in some of his footnotes, but for me, I loved his first one on the making of a President 1960 and it deserved the Pulitzer Prize in 1962. His observations on Richard Nixon are interesting in how he thought Nixon had relaxed and become more mature after his painful experiences in 1960 and his failed attempt to be Governor of California in 1962. He thought Nixon had become thoughtful and had lost his hostility and venom regarding rivals. Maybe he did by 1968, but it returned with a vengeance with Watergate 4 years later in 1972...
on March 10, 2014
This rating is for all of Theodore White's "Making of the President" books, each of which I've now read on Kindle. Personal disclosure: I met White in the offices of The Harvard Crimson, he a distinguished alumnus and I an impudent, radical editor. In a kindly way, he gave me the business and in a youthful way I gave it back. Forty-odd years later, it's a piece of personal nostalgia. White, a prodigious journalist, covered 20th-century American and international politics with an intelligence and graciousness that amounted to wisdom. Today he would be considered old-fashioned, but in the present landscape of political journalism there's hardly a one who can measure up to him. Read him for an exquisitely thoughtful and rock-solid perspective in the extensive history he lived. John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon were people he knew at first hand, and he had their measure. In the big personalities and events of his time, there was no one wiser. I have my quibbles with White here and there, but he's still the master.
on March 3, 2012
I had to read this in college many years ago and it was the book that launched my interest in politics which is still ongoing today. Mr. White writes, very vividly, of the 1968 election year. I still have that very book today.