Against the Wind completes Neal Gabler’s magisterial biography of Ted Kennedy, but it also unfolds the epic, tragic story of the fall of liberalism and the destruction of political morality in America. With Richard Nixon having stilled the liberal wind that once propelled Kennedy’s—and his fallen brothers’—political crusades, Ted Kennedy faced a lonely battle. As Republicans pressed Reaganite dogmas of individual freedom and responsibility and Democratic centrists fell into line, Kennedy was left as the most powerful voice legislating on behalf of those society would neglect or punish: the poor, the working class, and African Americans.
Gabler shows how the fault lines that cracked open in the wake of the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam were intentionally widened by Kennedy’s Republican rivals to create a moral vision of America that stood in direct opposition to once broadly shared commitments to racial justice and economic equality. Yet even as he fought this shift, Ted Kennedy’s personal moral failures in this era—the endless rumors of his womanizing and public drunkenness and his bizarre behavior during the events that led to rape accusations against his nephew William Kennedy Smith—would be used again and again to weaken his voice and undercut his claims to political morality.
Tracing Kennedy’s life from the wilderness of the Reagan years through the compromises of the Clinton era, from his rage against the craven cruelty of George W. Bush to his hope that Obama would deliver on a lifetime of effort on behalf of universal health care, Gabler unfolds Kennedy’s heroic legislative work against the backdrop of a nation grown lost and fractured. In this outstanding conclusion to the saga that began with Catching the Wind, Neal Gabler offers his inimitable insight into a man who fought to keep liberalism alive when so many were determined to extinguish it. Against the Wind sheds new light both on a revered figure in the American Century and on America’s current existential crisis.
About the Author
Neal Gabler is the author of five books: An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood; Winchell: Gossip, Power and the Culture of Celebrity; Life: the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality; Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination; and, most recently, Barbra Streisand: Redefining Beauty, Femininity, and Power for the Yale Jewish Lives series. His essays and articles have appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, including The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Esquire, Playboy, Newsweek, and Vogue, and he has been the recipient of two Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, Time magazine’s nonfiction book of the year, USA Today‘s biography of the year, a National Book Critics Circle nomination, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Public Policy Scholarship at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a Shorenstein Fellowship at the Harvard Kennedy School, and a Patrick Henry Fellowship at Washington College’s CV Starr Center. He has also served as the chief nonfiction judge of the National Book Awards. Gabler is currently a professor for the MFA program at Stonybrook Southampton.
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