Michael A. Cohen
The 1968 Election and the Politics of Division
Oxford University Press 2016
In American Maelstrom: The 1968 Election and the Politics of Division (Oxford University Press, 2016), Michael A. Cohen shows how the 1968 American presidential election proved to be an “inflection point” of history that shattered the long-standing “liberal consensus,” and unleashed a conservative populism that continues to reverberate today. Cohen delivers a harsh verdict on President Lyndon B. Johnson for failing to heed counsel urging him to withdraw from Vietnam, and for complicating Democratic presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey’s ability to distance himself from the unpopular war. Cohen also offers a skeptical analysis of Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential bid, arguing he likely would not have won the nomination if he had not been assassinated. Cohen finds that the incendiary campaign of segregationist independent candidate George Wallace changed “the narrative and language of American politics” more than any other of his time, benefiting Republican Richard Nixon and his “law and order” platform. Still, Cohen concludes, the voters did not take the country in a clear, ideological direction, instead endorsing an incoherent combination of “ideological conservatism and operational liberalism.”
Bill Scher is a Contributing Editor for POLITICO Magazine. He has provided political commentary on CNN, NPR and MSNBC. He has been published in The New York Times, The New Republic, and The New York Daily News among other publications. He is author of Wait! Don’t Move to Canada, published by Rodale in 2006.