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Camelot's End

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Member Reviews

I really enjoyed this look at the 1980 election and the title Camelot's End, makes perfect sense. Ted Kennedy challenges Jimmy Carter for the presidency and the glamour and excitement of JFK's can never be duplicated. The author presents compelling evidence that both Carter and Ted Kennedy were deeply flawed characters, although both were responsible for the passage of some landmark legislation. A good read!
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Camelot’s End by Jon Ward is a very interesting read, and sheds light on the political polarization in our own day. The book traces the stories of two politicians that intertwine in the 1970’s. One was a relatively unknown governor from Georgia named Jimmy Carter, who would rise to the highest office in the land. The other, Ted Kennedy, from American political royalty seeks to unseat the sitting president Carter but falls short. Ward arranges the book in such a way that goes back and forth between the Carter and Kennedy, sharing events that happen simultaneously.  

The story of Carter and Kennedy culminates during the 1980 Democratic convention who tries to unseat Carter and win the nomination. The political bloodbath that ensued led to the twelve year Republican reign of Regan/Bush and hindered the Democratic Party for over a decade. Camelot’s End is a must read for political junkies and history nerds alike.
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Camelot’s End is a dual biography of President Jimmy Carter, Senator Ted Kennedy, and their race for the Democratic nomination in 1980. Carter was running for a second term and Kennedy ran against him because he felt that Carter wasn’t liberal enough. Carter ultimately wins the nomination but then loses the presidency to Ronald Reagan. Many scholars and pundits believe that Kennedy’s campaign resulted in Carter losing the White House. I disagree, I think Kennedy’s campaign was a byproduct of the fact that Carter had a turbulent first term and that the Democratic dominance in the country beginning in the FDR years was breaking apart (read Skowronek's The Politics Presidents Make: Leadership from John Adams to Bill Clinton for more info).

This book is a quick read that political junkies will enjoy. There are plotlines in it that reminded me of the 2016 Democratic nomination between Clinton and Sanders and the bad blood that developed between the two camps (and still exists) after the 2016 election. The book bounces back and forth between Carter and Kennedy’s biographies starting with their childhood and into their respective political careers. They came from very different backgrounds; Kennedy came from a wealthy political family in the northeast while Carter came from a working class family in the South.

This book gets very interesting when it covers the 1980 campaign: the primaries and caucuses, delegate math, convention theatrics, etc. In this book you will learn that Carter was a hard-nosed politician, don’t let his meek piousness fool you. Kennedy didn’t really know why he was running for president, he was mostly advocating for a liberal cause. In the end, the 1980 campaign may have ended each man’s presidential ambitions but doors opened for both of them to become greater figures: Carter became a leader on human rights and a humanitarian while Kennedy became the U.S. Senate’s liberal lion.
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Thank you to NetGalley and Twelve Books for an e-arc of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

I heard about this book on an NPR show and was intrigued by the premise. The story follows President Carter in his reelection campaign for president as he is challenged, as an incumbent president, by Ted Kennedy. This was news to me. Nobody challenges a sitting president. Except, this time, someone did. This comes before my time, but it’s recent enough to feel modern. That was why I asked for a copy to review. It ended up being even more relevant than I realized.

Ted was a Kennedy, raised like royalty with the privilege of his family, and this is in stark contrast to Carter came from a much smaller background. His father was a peanut farmer, but he left the farm for the Navy where he got a Bachelor of Science. After his father’s death, he left the Navy to return home. There was little money to be had from his father’s death, so we essentially a lowly farmer. He began having political aspirations that would drive him into the Georgia Senate and eventually governor. He ran on a platform of antisegregation, but it was still a very problematic one. He never really lied, but he worked really hard to mislead southern whites to make them think he was your traditional southern democrats. This was the first indication of his political mindset. He was not afraid to put on the fact that was needed.

I have to say, this was all mind boggling to me. I have had such an elevated view of Carter, but this turns him into a bit of a…well politician. I don’t hate the act of politicking, but I can’t help but question his authenticity. Did he believe what he said? He definitely fought for it, eventually, but was that because he wanted that or because he saw a path to victory with it? I don’t know the answer, but I need to learn more about him. This book really motivated me to do that.

On the flipside, Kennedy’s background was, as I said, like a Kennedy. He was designed for public office, and he was driven by much of the entitlement that came with being a Kennedy. It’s really interesting because he was arguably more progressive than Carter. That would end up being part of the platform he used against Carter. Although, I can’t help to ask how much was true convection versus entitlement.

I’m not as interested in delving into Kennedy’s background. I believe he joined the senate before he would challenge Carter (I read this a month ago now), but he was always seen as a potential contender. The only reason he didn’t challenge Carter in his first go was due to his history of major politic scandals. The biggest one being his, likely drunk, driving a car off a bridge into a lake. He escaped, but the same can’t be said for his girlfriend (or someone he had on the side, because he was a major womanizer). The real kicker here, is Kennedy just left the scene. If had a called for help, she would have a survived. Evidence suggest that she survived for, I believe, up to an hour after. Somehow, this did not end his career. He would go on to serve in the senate until his death. It is mindboggling but also too easy to believe given his race, gender, and class.

I left this book with a much lower opinion of both of them. Not that Kennedy was very memorable. They both had their problems, and this book spends maybe a third of its time talking about just this. I absolutely applaud it for that. I think it was necessary for Ward to give us sufficient context for everything that led to this challenge. Of course, a big player was also the many failures of Carter who was universally hated even by his own party, but understand, the feud between Kennedy and Carter was still fairly personal.


It was a tight campaign, but Carter managed to eventually pull though. I am less interested with the final details than the comparisons to today. Carter would go on to lose reelection to Ronald Regan. A racist celebrity with zero experience. I can’t help but see the contrast with a more recent campaign. Not long ago, a democrat ran for office. She was not an incumbent, but it was pretty well understood she’d win reelection. I am not critiquing her opponent for running. Primaries are a part of the process. However, this ideolog ran on a sense of purity, like Carter. He demonized and ostracized his opponent. Even as it was clear (more clear than even with Carter) that he would not win. Even after losing, he failed to really support his candidate. The result was we got a Regan-esk politician with not actual understanding of how to run.

Of course, Drumpf is arguably worse than Regan. What’s more, Clinton was a woman, and it’s interesting to see how Bernie has played with Biden, likely in part because of the damage he sees he caused. To be clear, neither Carter nor Clinton were perfect, but we can’t ignore the role they played in this process. Clinton was far more prepared for office than Carter. I can’t help but question whether Carter was even prepared. Sure, he had a background in science, but he was still very new to politics. His identity as an outsider is part of what helped get him elected. Although, I can’t help but compare him to Pete Buttigeg, a sweet talking politician who easily loved but lacks much experience. I want to learn more about Carter’s time in office, and I intend to. Nevertheless, his time in office seems to be accept as a bit of a debacle.

All in all, I loved this book. It gave me everything I wanted and more. I felt engaged and eager to discuss what I was learning. What’s more, I felt the strong urge to continue learning even about Kennedy who I still don’t care much about. Lastly, this book shattered my opinion of Carter, and forces me to reckon with my own tendency to idealize politicians...
5/5!
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Camelot's End took me back to my first election,  At the time I was 18 it was certain I was going to vote Democratic because that is what my family whom I lived with was.  At the time though, for the reasons described in the book, specifically the failure of hostages, and what is known now is the "malaise speech," I was not fond of Jimmy Carter

Whom I wanted to win was Ted Kennedy, but that was then, this is now.  Chappaquidick was just some work folks threw around back then, and perhaps not as widely discussed if only for the fact that there was some propriety still in politics and press at the time, but this book lifts the veil for me about what I did not see behind the scenes of that period.  

The work is a captivating read, as we see one man doing his best as president and who wants to continue and another who heads toward it with nothing more than a feeling of ascendancy.  Add in to the latter a sham marriage, and alcohol problems, this is the book that I wish was written years ago.  

The good news is that it is here, it is solidly written, and if you love that campaign, or presidential politics, then you will enjoy this book as much as I did.
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Carter vs Kennedy was an interesting battle that caused fractures throughout the Democratic Party. Readers will gain insight into the good and bad of both men, with forty years of separation to add context.
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Each time I read a book about a former president, I am always astounded by what I did not know. The amount of details that I either did not pay attention to at the time (because I was young and not really interested in politics) or because we are not privy to the whole picture. The nuances of character between President Carter and Senator Kennedy couldn't be more different and yet are much the same. Each was driven to succeed, to do their best, and had something to prove to themselves.  Neither of these men could see in the other the strengths they had to offer only perceived weaknesses. Was it because they themselves internalized the same failings? I learned a lot about each mans beginnings and the roads which led them to DC. Their inner struggles, character, dedication to lead and achieve more, but most of all their legacies. It takes a special kind of person to put themselves out in the public eye of politics to be praised by one side and yet reviled by the other and the ever changing mood of the press. Never quite able to please everyone, having to choose your words so carefully, and for all to see your actions judged not just daily but every second of the day. It is a wonder anyone puts themselves through such a trial. But these men are noble men (no one is perfect and yet we expect them to be) who show us in the end that they care about making the US and the world a better place for them having giving so much of themselves. 

I tried to remember when things went so wrong in Congress with each side not willing to work together. I was glad Mr. Ward wisely included this piece of history for us all to see. Things have gotten worse since then, it is not just recently we have become so divided. 

I am surprised we are fighting the same issues about racism, healthcare, cuts to social services and woman's issues. These issues were as important then as they are today and yet it feels as if little progress has been made.
 
There were a lot of things I didn't remember such as President Reagan using the phrase "Make America Great Again" (and here I thought it was a new thought slogan.) Nor did I remember the Republicans Convention VP controversy with Ford and Bush, and the list goes on. I am glad to see that I was right that President Carter was a good man. But the idea that he was angry does not feel right to me. My impression now is that he so driven and felt he had so much to accomplish and as he learned so little time to do so, He actually has achieved more accolades for his efforts after leaving office. I am glad to have been able to read this book and look forward to reading many more books about our President's lives.
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This book was well done. I liked the juxtaposition of Ted Kennedy and Jimmy Carter. I would definitely recommend it to others.
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When one considers how many books have been written on the Kennedy’s, one begins to feel like they have been covered from every angle humanly possible. Kennedy fatigue has definitely set in for some. I am certainly part of the crowd that kind of sighs when I see a Kennedy book. But the premise of Jon Ward’s Camelot’s End intrigued me because I had actually never read a book on Ted Kennedy’s challenge to Jimmy Carter in 1980.

Camelot’s End is so much more than a punch by punch account of the 1980 primary and the up and downs experienced by both men, which is the hallmark of most of the books I’ve read on presidential elections. That detail is here certainly, but Ward digs deeper and gives the reader a deeper sense of why Ted Kennedy needed to run for President and why Jimmy Carter needed to defeat him by tracing both their upbringings and their interactions from roughly the mid-seventies until Kennedy launched his challenge. This personal and psychological approach then interacts with a more traditional account to give the reader a nuanced view of why Carter won, Kennedy lost, and what success or failure meant for each man.

Camelot’s End is a worthy addition to the library of anyone looking to understand: the Kennedy’s, American presidential elections, and American politics as it exists today.
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