“The Contest” Author Discusses Tumultuous 1968 Presidential Campaign

Robert Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel on the night of the California Primary, June 5, 1968. (Photo Courtesy Julian Wasser, LIFE Magazine)

Author Michael Schumacher talks about the tumultuous 1968 Presidential campaign, detailed in his newly-release book The Contest: The 1968 Presidential Election and the War for America’s Soul, at the Buena Vista branch of the Burbank Public Library on Wednesday evening, October 17.

“Readers might notice similarities between the 1968 and 2016 elections.,” commented Schumacher. “Both were very contentious. Both were extremely close when the final vote was tallied. The divisions within the country were deep and disturbing.”

Eugene McCarthy’s victory in the Oregon primary placed him back in contention for the Democratic nomination—but his loss to Robert Kennedy in California and RFK’s assassination in Los Angeles all but ended his hopes. (Photo Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society)

“Richard Nixon’s victory in 1968 signaled the end of the end of liberal politics dating back to Roosevelt, which later led to a much stronger turn to the right with Reagan. Many years passed between then and now, obviously, but this book might address the old saying that the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

“In 1968, the country was divided over the Vietnam War and these divisions eventually led to Johnson’s refusal to run for reelection; today, we’re fighting in Afghanistan, in a conflict that’s lasted longer than Vietnam,” Schumacher added. “George Wallace’s push for segregation and the organized xenohobia we’re seeing today… In 1968, law and order was a hotly debated topic, as it is today.”

“The question: what did we learn?”

In the lead-up to the election, Richard Nixon’s rigorously constructed campaign helped him erase his loser image among voters. (Courtesy of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

“Two generations have grown up since 1968, and many of the events of that year are either unknown or barely known,” he continued. “These readers might find the book interesting in its reporting of history. Older readers will look back and remember.”

“I was 18 years old in 1968, and I was extremely interested in politics,” Schumacher also said. “I was amazed at how much I learned when researching the events reported in this book. Perhaps it will have that effect on others.”

1968 was a year when a lot of young people first got involved in the political process, said Burbank Librarian Hubert Kozak, who organized The Contest author event. “It was a time of greater activism and engagement in national affairs for all Americans than had occurred for some time.”

A powerful speaker, Hubert Humphrey combined dramatic messages with a homespun delivery that contributed a human touch to his speeches. (Photo Courtesy of the Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, Cornell University Library)

“A lot of people thought they could make a difference, that their engagement in the process mattered,” Kozak added. “It was also a time when those running for office and those voting for them believed that a life in politics and public service could be an honorable profession.”

“For me what 1968 said is that you have got to be involved if you want democracy to work, and that decent and talented people need to engage in the process and be willing to serve. I know it seems like a lot to ask these days, but it just doesn’t seem that anything gets better by disengagement and withdrawal.”

Tired McCarthy youth. Pundits generally conceded the youth, intellectual, and suburban vote to Eugene McCarthy, but his popularity extended well beyond that. A grassroots candidate running in open opposition to the Vietnam War, he appealed to voters who were seeking an alternative to the old ways of government. (Photo Courtesy of the Minnesota Libraries, Special Collections and Rare Books)

“I thought that the 1968 election, which took place at a time when there were also deep divisions in the county, might have something to say about how we might deal with things in our own contentious times,” Kozak said. “My hope is this will be a helpful and, maybe even in some ways, a healing event, one that might occasion some civic minded thought and discussion.”

The Contest program begins at 7:00 p.m. After the presentation and discussion, the author will sign books, which will be available for purchase. The Buena Vista branch of the Burbank Public Library is located at 300 N. Buena Vista Street in Burbank. Plenty of free parking is available on site.

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