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tv   Playing with Fire  CSPAN  July 1, 2017 1:32pm-2:06pm EDT

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the direction of the state. what i want people to recognize is that there are still two organs. baeza progressive side. in some cases it's almost pretrade-- [inaudible] >> we have things we known for, physician-assisted suicide, legalization of marijuana, a variety-- 15-dollar minimum wage, things like that and that exists and we have a very liberal important and also a very conservative start-- side of the state. small pounds where they believe in sort of traditional values and oregon is not just the progressive state in which you may see on television, but actually two different states. >> you are watching the tv, television for serious readers. you can watch any program you see here online at boot-- book
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>> you are watching the tv on c-span2, television for serious readers and one of the things we like to do is talk about books coming out a little bit later this year and join us now is msnbc lawrence o'donnell. 's new book, comes out in november and is called "playing with fire". mr. o'donnell, why'd you have the word transformation the subtitle? >> guest: so many things were transformed, transformed utterly in 1968. for example, that is when what is now called our culture wars began. our culture prior to 1968 campaign was pretty unified around most things. there was a big disagreement especially in the south about segregation and civil rights. that was but disagreement that ran through the 1960s, but by the time you get to 68 you have
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a massive antiwar movement going on, which it then becomes the cause of the presidential candidate who really got everything going in 1968 and that was gene mccarthy. mccarthy made a decision that no one before him had ever done. he decided he was going to run for president, but he was going to be ready for president against the incumbent president of his own party, lyndon johnson for this opened up a kind of division within the democratic party that we had never seen before and it was this-- what in simplistic terms would be called a liberal conservative split or a liberal moderate split within the party and so culture war became about war it self in addition to civil rights.
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it was the peace movement versus the vietnam movement, which wasn't really. it was a kind of hope of a certain political class in washington and that's when our politics was suddenly flooded with long-haired, bearded young people who looked like they were against every value held by people who then looked at the way you're dressed right now and the truth of it is many of them were against every value held by people who were still wearing neckties and getting regular haircuts. the country felt itself in many ways to be culturally coming of hearts, which was then being expressed in our political candidacies on the left with a gene mccarthy and on the farthest right of the spectrum at that time, george wallace.
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southern segregationist, governor, running for president in the hope of turning back the clock on integration and then that side of the politics being sort of discreetly piggybacked on the republican nominee eventually, richard nixon, who didn't want to say anything to alienate what had become the logs-- wallace faction in our politics and fell with a combination of basic republican support and maybe some of the southern anti- civil rights support he could squeak out a victory, which he ultimately did , but the culture war continued and continues to this day. you can listen to it-- it's fireworks every night in various sectors of cable news about whatever those horrible liberals
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are of to today and whatever neanderthal things those conservatives want to do today. that culture war began in 1968. >> is there any parallel between senator mccarthy in 68 and senator sanders and 2016? >> guest: exactly. i don't think there would be a bernie sanders candidacy and 2016 if gene mccarthy had not shown the way. gene mccarthy was pulling zero because no one dreamed of gene mccarthy ran for president. no one dreamed of any democrat running for president against the democratic incumbent lyndon johnson who wasn't just the democratic incumbent senator-- present. he was by everyone's accounts the shrewdest most dangerous in his way politician you could possibly choose to go up against lyndon johnson did not lose.
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lyndon johnson got things done in the senate that nobody could get done when he was majority leader. this was a texas politician who had become president in the worst way, quite literally through the assassination of president kennedy vice president johnson moved up an idea that someone would come in and challenge him after his 1964 landslide victory for his own term in the presidency was inconceivable took a gene mccarthy did it on principle. gene mccarthy made the decision one day in a senate foreign relations hearing that this government is not telling the truth about vietnam, nothing will make this government tell the truth about vietnam and he basically said i will run for president if i have to to get the truth out about vietnam and that's why he ran. you go to bernie sanders in 2015, which is when he begins and he's pulling at 3% when you throw his name and because he's making some noises about maybe
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he will run. hillary clinton at that point is point at something like 67%, what we all believed was prohibitive polling numbers for the democratic nomination. bernie sanders, by the way was also polling at 3% and new hampshire his neighboring state with a kind of knew who he was. they were not excited about bernie sanders, but he went into that campaign with what looked to be exactly like the young people's fervor of the gene mccarthy campaign in 1968. in 68, they called it getting clean forging. you would shave your beard, cut your hair, find a necktie somewhere and a blue blazer and you would go up to new hampshire and you would knock on doors for gene mccarthy. it was that important and we saw the kind of surge come up of what would have been the gene mccarthy supporter of 19684
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bernie sanders and very much to my surprise bernie sanders starts climbing in the polls. i thought bernie sanders if he does really well we'll go from-- he will double in the polls ago i went to 6% be basically the 2016 campaign on the democratic side and hillary can't say she had an opponents and the nomination wasn't handed to her. she only one 90% of the vote, but it turned out the bernie sanders campaign was catching that mccarthy magic and caught in new hampshire with a gene mccarthy campaign audits magic and then we saw something that no one-- none of us predicted this highly competitive race between the liberal insurgents on the liberal side of the democratic party against hillary clinton who many previously
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thought represented the liberal side of the democratic party, but in this construct she represented the establishment. she represented that moderate democratic party. is very similar to the role hubert humphrey played in 1968. humphrey was once before i was born the most liberal democratic senator meeting the civil rights movement and democratic party and here he was being cast as the dodgy, horrible establishment versus the gene mccarthy and bobby kennedy candidacy which follow gene mccarthy's candidacy and it was in the end the nominee ended up being hubert humphrey, but the dynamics of the democratic primary in 2016 were virtually identical to what we saw in the democratic primaries and the nomination fight of 1968.
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>> host: did rfk wait for president johnson to bow out of the race before he joined? >> guest: no, it was bobby kennedy who pretty much got johnson to bow out, pretty much. it was-- johnson was stunned by gene mccarthy's winning new hampshire. techie, jean mccartney did not win, but he had a much higher about that anyone expected. gene mccarthy was supposed to get 10% and he got over 40% of the vote and that was played as a win. johnson was stunned by it, absolutely stunned by it and was not sure where to go. bobby kennedy was also stunned by it and when i did not know at the time, was a high school kid time watching this and what i did not know is that bobby kennedy had been thinking about running for president before gene mccarthy and the people who eventually talked gene mccarthy into running for president first try to talk bobby kennedy into
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running for president and bobby kennedy chose not to do it and he wished gene mccarthy at least at the beginning, were naturally meant that, but then when he saw what gene mccarthy achieved in new hampshire bobby kennedy announced right away that he was now-- he saw how weak johnson was. that's what bobby kennedy's reading of new hampshire was, not so much how strong mccarthy was, but how we jot-- johnson was. and most people in the professional side of democratic party politics believed what bobby kennedy believed. if the gene mccarthy could do that to lyndon johnson in new hampshire, then bobby kennedy could actually be lyndon johnson, take the nomination away from him and go on to win the general election beating what everyone assumed would be richard nixon as the nominee,
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which is what it was. >> host: march 30, 1968, president johnson was on tv to announce he was not. how big of a bombshell was that? >> guest: when i sat down to write it, it turned out to be a more dramatic scene that i knew. i remember living through it as a kid watching the speech. i knew what the audience sensation was. the audience sensation was stunned. this was supposed to be a speech about how we were doing in vietnam and it ends with in order to pursue this piece i'm going to take myself out of politics. we worst on by this. it turns out everyone working in the white house was a stun. lady bird johnson was one of the only people who knew this was one of the optional endings of lyndon johnson's speech. he had worked out a few different ways to end it that did not include dropping out of the presidential race, but by the time he got to that day he made that choice that this was
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what it was going to be. most people working for johnson very close to him were absolutely stunned. they learned it the way we did. they saw him say it on. >> host: rfk is in the race, gene mccarthy is in the race, hubert humphrey at this point was in the race? >> guest: he's struggling to get a nice. it's a difficult, actually, for him to get in the race and when he's about to get a nice martin luther king jr. is assassinated and then the country really comes apart for a month. there is writing in most major cities. one of the really dramatic moments in the book is that there was no rioting in indianapolis that night that martin luther king jr. was killed and one of the reasons for that is that bobby kennedy had a campaign stop scheduled in
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indianapolis that night. when he got off the plane, he was told that martin luther king jr. had just been assassinated. he was told you how to cancel your event. he had an outdoor public event scheduled in the heart of the black community in indianapolis. the police chief did not want him to go there and told him i can offer you know protection if you go in there. if we send basically our troops in there, that will be provocative. please don't do this. bobby kennedy listened to that advice, to get seriously and worried every day of his life since his brother was assassinated he worried about assassination of himself every day of his life and he decided to go and do the event as scheduled. he did not make it a campaign. he threw away any prepared remarks. he got up and spoke extemporaneously about what had happened and he was the person who announced the news to most
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of the people in that live audience on his in indianapolis. most of the people there did not know it because they had been there waiting for him to arrive and they did not have radios and no cell phone in no way for them having this news and so it was his job that night to stand up on that stage and announce it to that crowd and it's just a stunning moment when he does it. he then talks very personally about his own loss through assassination, something he had not done publicly before and so he left the stage quickly. wasn't a long thing, you know, maybe about 10 minutes he spoke, maybe less. he quoted some poetry, really beautiful extemporaneous moment and indianapolis was one about cities that did not break out into writing that night. hubert humphrey was stuck with the problem of when can i get to
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a public announcement in the aftermath of this tragedy and so he had to wait several weeks and by that time the primary game was basically over. it was too late for hubert humphrey to enter the primaries and the only way he could get delegates was the way that bernie sanders voters were so upset by this last time around, the inside game, just working what would now be called superdelegates, which were then just plain delegates. most were up for grabs. most states did not have primaries and even the states that had primaries the delegates would not necessarily pledge to you until-- it was almost an entire's inside game and humphrey excelled at that over gene mccarthy, which was all that was left because the next giant tragedy that occurs in this book and in 1968, was the assassination of a bobby kennedy
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who on the night he wins the california primary and with that when bobby kennedy was probably on his way to the nomination because he did two things. he showed you how strong his elect oral appeal with voters and he was impressing the party professionals with that winter: party professionals were watching california to say if a bobby kennedy can win this thing, then i think he's the guy who can-- who we should send into the general election, so it probably would have been bobby kennedy getting the buck-- nomination after that, but what humphrey had after california was basically humphrey versus gene mccarthy for the nomination humphries way better, indescribably better at the inside game than gene mccarthy and gene mccarthy at that point is dazed by the kennedy assassination. he became understandably kind of
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this functionalized candidate. it was-- he literally did not know what to do next and he did not know how to go about pursuing delegates in the aftermath of that assassination and humphrey did and he went for it and he got it. >> host: march 30, lbj announces, april 4, martin luther king's killed engine six, i believe rfk is assassinated, what was going on on the republican side? >> guest: think about what you just recited their. anyone of those events in any other presidential election would be the single visit-- biggest event inside that presidential election. the incumbent president drops out and decides not to run in the mill of the campaign. that would have been historically the biggest events that happened in the presidential campaign and is so one of the fears that i had when
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i was approaching the writing of this book is boy, the republican side is boring. what am i going to do? they are boring guys in a boring story. only if you were a high school kid in 1968, watching you think that. now,-- that's what i was. now that i have gone back and found out what was really going on on the republican side it was a very dramatic standalone story all by itself. the books first sentence is, richard nixon meeting roger ailes in the makeup chair of the mike douglas show, which changes our political history in a way that is incalculable to imagine without it took roger ailes who is that executive producer of what nixon thinks is a dumb talkshow that he has to do because someone told him he has to do this dumb talkshow, that
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usually has actors and comedians and now they will have nixon, he meets this guy ailes. roger ailes turns out to be far more influential on republican politics, on american politics over the course of the years that followed than richard nixon was even though richard nixon is twice elected presidents took roger ailes is never elected to anything, but goes on to become the president of fox news and by the way works on a budget by the republican presidential campaigns in the meantime the. >> host: including hw bush. >> guest: exactly gets other republican presidents elected. the ailes legacy is so much bigger than the nixon legacy and we live with it today, but nixon himself is a far more interesting character than i could possibly imagine when i was a high school kid. as is nelson rockefeller who is one of his competitors in this story. the first fifth avenue billionaire to decide he's going
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to run for president as a republican, but he's running as a liberal republican, something that no longer exists and in this book we see literally the last liberal standing on a republican convention stage and that is the liberal mayor of new york, republican john lindsay who has two up on the stage as part of the nominating process for the vice presidents, something he was hoping maybe he could get himself and lindsay not only doesn't get it, but we did not know that night, any of us watching than i did not know that you would never again see a liberal benefactor in any way in republican presidential politics that is gone forever. and that was the night that the liberal did have the last moment
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of the liberals on the republican convention stage. it's a fascinating drama and nixon is the biggest loser who's ever tried to win a presidential michigan. richard nixon in 1960, got the republican nomination, of course , because he was the sitting incumbent vice president of two-term president dwight eisenhower. richard nixon then went on to become the very first sitting vice president in history to lose eight presidential campaign losing doesn't get worse and that and he lost by less than 1% and everyone thinks their careers over except for richard nixon who then goes on to run for governor of california and manages to lose that and then gets this very bitter press conference where he kind of walks off the national stage and i remember this. i was in elementary school i remember this moment because you
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never seen anything like it where he says to the press, you won't have nixon to kick around anymore. we saw clearly he's out and now in 1968 he was back. nixon is back in the campaign is calling him the new nixon. what nixon has to do to get back is a fascinating story in itself. the team he assembled who were mostly new to this is a fascinating team that includes roger ailes who had never done it before. 's campaign manager had never done it before, i mean, here is in a certain sense when the most professional campaigners we've ever had who assembled a team of kind of outsiders and renegades to do this because he had decided that he had been kind of sent off in the wrong direction by the institutional wisdom of republican campaign machinery that he had used in the past and is so nixon's rise, which seem
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to me when i was a kid, of course next will get the nomination. well, nixon getting the nomination is quite a miracle and quite a drama in itself that i didn't know was there until i sat down to write this book. >> host: was a surprising that the democrats did quite well in the popular vote in 68 with all the different factions they had going on? >> guest: yeah, there's that theory that if hubert humphrey had one more day he would have kept the momentum going, the polling momentum was squeaking in humphreys direction the last few days of the campaign and he ends up losing by less than 1% of the vote, so that's our second sitting vice president who loses a presidential election and he loses by less than 1% of the vote. but, the democrats seemed utterly helpless by the time he got to september. they had the worst convention in the history of political conventions and sadly for them
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it was televised. america was not yet accustomed really to full-fledged televised conventions. this was a relatively new thing. there were riots outside the convention hall of antiwar protesters with chicago police for those rights were later officially a judged by commission that studied them to be police riots that police themselves got out of hand and overreacted to the protesters. you would call writing inside the convention hall. if you had been in the convention hall you might have gotten pushed around as dan rather did a mike wallace did covering the convention for cbs news and we are sitting at home watching this on tv. we are watching the mayor of chicago who's running this convention in effect from his front row seats screaming up at the podium at senator abe rib cough yelling anti-semitic things about him to him that we
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can lip read what he's saying. stunning stuff is going on inside the ugliest convention we've ever seen an outside his ugliest happenings outside a convention that america has ever seen and out of that comes the democratic nominee. hubert humphrey believes he was cursed coming out of this convention because it was such a disaster and he was. he had no money because and he couldn't attract money to the campaign because everyone thought he was going to lose. he was way behind in the polls to nixon and eventually humphrey decided i really got to say something about what this campaign is about. i've got to say something about vietnam and i'm going to do it whether lyndon johnson was. >> guest: or not and finally humphrey delivers a speech that feels as though he's declared its independence from lyndon
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johnson's war policy and he starts to go up and he starts to attract campaign money as he starts to go up and frank sinatra does a tv commercial for hubert humphrey where he simply says please send him money. he goes on and so that's why in the end all of the momentum was on the humphrey aside and that's why the whole one more day three comes from. plenty of campaigns when they close and it's going in the direction they have that feeling and oh if we had one more day and that's one of the feelings they had and 68. >> host: your book "playing with fire", you indicate that president johnson is kind of the stick that urged nelson rockefeller. >> guest: it's amazing how much secret communication was going on. we had no idea about this. secret communication that lyndon johnson, the democratic
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president is having with richard nixon, the republican nominee about vietnam because he's a trying to get nixon to make sure the democratic nominee humphrey stays in line on vietnam with the johnson. this is a stunning the stuff. johnson at the same time has a secret discussion with republican nelson rockefeller urging him to get in and run. johnson was just an incorrigible politician and what i mean is he loved politics so much. he just loved everything about the game of a and he was always trying to figure out every angle of the game of it and if so he thought he saw this way for rockefeller. he saw what rockefeller should do. he als rockefeller. he saw what rockefeller should
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do. he also saw what nixon should do. lyndon johnson would have been, may be the greatest campaign manager in history if that's what he decided to do with his life. he might have been the greatest democratic party version may give watch roger ailes eventually became, someone who got people elected president and then someone who eventually figured out how to message all of this through as roger ailes did eventually through foxnews. lyndon johnson was an obsessive kind of backroom strategist who also had to be a candidate and he was better at the backroom peace than he was with onstage piece. >> host: was he active in the humphrey campaign in the paula 68? >> guest: he was and he wasn't. he was distressed by it. there were times when you are watching this kind of movie unfold as it feels like i was writing a movie of this campaign where you say, right now today
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does linden what nixon to one or humphrey to win, today right now tomorrow it might be different. he's a hugely temperamental man. he felt persecuted and put upon and sometimes he felt kind of bold and daring. .. nixon was delivering the message, hang in there keep the war going, you'll gate better
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deal with nixon as president than with lyndon johnson right now. so when president johnson discovered that rushed nixon was willing to keep this war going, keep sending american soldiers to their deaths, he -- keep the parties away from the peace negotiation in order to get richard nixon elected president, that is decisively in this book, when you know that lbj did not want to see nixon get away with what he described in the book as treason when he discovered it and did not want to see this man succeed him in the white house. >> host: potential parallels the 2016 election. >> guest: stunning parallels. was there collusion between the republican caminiti -- campaign for president in the 2016 campaign and the foreign power. there was collusion between the nixon campaign and a foreign
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mother, northam and south vietnam. two keep that war going because it's good for the nixon campaign to keep that war going. nixon campaign desperately feared that lbj would succeed in some kind of peacemaking, some kind of serious de-escalation of the war. the nixon campaigned the lbj could create possibly a sense of optimism that the vietnam war might be ending and if they happened the felt humphrey would surge, nixon would lose so the nixon campaign and president nixon simples directly were involved in communications with the parties north and south vietnam, to keep the war going. do not advance the paris peace talks and that kind of collusion is much worse than anything that's being discussed about 2016. >> host: this is your second book. >> guest: can do me a while to get through the second book.
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the first one was 1984. i had a few second attempts at books that didn't make it to the finish line, and so i'veer in discussed the existence of this book project until it was finished, because i didn't believe i would finish it. i don't believe -- any of the long-term writing projects have engaged in, never talk about until they're done because i have -- no one has less faith in my ability to complete a long-term writing project than i do. but we have this one don. >> host: coming out in november 0 of of u of this year, employ playing with fire: the 1968 election and the transformation of american politics." >> guest: thank you very much. >> booktv on twitter and facebook, and we want to hear from you.


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