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Product details

  • Paperback: 397 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor Books; Reprint edition (12 April 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400077907
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400077908
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.1 x 20.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 923,469 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By HBH on 28 Jan. 2013
Format: Paperback
Eugene McCarthy and the Rise and Fall of Postwar American Liberalism by Dominic Sandbrook is a very good political biography about a complex and enigmatic character. It is well-written, informative, detailed and opinionated but in comparison to his other works it is drier and more academic. Nevertheless, he paints a picture of a deeply religious, mid-western politician, who admittedly had a limited legislative record to say the least, but who by challenging the incumbent President in 1968 in all probability altered American political history. All in all a very good book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 11 reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Great Book, But Couldn't Quite Face the Hard Facts 28 Aug. 2008
By David M. Dougherty - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book is more about McCarthy than liberalism, and the weakest presentations comes when the author attempts to describe Postwar (WWII) American liberalism and its supposed fall. Needless to say as of this writing (2008) American liberalism is alive and well -- quite the opposite of the author's supposition.

Sandbrook spends sufficient time on McCarty's upbringing and development, particularly as a student at St. John's, to place his subsequent actions and politics into context. Only in a few instances was this development wanting. For example, McCarthy was an excellent athlete in baseball and hockey (until 1938 in the book), even to the point of possibly being good enough for professional baseball, but then suddenly is given a 4-F classification in 1942. Unfortunately, his supposed infirmity (bursitis in his feet) fails to slow him down later. One is left wondering how this deferment came about.

McCarthy made his mark in 1948 in defeating and expelling the communists from their position of influence in the Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party in Minnesota. He built an awesome political machine in Ramsey County (St. Paul) and displayed enormous organizing talent. Until 1972, this machine of Irish and German Catholics supported McCarthy in whatever he wished to do, and gave him the opportunity to tweak the lion's tail without having to watch his back.

The author points out that McCarthy received the support of the oil companies, but fails to connect the dots concerning why and how that came about. Well, allow me to clear the air. Oilman J. Howard Marshall and his associates met several times with McCarthy in 1954 and 1955, acquiring his assistance (I am not privy to the quid pro quo) for building a pipeline through McCarthy's district and the construction of the Great Northern Refinery. McCarthy was most compliant and Marshall's project sailed through the Minnesota and federal bureaucracies at flank speed. Through Marshall's friendship with Lyndon Johnson, McCarthy was able to develop excellent relations with Rayburn and Johnson during the latter half of the 50s decade as chronicled by the author. As a result, he supported the oil depletion allowance and other issues favorable to "Big Oil", attracting some comments from his fellow liberals. Sandbrook seemed mystified by this development when it actually had a very simple causation.

Sandbrook is exactly on point with his characterization of McCarthy as sensitive, selfish, arrogant and lazy. He was physically a very attractive figure with great promise, yet consistently rated as an underachiever. His contributions in the House and Senate were practically non-existent, and his almost single-handed sinking of the Family Assistance Plan which would have a created a guaranteed annual income in 1970 offset what little good he did. His opposition to the FAP was sheer politics based on its being Nixon's plan (as written by Daniel Moynihan), even though it accomplished most of McCarthy's social legislative goals. No one was going to steal his issues, particularly not the Republicans.

The author eloquently discloses why McCarthy turned against Johnson following 1964. That was because Johnson chose Humphrey to be his Vice-President rather that McCarthy. In 1966 McCarthy campaigned against Johnson (almost out of sheer spite), rather than against the Vietnam War, and indeed, sometimes his rhetoric made it impossible for the listener to discern whether he was for or against the war. When Johnson withdrew in 1968 and Bobby Kennedy entered the fray, McCarthy was left without his main bogyman and being against the war became his central issue.

The political ins and outs are effectively described to the point where one wonders if there was anyone present in American government that McCarthy did not stab in the back. He envied and probably hated JFK for becoming the first Catholic president rather than himself, and he turned on Johnson, Humphrey, RFK, and his other fellow liberals one after another. Even in his private life his morals were questionable as his reputed affairs with Shana Alexander and his long-time mistress, Marya McLaughlin, attest.

This work utterly debunks the McCarthy myth although that was clearly not the author's intention. It is an important contribution to American political history from 1948 to 1972, and puts the feckless and naive beliefs of the baby-boomer generation into context. McCarthy served this generation poorly, and the people of Ramsey County even worse.

All that being said, the portrait of McCarthy by Sandbrook was not altogether unsympathetic. He attempts mightily to find reasons for McCarthy's capricious and unbecoming behavior, and clearly wishes that McCarthy had suppressed his demons and produced more of value for the nation. So will the reader upon digesting this book.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Eugene McCarthy and Liberalism: Their Rise And Fall 23 Mar. 2004
By W. C HALL - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The Eugene McCarthy that emerges in the pages of Dominic Sandbrook's biography is a strange, unpleasant, embittered man. McCarthy's place in the liberal pantheon was forever secured by his challenge to Lyndon Johnson's renomination for the presidency in 1968. Yet Sandbrook argues persuasively that while McCarthy may have won the battle by forcing Johnson into retirement, he--and American liberalism--ultimately lost the war.
This book is primarily a political biography, but Sandbrook gives us the basics of McCarthy's childhood, education, and pre-political career. He emphasizes the great role European Catholic thought played in shaping his values--an influence that was deeply felt throughout his political career. The Eugene McCarthy who was elected to the U.S. House in 1948 and moved up to the Senate a decade later was a classic postwar liberal, working to fulfill and extend the New Deal and the Fair Deal, and like his colleagues, unquestioning in his acceptance of the dogmas of the Cold War.
In Sandbrook's view, 1964 was a pivotal year. It represented both the high tide of postwar liberalism and the apparent end of the political road for Eugene McCarthy. His hope to be the first Catholic on a successful presidential ticket had been dashed with John F. Kennedy's election. But 1964 seemed to pose a new opportunity, as Lyndon Johnson flirted for weeks with the possibility of choosing McCarthy as his running mate The eventual selection of McCarthy's Minnesota colleague, Hubert Humphrey, appeared to spell the end to his hopes for higher office.
Then came the escalation of the Vietnam war and the summers of racial unrest. By 1967, the anti-war movement was casting about for a candidate with enough stature to challenge Johnson, and McCarthy offered himself, apparently at first never hoping for the top prize, but instead expecting to yield to Robert Kennedy or a chastened Johnson.
Sandbrook chronicles that fateful campaign, along with McCarthy's many subsequent bids for office, all of which ended in failure. He credits McCarthy's 1976 independent presidential campaign as helping pave the way for John Anderson, Ross Perot and Ralph Nader; but his bid to return to the Senate in 1982 and his presidential campaigns in 1988 and 1992 only come across as sad exercises in self-delusional nostalgia.
Those who wish to romanticize McCarthy's memory will be jarred by this book. But those who are willing to take a clear-eyed, unsentimental look at the man and his times will find much of value to consider regarding the postwar era of American politics.--William C. Hall
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
The Politics of Personality 16 May 2004
By Steve Iaco - Published on
Format: Hardcover
History will forever record Eugene McCarthy as the anti-war insurgent who felled a sitting President. But as Dominic Sandbrook demonstrates, McCarthy's legacy is much more nuanced and tortured than popularly imagined.
If you fondly recall McCarthy's '68 campaign (this reader is too young to have any recollection of it whatsoever), Sandbrook's book is sure to give you pause. It portrays a reactionary eccentric often lost in the "Golden Age" of the Thirteenth Century; a lazy, often disengaged lawmaker with little to show for a 22-year legislative career; a spiteful, mean-spirited loner given to caustic mocking of friends and rivals alike; an untrustworthy person of questionable ethics despite strong Catholic convictions (a daily churchgoer who twice enrolled in the Benedictine order); a venal, self-absorbed politican who time and again puts himself ahead of loyalty to patrons and Party.
This reader was struck by how thoroughly the Politics of Personality animates this book:
* McCarthy supported first Humphrey then Stevenson in '60 because he believed that he -- not JFK -- deserved to be the first Irish Catholic President. ("I'm twice as liberal as Humphrey and twice as Catholic as Kennedy.")
* McCarthy's personal animus for LBJ (his one-time patron) had its origins not in Vietnam policy, but McCarthy's treatment during the '64 VP selection process. ("What a sadistic son of a bitch.")
* McCarthy's stated reason for launching his '68 campaign was to either compel LBJ to change his Vietnam policy or prod RFK to enter the race. When RFK finally did announce for President, McCarthy reneged on this commitment. (McCarthy's nonplussed reaction to news of RFK's murder: "He brought it on himself, demagoguing to the last.")
* When Humphrey (a McCarthy patron dating back to '48) finally wrested the Democratic nomination, a brooding McCarthy refused to lift a finger in support, finally offering a desultory endorsement a week before the election. More vigorous support from McCarthy certainly could have been enough for Humphrey to close a 500,000 popular vote deficit. (Humphrey: "The only tender a politican has is his word and Gene's currency is devalued ... A strange man.")
This book is filled with revelatory (for this reader) anecdotes. For example: Humphrey probably financially supported McCarthy's insurgency to brake RFK in the primaries. (Humphrey did not compete in the primaries.)
In terms of engrossing storylines and powerful personalities, the Sixties represented the high war mark of Presidential politics. This new McCarthy biography is a terrific read for anyone looking to broaden their knowledge of that epoch, although readers will be hard pressed to come away with an enhanced opinion of McCarthy himself.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Telling it like it was 21 May 2004
By Chairman Mo - Published on
Format: Hardcover
In this thoroughly researched and entertainingly written biography, British historian Dominic Sandbrook explores the highs and lows of Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy's public life. Best know for his iconic 1968 presidential campaign and opposition to the war in Vietnam, Sandbrook places this well-known episode within the broader context of both McCarthy's own career and the shifting fortunes of Democratic Party liberalism. Sandbrook presents a nuanced explanation of how, by the middle 1960s, the party of Franklin Roosevelt had come to be deeply divided - with new black and radical constituencies pitted against old city bosses and organized labor; and the party itself increasingly out of touch with the 'bread and butter' concerns of white working class voters. While the story that Sandbrook tells is often a depressing one - charting failure at least as much as success, it is both an important tale, and one that is well told. His judgements on McCarthy's personality have been criticized by some as too harsh, but in fact Sandbrook goes to great lengths to be fair - dishing out praise as well as condemnation. Overall then, this is an engaging book, and essential reading for all who are interested in how modern American politics has come to be the way it is. Sandbrook's 'Eugene McCarthy', though, is unlikely to satisfy those who prefer to see the Senator as a heroic idealist, rather than as a flawed politician, who ultimately failed to fulfil his considerable potential and contributed significantly to the decline of his own party.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
The Art of Political Biography Lives 25 May 2004
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
With style and sophistication, Dominic Sandbrook's book traces the fortunes of liberalism through the career of former Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy. For anyone wanting to know why the Democrats have won the White House only three times since 1968: read this book. Along with liberalism's decline, Sandbrook also traces the rise of Reagan's conservatism and the rise of neo-conservatism, both of which have converged, with depressing results, in the current Bush administration. Moreover, McCarthy's eventful life itself makes for compelling reading. This is an outstanding example of political biography, a rare breed these days. Beuatifully written, tightly argued, and exhaustively researched, this is a must-read for anyone voting in November!
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