History Podcasts

Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy Discuss Election Night Results

Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy Discuss Election Night Results

In a recorded telephone conversation on November 3, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson discusses that night's election results with Robert F. Kennedy, who has just won his Senate race in New York. Johnson speculates about the outcome of his presidential race and asks Kennedy to offer congratulations to his brother Edward for his Senate win in Massachusetts.


1968 US Presidential Election (Robert Kennedy Survives)

The United States presidential election of 1968 was the 46th quadrennial United States presidential election. It was a wrenching national experience, conducted against a backdrop that included the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and subsequent race riots across the nation, the assassination attempt on presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, widespread demonstrations against the Vietnam War across American university and college campuses, and violent confrontations between police and anti-war protesters at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

On November 5, 1968, the Democratic nominee, Senator and former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy won the election over the Republican nominee, former Vice President Richard M. Nixon on a campaign of racial and economic justice, non-aggression in foreign policy, decentralization of power and social improvement. It was the closest election since 1876.

The election also featured a strong third party effort by former Alabama Governor George Wallace. Although Wallace's campaign was frequently accused of promoting racism, he proved to be a formidable candidate no third-party candidate has since won an entire state's electoral votes.


Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam: The Making of a Tragedy *

SHAFR presidential address delivered at Atlanta, 6 January 1996.

Robert Dallek, Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam: The Making of a Tragedy, Diplomatic History, Volume 20, Issue 2, April 1996, Pages 147–162, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-7709.1996.tb00620.x

The appearance of Robert S. McNamara's book on Vietnam in the spring of 1995 touched off an explosion of recrimination reminiscent of the 1960s. McNamara's confession that the war was a great mistake that he, President Lyndon B. Johnson, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and other civilian and military advisers should have avoided confirmed war opponents in the belief that Vietnam was a transparent error in judgment that need not have happened.

McNamara's supposition that John F. Kennedy would have checked the drift into an unwinnable struggle deepened the feeling that Vietnam was an unnecessary war that wiser statesmanship could have prevented. 1 Since McNamara, according to his own account, came to understand this, but felt compelled to hide his disillusionment, critics have attacked his confession of error as self-serving, an attempt to make peace with himself, win forgiveness from those who suffered losses in the fighting, and, not incidentally, make a significant sum of money on an international best-seller.

The impulse to see Vietnam as a readily avoidable mistake is, I believe, a case of bending history to presentist assumptions. To be sure, dissenting voices at the time warned against the dangers of involvement in an Asian land war, predicting a stalemate that could cost the United States substantial losses in blood and treasure. But almost no one counseled simply letting Vietnam go early opponents of expanded U.S. military action urged some kind of negotiated settlement that would protect South Vietnam from a Communist takeover.

Three of the most vigorous early opponents of an American war in Vietnam, Senators J. William Fulbright (D-AR) and Mike Mansfield (D-MT) and Undersecretary of State George Ball, did not reject initial American efforts to preserve Saigon's independence. Fulbright and Ball, for example, were warm supporters of Johnson's Gulf of Tonkin Resolution announcing American intentions to resist Communist aggression against South Vietnam, and Mansfield proposed a number of negotiating scenarios for keeping the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese from seizing control of the South.

Moreover, there is good reason to think that had he lived, John Kennedy, like Johnson, would have expanded upon the military efforts of his thousand days in the White House to save Saigon from communism. Noam Chomsky's Rethinking Camelot: JFK, the Vietnam War, and U.S. Political Culture (1993) makes a convincing case that Kennedy had no intention of withdrawing American forces from South Vietnam without a greater test of the Communist drive for control. Chomsky quotes JFK's public declaration on 12 September 1963: “What helps to win the war, we support what interferes with the war effort, we oppose. … We have a very simple policy in that area [Vietnam]. … We want the war to be won, the Communists to be contained, and the Americans to go home. … But we are not there to see a war lost.” Chomsky points out that had Kennedy intended to withdraw, it is hard to understand why he so consistently spoke publicly about holding the line in Vietnam. JFK was too astute a politician to have created a public expectation that he intended to abandon after reelection in 1964. 2

Retrospective arguments in behalf of an American withdrawal in early 1965, before Rolling Thunder, the sustained bombing campaign begun in March 1965, and the massive expansion of ground forces begun in July, are difficult to credit. The widespread and prevailing opinion in the administration, Congress, and the press and among the mass of Americans was that the United States simply could not walk away from Vietnam and sacrifice a pro-Western country to Communist aggression. In February 1965, for example, 79 percent of Americans believed that a U.S. withdrawal would mean a Communist takeover of all of Southeast Asia 79 percent viewed it as “very important” to prevent that from happening 64 percent favored continuing present efforts in Vietnam 63 percent believed our presence in Vietnam “very important” to America's national security 48 percent supported “sending a large number of American troops to help save Vietnam” and 60 percent gave the president positive marks for his handling of Vietnam. 3

In the winter of 1965–66, nearly 60 percent of the American people saw the Vietnam War as the country's most urgent problem. The number had more than doubled since the presidential campaign in 1964. Two out of three Americans considered it essential to take a stand in Vietnam, with only 20 percent favoring a pullout over an expanded role for U.S. forces. Seventy-five percent of a sample poll viewed the war as “part of our worldwide commitment to stop Communism.” 4

Almost everyone who thought about Vietnam remembered the run up to the Second World War and the appeasement of Hitler. There was genuine fear in 1965 that giving the Communists a free hand in Vietnam might be the prelude to bolder actions that would lead to a Soviet-American and/or Sino-American confrontation that could result in a nuclear war. Further, the “loss” of Vietnam could mean the start of a chain reaction in Southeast Asia that would put anti-Communist countries on the defensive around the globe. Finally, Johnson and his principal advisers could not ignore memories of Senator Joseph McCarthy's assault on Democrats and State Department officials for “losing” China. It was feared that the “loss” of Vietnam would produce a political reaction in the United States that could cripple the Johnson administration and accuse the Democratic party of failing to meet the Communist threat. 5

My point here is not that Johnson and his advisers were wise to have escalated the U.S. stake in Vietnam but that in the context of 1964–65 it is difficult to imagine them doing anything else. This is not the same as saying they had to expand and sustain that involvement, which of course they did, between 1966 and 1968. Indeed, here is where I think JFK would have acted differently from LBJ. By 1966–67, when it became increasingly evident that the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong would not easily succumb to American power, either in the near or even possibly long term, Kennedy would have cut U.S. losses and found a way to extricate us from the war. Unlike Johnson, who had no significant diplomatic achievements and no fund of political credibility as a foreign policy leader, Kennedy had the prestige of success in the Cuban missile crisis and the Soviet-American Test Ban treaty to bolster any big decision he made in foreign affairs. No one can say with certainty, of course, what Kennedy would have done, but, as his behavior in the Bay of Pigs and missile crises demonstrated, he was a cautious foreign policy leader who resisted compounding errors and taking risks that could lead to a wider war or divisions at home that could jeopardize the country's Cold War consensus. 6

Lyndon Johnson's response to the war was another matter. Indeed, the central question that I see for historians considering LBJ and Vietnam is not why he escalated American involvement in the fighting in 1965 but why he failed to take the political precautions necessary to protect his administration from a stalemate or even failure in Vietnam.

Johnson knew, as his mentor Franklin D. Roosevelt had demonstrated in 1939–1945, that an effective policy abroad requiring significant sacrifices had to rest on a solid political consensus at home. “We are in bad shape in Vietnam,” Johnson told New York Times editor Turner Catledge in December 1964.

Uncertainties in that area are far more than the certainties. Yet we can't afford to, and we will not, pull out. We must find some way to bring the job off even if we have to set it up so that a withdrawal would have a better face. … Whether we spread military operations across North Vietnam is yet to be decided. We certainly haven't decided against it. We've got to do whatever it takes, either to get a good settlement there, or to furnish a good face behind which we can withdraw. Again, withdrawal is not in the picture, certainly not now. 7

Judging from his comments to Catledge, Johnson was mindful of U.S. public opinion in deciding how to meet the difficulties in Vietnam. Moreover, National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy and Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey cautioned him against losing sight of this essential ingredient of a successful policy toward the conflict in Southeast Asia. In February 1965, as LBJ was about to commit himself to Rolling Thunder, Bundy advised him to prepare the country for substantial sacrifices by publicly stating what an air campaign might mean. Bundy told Johnson that

at its very best the struggle in Vietnam will be long. It seems to us important that this fundamental fact be made clear … to our own people and to the people of Vietnam. Too often in the past we have conveyed the impression that we expect an early solution. … It is our own belief that the people of the United States have the necessary will to accept and to execute a policy that rests upon the reality that there is no short cut to success in Vietnam.

Johnson made it clear to Bundy, however, that there would be no “loud public signal of a change in policy,” that White House aides would say little or nothing to the press, and that statements about Vietnam would be confined to general remarks by Rusk and UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson. 8

At the same time, Hubert Humphrey tried to persuade Johnson that policymaking toward Vietnam might include “the most fateful decisions of your Administration.” Humphrey believed it essential that Johnson make the war “politically understandable” to the American public. “There has to be a cogent, convincing case if we are to enjoy sustained public support,” he wrote LBJ on 15 February 1965. “In World Wars I and II we had this.” Even in Korea, where “we could not sustain American political support for fighting Chinese,” the public had a better understanding of what we were doing than in Vietnam. Humphrey predicted that if “we find ourselves leading from frustration to escalation and end up short of a war with China but embroiled deeper in fighting in Vietnam over the next few months, political opposition will steadily mount.” Humphrey warned that this opposition would come from “Democratic liberals, independents, [and] labor” and would gain a hold “at the grassroots [level] across the country.” 9

It is a given of the Johnson presidency that LBJ refused to allow a debate in Congress, the press, and the country about what to do in Vietnam. Instead, he escalated the war without consulting those who would have to fight and support it with their lives, money, and convictions. Relying on the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution as giving him autonomy to expand the war, he provoked what millions of Americans came to understand as the “credibility gap”: Lyndon Johnson's failure to speak honestly to the people. “How do you know when Lyndon Johnson is telling the truth?” a joke was told around the country. “When he strokes his chin, pulls his ear lobe, he's telling the truth. When he begins to move his lips, you know he's lying.” 10

Johnson's impulse to shun a debate about Vietnam during the first seven months of 1965, when the initial major stepup occurred, has a plausible explanation. Johnson was fearful that encouraging public discussion of an expanded war would divert the Congress and the country from agreeing to the explosion of Great Society legislation–federal aid to elementary, secondary, and higher education, Medicare, Medicaid, Voting Rights, clean air and clean water bills, immigration reform, the creation of a Department of Housing and Urban Development and the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities. Johnson believed that conservatives eager to kill off his programs of domestic reform would have been all too happy to seize upon the expanding war as an excuse to stall and ultimately kill the Great Society and war on poverty.

Yet at the same time, Johnson was defensive about not consulting the public and Congress and enraged by talk of the “credibility gap.” Johnson “is particularly sensitive to charges that he is not talking enough to the American people about the complexities and risks of the Vietnam war,” New York Times columnist James Reston wrote at the end of February. “He carries around in his pocket a series of private polls that purport to show that the vast majority of the people not only know what he is doing but approve what he is doing.” Johnson understood perfectly that this could change. In politics, he liked to say, “overnight chicken shit can turn to chicken salad and vice versa.” For the moment, however, he believed it sound policy to keep his counsel. If and when developments dictated otherwise, he would consider shifting ground. 11

But he never did. And not because he lacked opportunities after July 1965. To the contrary, in the winter of 1965–66 he had a further chance to invite a public debate about the expanding war in Southeast Asia. On 10 November, the Joint Chiefs asked for an additional 113,000 troops to shift from Phase I of the fighting, in which we had stopped “losing the war,” to Phase II, in which we would “start winning it.” They also recommended intensified bombing, highlighted first by strikes against petroleum, oil, and lubricant (POL) facilities and electric power installations and then military targets in the Hanoi-Haiphong area. In late November, Westmoreland increased his estimate of troop needs to 200,000, for a total of 410,000, 135,000 more than originally assumed in July. Although the president would not commit himself to Westmoreland's request then, neither would he turn it down. He preferred to delay decisions on troop strength, but clearly he had little room to maneuver unless he chose to cut U.S. losses and reduce rather than expand America's role in the war. 12

The pressure for troop increases and more bombing could have been an occasion for a great debate on what to do about the fighting. But instead of openly confronting the hard choices the country now faced in Vietnam and encouraging a national discussion, Johnson obscured the harsh realities, planning, for example, to expand troop commitments month by month without acknowledging that decisions had been made for a doubling of forces by the end of the coming year. For the second time in six months he had a chance to rally a generally receptive public to fight a difficult limited conflict and make Vietnam America's war. Instead, he chose the path of indirection, which irrevocably made the struggle Lyndon Johnson's war and all that would mean for a president presiding over a potentially losing cause.

Johnson's manipulativeness extended to a bombing pause, which he launched on 27 December 1965. The day before, after a Christmas truce ended on the ground, Johnson considered whether to resume bombing as well. Rusk and State Department subordinates wanted renewed air strikes and a pause later, after the White House had made clear to Moscow that a major peace effort was under way. But Mac Bundy, McNamara, Jack Valenti, and Bill Moyers counseled otherwise. The latest polls showed 73 percent of Americans eager for a cease-fire, with 61 percent favorable to “all-out bombing” of the North if no negotiations followed a pause. Movers and Bundy warned that a resumption of bombing before the New Year would result in attacks on the pause as “half-hearted.” General Maxwell Taylor also urged a longer halt as a way to show “the American public that we have left no door to peace untried.” McNamara, who spent three hours talking to the president at his ranch on the evening of the 27th, apparently pressed the case for a longer pause. He and Taylor saw few, if any, negative military consequences resulting from an extended bombing halt. 13

Johnson now agreed to begin a “peace offensive.” He was skeptical that it would come to anything, but, as Rusk cabled Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge in Saigon, it was a way to test and expose Communist propaganda and prepare the country for a larger war: “The prospect of large scale reinforcement in men and defense budget increases of some twenty billion for [the] next eighteen month period requires solid preparation of [the] American public. A crucial element will be clear demonstration that we have explored fully every alternative but that [the] aggressor has left us no choice.” Johnson himself told Averell Harriman: “We don't have much confidence that much will come out of this but that is no reason not to try. … I think with your friends Fulbright, Scotty Reston, Mansfield, Arthur Krock and the New York Times, all these people thinking there could be peace if we were only willing to have peace, we ought to give it the old college try.” But there was to be no debate, just a demonstration of administration eagerness for peace and Hanoi's unwillingness to compromise. 14

Why would Johnson not allow a public argument that could have served both the war effort and the political advantage of his administration? An open discussion of the pros and cons of escalating U.S. involvement in the war would have shown Hanoi that there was substantially more resolve to defend South Vietnam than the Communists believed. In addition, a debate that underwrote an expanded war would have increased LBJ's freedom to escape from the conflict when the public lost hope of winning without substantial losses, the only way it really wanted to fight the war. Had a debate followed by escalation occurred, LBJ could have depicted the fighting as the public's choice. Moreover, once the country began to sour on the war, the president could have seized upon the mass mood to declare victory and leave, as Vermont's Republican Senator George Aiken had counseled in 1966. Johnson could have announced a policy of Vietnamization, as Richard M. Nixon later did, declaring that American forces had blunted Communist aggression and given the South Vietnamese the wherewithal to survive. Even if this proved to be a false assumption, as it did in 1975, the American public, weary of a struggle that cost more than it wanted to pay, would have been in no mood to attack a president and an administration following the public's lead.

But several things dissuaded Johnson from taking a more politically expedient course. First, it was not his personal political style to make policy by debate. Throughout his years as Senate majority leader, important business or negotiations leading to bipartisan passage of major bills was conducted behind the scenes in the inner sanctum of the Upper House rather than on its floor. Historian Paul Conkin has pointed out that as majority leader, Johnson “had little sympathy for those who wanted to air points of view, to use speeches as a vehicle of public education. Debate tended to sharpen differences or allow senators to posture for audiences back home. … Success required a masking of issues, not sharpening them through debate.” 15

Johnson's political career had been largely the product of back room discussions and private manipulations. In 1935, he had won appointment as Texas director of the National Youth Administration through pressure on the White House by Texas friends and associates. His successful race for a House seat in 1937 partly rested on secret financial contributions that allowed him to outspend five better known rivals. During his almost twelve years in the House, he made his mark on his district and in the Congress more generally by building close private ties to the White House and congressional leaders. His Senate races in 1941, 1948, and 1954 were rife with skulduggery not only by his own campaign but also by those of his opponents, especially the 1948 primary contest against Governor Coke Stevenson. Johnson's eighty-seven-vote victory with tainted ballots gave him the unflattering nickname of “Landslide Lyndon.” From Johnson's perspective, the most successful politicians were also the most manipulative, Texans like Alvin Wirtz, Maury Maverick, “Pappy” O'Daniel, Sam Rayburn, and John Nance Garner and national figures like Franklin Roosevelt, Huey Long, Thomas G. Corcoran, and the Kennedy clan. In brief, Johnson's impulse to expand the war in Vietnam without public discussions calculated to build long-term national support partly grew out of developments in twentieth-century American politics in which he played a significant role. 16

Johnson's personality also lent itself to unilateral action rather than open, free-wheeling debate. Johnson was an imperious character who made his way in politics by dominating everyone around him. Stories about his grandiosity and overbearing nature are legion. “I understand you were born in a log cabin,” the German Chancellor Ludwig Erhart is supposed to have said during a visit to LBJ's ranch. “No, no,” Johnson replied. “You have me confused with Abe Lincoln. I was born in a manger.” “Don't dig it too deep,” Johnson told some associates discussing his grave site. “I only expect to be in there for three days.”

Johnson's political success partly rested on his ability to dominate people by the sheer force of his personality. “Never seen his equal,” Eisenhower aide Bryce Harlow said, “and I've rubbed up against the greatest people this country has produced for twenty years running.” Johnson's presence in the Senate, Florida Senator George Smathers recalls, was like a “great overpowering thunderstorm that consumed you as it closed around you.” Meeting Johnson reminded the Washington Post's Ben Bradlee of going to the zoo.

You really felt as if a St. Bernard had licked your face for an hour, had pawed you all over. … He never just shook hands with you. One hand was shaking your hand the other hand was always someplace else, exploring you, examining you. And of course he was a great actor, bar fucking none the greatest. He'd be feeling up Katharine Graham and bumping Meg Greenfield on the boobs. And at the same time he'd be trying to persuade you of something, sometimes something that he knew and I knew was not so, and there was just the trace of a little smile on his face. It was just a miraculous performance. 17

The economist Gardner Ackley remembers a meeting in LBJ's office with Roger Blough, the chairman of U.S. Steel. Johnson wanted Blough to hold the line on steel prices. And so he

just started working him over and asking him questions and lecturing him. I have never seen a human being reduced to such a quivering lump of flesh. Roger was unable to speak at the end of that interview. LBJ just took him apart, spread him out on the rug and when we left, Roger was just shaking his head. All that awesome power was really brought to bear! I'd just never seen anything like it. … But it wasn't really what he said, it was the way he just leaned over and looked at him. 18

Robert Strauss, the Texas Democratic party power broker, was an intimidating figure in his own right. Yet he recalls being no match for Johnson. “Lyndon Johnson just towered over me and intimidated me terribly,” Strauss said.

He's the one person who had my number all his life. Even when he was a sick old man, out of office, whenever he called, perspiration broke out on the top of my head. He was the best I ever saw. Tragic, but the best I ever saw. I remember once asking him, “Why did you cast that vote, Mr. President?” “Bob,” he said, “one thing you'll learn someday is that you have to be a demagogue on a lot of little things if you want to be around to have your way on the big things.” I'll never forget him saying that. A lesson in primer politics from the Master. 19

As president, Johnson became even more imperious. “I'm the only President you have,” he told opponents of policies he favored. He was particularly insistent on asking support for foreign and defense policies he believed essential to national security. Indeed, he could not understand how Americans could take issue with him on Vietnam. With American boys fighting and dying to shield the country from Communist advances, he believed it unpatriotic, if not treasonous, to give comfort to the enemy by publicly opposing the war. Johnson could not accept the possibility that antiwar opponents were as loyal to the United States as war advocates. He could not believe that they were in fact acting in the larger interest of the country. To his thinking, they were under the influence of Communist diplomats in the United States.

In a meeting with state governors in March 1966, Johnson declared that “our country is constantly under threat every day–Comm[unists] working every day to divide us, to destroy us. Make no mistake about the Comm[unists],” he said. “Don't kid yourself [for] a moment. It is in the highest counsels of gov[ernment]–in our society. McCarthy's methods were wrong–but the threat is greater now than in his day.” 20

By May, the proliferation of student protests against the war, including marches, rallies, picketing, and sit-ins on university campuses, the decision of professors to deny information on students to the Selective Service without the student's permission, the tactic of civil rights leaders in trying “to drive a wedge between the poor and the rest of the country” by arguing that Vietnam meant taking money from the ghettoes, and a media LBJ saw as giving one-sided “nation-wide publicity” to war opponents confirmed Johnson's belief that sinister forces were behind the push to abandon Vietnam. 21

Historian and White House intellectual Eric Goldman remembers that by the middle of 1966 “the domestic reformer of the Great Society days had become a war chief. … The ebullient leader given to moments of testiness and rage was now, day after day, bitter, truculent, peevish–and suspicious of the fundamental good sense and integrity of anyone who did not endorse the Vietnam War. This Lyndon Johnson was not only depressing at times he could be downright frightening.” Goldman recalls an informal session at the White House with a cabinet member and three aides over potato chips and sodas. The mention of a liberal Senate war opponent brought a sneer to the president's face. These liberals were “crackpots,” who had “just plain been taken in. … It's the Russians who are behind the whole thing,” he declared. The FBI and the CIA “kept him informed about what was ‘really going on.’ ” He described the Russians as “in constant touch with anti-war senators. … These senators ate lunch and went to parties at the Soviet embassy children of their staff people dated Russians. ‘The Russians think up things for the senators to say. I often know before they do what their speeches are going to say.’ ” 22

J. Edgar Hoover was particularly active in feeding Johnson's suspicions. On 13 May 1966, Richard Russell participated in a two-and-a-half-hour discussion at the White House, which “mostly [focused on] Vietnam & CIA investigation. Talked to J E[dgar] H[oover] while I was there. [He] showed me visitors to S[oviet] Embassy & contacts.” 23

Since Johnson saw the war opposition as essentially un-American or the expression of what “gullible” intellectuals and journalists were hearing from Communist officials, he had every hope that the great majority of Americans would continue to back the war effort. In other words, there was no need to encourage a debate because most Americans were already convinced of the wisdom of combatting Communist expansion in Vietnam, and only the Left, with whom a majority of the country had little patience, was ready to abandon the war.

Johnson also believed that he could overcome the limited impact that dissenting antiwar sentiment was having on Americans by his manipulation of the media. “Reporters are puppets,” Johnson believed.

They simply respond to the pull of the most powerful strings. … Every story is always slanted to win the favor of someone who sits somewhere higher up. There is no such thing as an objective news story. There is always a private story behind the public story. And if you don't control the strings to that private story, you'll never get good coverage no matter how many great things you do for the masses of the people. There's only one sure way of getting favorable stories from reporters and that is to keep their daily bread–the information, the stories, the plans, and the details they need for their work–in your own hands, so that you can give it out when and to whom you want. 24

Johnson set a precedent for bending the media to his purposes in the 1964 presidential campaign. The press and television, which were scared to death of the intemperate Barry Goldwater, had been highly responsive to White House pressure. In September 1964, for example, after Goldwater had attacked Johnson and Humphrey as “misfits” and Humphrey in particular as a draft dodger, Johnson aides Bill Moyers and Walter Jenkins spoke to Drew Pearson, Kay Graham, and Al Friendly at the Washington Post, William S. White and James Reston at the New York Times, and syndicated columnist Walter Lippmann about responding to the “degrading way the Republican campaign has opened.” Most of them promised to take Goldwater to task for his irresponsible statements. The following week, Walter Heller, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, persuaded syndicated columnist Sylvia Porter to attack a Goldwater tax cut plan, while Lippmann agreed to consider doing a column and the Washington Post prepared “a stinging editorial.”

The White House also convinced reporters covering Goldwater to supply detailed accounts of what the senator was saying off the record. In mid-September, when Cliff Carter at the Democratic National Committee gave Valenti one such report, he wrote: “The attached was written by a reporter travelling with Senator Goldwater. We're trying to make connections so that we can always have him thusly covered.” 25

More important to the White House than having reporters spy on Goldwater were editorial-page endorsements and anti-Goldwater, pro-Johnson material in the news columns of the papers. Leonard Marks, a Washington attorney who had represented the Johnsons' radio and TV stations and would become the director of the United States Information Agency in 1965, worked “to secure editorial endorsements from newspaper friends and clients.” Once papers agreed to back Johnson, a member of the DNC was assigned to keep in touch with their editors and publishers and supply them with campaign materials. The White House also closely followed “how Mr. Johnson's speeches, utterances or releases were carried across the country. … We had reporters in about fifty major cities that would call in during the night and report what placement in the paper Mr. Johnson's speech got,” a campaign aide recalls. Johnson himself, who closely followed these efforts, met with the Washington bureau chiefs of leading papers in an effort to improve his image while helping to knock down Goldwater. The objective was to “convey a picture of a President calm, concerned, busy at his Presidential business, but eager to win a decisive mandate in November.” 26

Johnson saw the press as essential in helping him defeat Goldwater, but he wanted a more systematic and reliable mechanism for using it and other means to win the election. To answer Johnson's concern, the White House organized a sixteen-man committee presided over by aides Myer Feldman and Fred Dutton and including people from a number of government agencies and Clark Clifford's Washington law firm. The committee met twice daily, preparing statements on major issues on which Goldwater had made himself vulnerable for distribution to people who could “get them into the papers in the right places at the best time.” They assigned one staffer to feed negative information to LBJ supporters, who would get it in the local press prior to or during Goldwater visits. They prepared rebuttals of Goldwater-Miller statements and assigned committee members to get them published. They fed hostile questions to reporters traveling with Goldwater they wrote letters to popular columnists like Ann Landers they made lists of columnists they knew and lobbied them regularly for articles critical of Goldwater and they pressured mass magazines like Look, the Saturday Evening Post, and Parade to attack Goldwater's views on nuclear weapons. 27

Against this backdrop, Johnson had every confidence that he could bring the media along on Vietnam. In August 1965, for example, when CBS broadcast a report by Morley Safer with film of a U.S. Marine using a Zippo lighter to burn a thatched hut in the village of Cam Ne, while an old peasant woman pleaded for her home, Johnson woke up CBS President Frank Stanton to complain that the network had “shat on the American flag.” Johnson wanted to know why CBS would use a story by Safer, a Canadian with “a suspicious background.” He also asked: “How could CBS employ a Communist like Safer, how could they be so unpatriotic as to put on enemy film like this?”

CBS executives ordered correspondent Murray Fromson back to Washington to explain the story to the White House. In a conversation with Bill Moyers, Fromson explained that Safer's nationality was irrelevant to a story that poignantly showed Vietnamese peasants fleeing huts burned by U.S. troops. Moyers, whom Fromson describes as unconvinced by his explanation, devoted himself to repairing American prestige. “I have been working the past few days on steps we can take to improve coverage of the Vietnam war–steps in Saigon and Washington,” he wrote Johnson. “We will never eliminate altogether the irresponsible and prejudiced coverage of men like Peter Arnett [a New Zealander] and Morris [sic] Safer, men who are not Americans and do not have the basic American interest at heart, but we will try to tighten things up.” “Good!” Johnson scribbled on Moyers's note. 28

In general, the media supported Johnson's decision to fight in Vietnam. Like most Americans at this time, they believed it in the national interest to prevent a Communist takeover in the South. But this was not enough for Johnson. He wanted to control the flow and content of the news and bend the media to his designs. Johnson refused to be passive toward media criticism. He and his principal press aides believed that “poisonous and sour” reporting seriously undermined the war effort. Johnson suspected that “subversives” had “infiltrated the press corps.” “The Viet Cong atrocities never get publicized,” he complained. “Nothing is being written or published to make you hate the Viet Cong all that is being written is to hate us.” The White House also saw attacks on the president's war policies as encouraging the Communists to think that America would not stay the course in Vietnam. 29

The media's antagonism enraged Johnson. “We treat those [critical] columnists as whores,” he told the historian William E. Leuchtenburg in September 1965. “Anytime an editor wants to screw ’em, they'll get down on the floor and do it for three dollars. That's the price of [naming to Leuchtenburg two of the best-known Washington correspondents]. We don't pay any attention to it.” 30

But, of course, he did, taking pains to ensure as far as possible that news out of the White House was only what he wanted it to be. Managing the news by invoking national security, planting questions at press conferences, encouraging publishers to print prowar columns, and making life as difficult as possible for unfriendly reporters became standard operating procedures. 31

Johnson assumed that a reasonably rapid end to the war would also make a debate unnecessary. To be sure, by the end of 1966, a number of people, including McNamara, were warning against a stalemate that could last for years. In mid-October, after returning from a trip to Vietnam, McNamara told the president that he saw “no reasonable way to bring the war to an end soon.” Despite some improvement in the military situation, the Communists were not about to crack. They had “adopted a strategy of keeping us busy and waiting us out (a strategy of attriting our national will).” Pacification was “a bad disappointment.” So was the air campaign, which had neither “significantly affected infiltration [n]or cracked the morale of Hanoi.” 32

Yet at the same time, there were optimistic reports that the tide was turning and that Hanoi and the Viet Cong would not be able to hold out much longer, especially if the administration managed to mute opposing sentiment in the United States, which Johnson believed was encouraging the Communists to continue fighting.

Military and civilian advisers disputed much of what McNamara said. They believed the war was going reasonably well. “By early 1967 most of my advisers and I felt confident that the tide of war was moving strongly in favor of the South Vietnamese and their allies and against the Communists,” Johnson later said in his memoirs. 33

And most of his advisers, who, like him, felt compelled to see the bright side, to believe that somehow or other American power had to prevail over so weak an enemy, gave him words of constant encouragement about the likely results in Vietnam. “You are still dead right on all the big issues & you still know more about how to make them come out right than any man in America,” Mac Bundy told him in November. “For the first time since 1961 the U.S. military in Saigon and Washington estimate a net decline in VC/NVN forces in South Viet Nam,” National Security Adviser Walt W. Rostow wrote him two days later. 34

Rostow and Robert Komer, LBJ's pacification chief in Vietnam, sent him a series of papers in December laying out strategic guidelines for 1967. They brimmed with optimism. Despite lots of problems and “the immensity of the task,” Komer was “convinced that if we can jack up our management in Washington and especially Saigon, and press the GVN a lot harder than we have, we'll be able to see daylight by the end of 1967.” 35

No one beat the drum louder for positive developments in Vietnam than Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge. “In the ‘military’ war, our capacity to defeat the big Communist units and destroy redoubts is so well demonstrated that I would expect a very different military situation indeed here by next year,” he cabled the president in December 1966. As for the political situation, “one need not be an expert to see the difference between … today and that which existed in November 1963. … Vietnam is moving towards constitutional democracy.” In a meeting with LBJ at his ranch eight days later, Lodge stated that many worries of a year ago in Vietnam had disappeared: “They no longer feared that the Viet Cong could cut the country in half,” or “that regionalism backed by the Buddhists might tear the country apart. They no longer feared a Communist coup from within.” As for future military developments, “The Ambassador ‘expects brilliant results in 1967.’ ” Pentagon claims that comparative military casualties in Vietnam had increased from 2.2 to 1 in 1965 to 3.3 to 1 in 1966 made Lodge's estimate seem compelling. 36

Johnson's character, experience, and outlook on what to expect in Vietnam made him the wrong man at the wrong time in the wrong place. By 1968, the great mandate of the 1964 election had been lost in the flames of Vietnam. And along with it, the national consensus for Cold War policies abroad and liberal social reforms at home. By some mysterious law of unintended consequences, the war in Southeast Asia inflicted the first defeat in a foreign war on the United States, destroyed the momentum for the Great Society and war on poverty, and destroyed Johnson's hopes of historical standing as a great president. Along with Woodrow Wilson, John Kennedy, and Richard Nixon, LBJ will hold a place as one of those tragic twentieth-century presidents who fell short of what his talents and wishes might have allowed him to achieve.


Edited by Guian A. McKee, with Kieran K. Matthews and Marc J. Selverstone

This telephone call from White House press secretary Bill Moyers to President Johnson began with an extended discussion of recent articles published in Newsweek and by Washington Post columnists Rowland Evans Jr. and Robert D. S. Novak. The articles examined William R. Manchester’s unflattering portrayal of President Johnson in Death of a President, a book chronicling the assassination of President John F. “Jack” Kennedy.

The conversation eventually turned to the question of how to encourage R. Sargent Shriver to stay on as director of the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO). Johnson indicated that he would not promise to increase OEO’s budget to assuage Shriver. He then offered a direct statement about his own perception of the tensions between funding for the Vietnam War and for the War on Poverty. Strikingly, Johnson also expressed his view that antiwar protests by “Commies” and “long-hairs” were hurting his ability to build support and secure funding for the anti-poverty effort specifically and for the Great Society generally.

Several things to report. First of all, I got a copy of Newsweek, and then I called [Charles W.] Chuck Roberts. [note 1] Charles W. “Chuck” Roberts was a White House correspondent for Newsweek from 1951 to 1972. And he said the following: first of all, he said that their public—Newsweek‘s public relations man had put out a release yesterday saying that this was based upon an exclusive interview with you and that, when Newsweek—the reporter heard—the editors heard about it, they called that back, because it wasn’t based on an exclusive interview. I said, “My point, Chuck, is that it sounds as if it were.” And sure enough, I’ve talked to three or four people here this morning who say that they’ve read Newsweek or read the AP [Associated Press] stories of it, and it seems—it sounds like direct quotes from the President. Do you have a minute to let me read you the pertinent sections from the magazine article?

Yes. But I’m not more interested in that as I am as to what he’s done and where he got it and why he would be attributing—

He says, quote, “I talked to people to whom the President talked, and I am confident of the information that we received.”

Well, tell him that’s wrong. Tell him the President’s—

I didn’t know [Godfrey T.] McHugh was on the plane. [note 2] Brig. Gen. Godfrey T. McHugh was an Air Force officer, and military aide to President John F. Kennedy from 1961 until Kennedy’s assassination on 22 November 1963. McHugh was aboard Air Force One on that day in Dallas.

For—yeah, that’s one story. I said, “Chuck, that one story in itself is enough to refute it.” And then they go on, and they keep saying—they have a long two paragraphs [President Johnson acknowledges] about your memories of the day that [Harry S.] Truman was killed— [note 3] Harry S. Truman was a U.S. senator [D–Missouri] from January 1935 to January 1945 vice president of the United States from January 1945 to April 1945 and president of the United States from April 1945 to January 1953.

—I mean, when Truman became president.

I mean, that—well, the day when Truman became president, when [Franklin D.] Roosevelt died. [note 4] Franklin D. Roosevelt was assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy from March 1913 to August 1920 the Democratic governor of New York from January 1929 to December 1932 and president of the United States from March 1933 until his death on 12 April 1945.

Well, the only thing I know there is I told [William S.] Bill White that night. [note 5] William S. “Bill” White was a Pulitzer Prize–winning author and syndicated newspaper columnist a longtime friend of Lyndon Johnson and author of the 1964 biography The Professional: Lyndon B. Johnson. He wrote a story from [Samuel T. “Sam”] Rayburn’s office. [note 6] Samuel T. “Sam” Rayburn was a U.S. representative [D–Texas] from March 1913 until his death in November 1961 Speaker of the House from September 1940 to November 1961 and one of Lyndon Johnson’s political mentors.

But none of this stuff that I see in the paper is true. I think we better write a nice paragraph and say we’ve had—I’ve had no interviews on the subject at all. And this is completely inaccurate and untrue and unfair. That I’ve asked my staff not to discuss it. I’ve asked my former associates not to discuss it. And ask them to publish it and ask [Katharine] Kay [Graham] and just say, “This is just murdering us, and you got headlines . . .” [note 7] Katharine “Kay” Graham was the daughter of Eugene Meyer, who was the owner and publisher of the Washington Post from 1934 to 1946 the wife of Philip L. Graham, who was the publisher of the Washington Post from 1946 to 1963 and president of the Washington Post Co. from 1963 to 1973. I read you the headlines, didn’t I?

“LBJ Differs on Kennedy Friction.” That’s eight columns! That’s like a war story.

The Washington Post has “LBJ Version on ‘63 Oath Is Reported.”

“LBJ Version Clashes with Book Details.” They’re trying to build up the story, you see, by using the presidency. The Dallas News, I haven’t seen it yet, but . . . the Austin American didn’t use anything. [Snorts.] But these others do it. Go ahead, now. What does he say? He’s talked to people who have talked to the President?

Yes. He says, “I have”—he said, “We talked to a number of people—"

“Johnson’s Recollection Reported Different.”

Newsweek says, “LBJ remembers intercepting McHugh,” and—I did tell him off. Now, I never heard of that. I don’t remember intercepting him at all! He says, “It’s a word that comes easy as a Texan.” You know, I—some guy’s office, and he isn’t in, I’ll say [to] his secretary, “Honey, have him call me.”

Yeah. Now, those are their ideas, you see. That’s kind of their idea of you all.

[Pause.] That’s right. Well, of course, he won’t—I said, “Chuck, it would help history to be righted if you could tell me where you got this.” And he said, “Well, I can’t do that.” He said, “I’m not the only one who worked on the story, obviously,” he said, “but we talked to a number of people who had talked to the President.”

But, Mr. President, here’s some—let me find this one . . . “‘I wasn’t going to let Mrs. [Jacqueline B. “Jackie”] Kennedy fly back alone with the body,’ he explained to intimates. [note 8] Jacqueline B. “Jackie” Kennedy was the wife of John F. Kennedy from September 1953 until his assassination in November 1963, and first lady of the United States from January 1961 to November 1963. By Mr. Johnson’s memory, Robert [F. “Bobby”] Kennedy [D–New York] was not noncommittal. [note 9] Robert F. “Bobby” Kennedy was U.S. attorney general from January 1961 to September 1964, and a U.S. senator [D–New York] from January 1965 until his assassination in June 1968. He recalls telephoning Bobby.”

But there’s one sentence I wanted to say . . . I wanted . . . I wanted to read you. Just one minute. [Pause.] “The morale—the moral Mr. Johnson seemed to be drawing last week, without spelling it out, was that no one at the time suggested that Truman had shown unseemly haste in promptly taking the presidential oath.” That is, as if you had spent a specific period of your time last week talking to somebody about this.

Now, I said to Roberts, I said, “This means, Chuck, that the President, who was at the [LBJ] Ranch all of last week would have had to be doing this talking down there.” And he said, “That’s what we understand.”

Well, that’s not true, is it?

It’s just . . . it’s just totally fictitious. Uh . . .

And I never heard of Truman. I’ve never discussed it with a human.

There are two paragraphs in there: “By coincidence, President Johnson recalls he and House Speaker Sam Rayburn had planned a party for Truman that very day, mainly as a morale booster for a man lost in the limbo of the vice presidency. ‘He doesn’t think anybody likes him,’ Rayburn told Mr. Johnson. As it happened, before LBJ arrived, the guest of honor was suddenly and mysteriously summoned to the White House and told to come in the front door. What Truman didn’t know was that FDR had just died in Warm Springs, Georgia. But as Truman [ unclear ] told Rayburn, ‘They never tell me anything.’ Rayburn followed Truman to the White House and later filled Mr. Johnson in on the scene there: Harry Truman, taking charge, thanking everyone for arriving so quickly. The oath-taking, administered by Chief Justice [Harlan F.] Stone, was carried off as soon as [Elizabeth V.] Bess and [M.] Margaret Truman arrived. [note 10] Harlan F. Stone was U.S. attorney general from April 1924 to March 1925 associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from March 1925 to July 1941 and chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from July 1941 until his death on 22 April 1946. Elizabeth V. “Bess” Truman was the wife of Harry S. Truman since 1919, and the first lady of the United States from April 1945 to January 1953. M. Margaret Truman was the daughter of Harry S. and Elizabeth V. Truman, and a singer, actress, and author. The moral Mr. Johnson seemed to be drawing last week, without spelling it out, was that no one at the time suggested that Truman had shown unseemly haste in promptly taking the presidential oath.”

Well, I’ve drawn it one way or the other. I think that the moment a president dies, the vice president becomes president.

And . . . [snorts] And I have not discussed it with anyone, to my knowledge. I’ve never discussed the Truman oath-taking last week or last month. I’ve talked a good many times following it, during the years, about the party that we had given Truman—not because nobody liked him, but because Rayburn had heard from an admiral that the President was dying, and he felt that we should meet with Truman and get to know him and try to be helpful to him in case the problem came up. But it was not that nobody liked him. I think everybody liked him. I didn’t know anybody that didn’t like Truman as vice president. But I have said none of it, and none of it is true, and I don’t know what to do about it under those circumstances. I’m not—

Well, a telegram I had—George [E. Christian Jr.] will probably be asked it at his briefing. [note 11] George E. Christian Jr. was White House press secretary from February 1967 to January 1969. I think maybe by then we would—we can either do it two ways. Just say we have no comment on it, or, second . . . We can do it two ways: one, send a telegram and then let George have no comment, or, two, send a telegram to Newsweek and let George just use the quote that—use the telegram as his reply to the questions.

Well, don’t you send a telegram—don’t you open it then to debate again?

[speaking under President Johnson] Yes, sir. Yes, sir, you do. No question about it. But Roberts seemed very disturbed that we would challenge him so hard, and I think—

I think you ought to challenge Kay, too.

Just tell her that we have not been interviewed. That I asked the staff some time ago in great confidence not to speak on it, not to debate it. We’ve taken the position whatever the Kennedys wanted. That I took the position when [William R.] Manchester was selected that he was a fraud. [note 12] William R. Manchester was a journalist and author who wrote The Death of a President (1967), a best-selling book that examined the circumstances surrounding President Kennedy’s assassination. I refused to see him. [Moyers acknowledges.] I’d asked my people not to see him. And the only ones I know is you and [Lady] Bird [Johnson] and probably Jack Valenti, who were never under my orders, really—didn’t pay much attention to them—did see him. [note 13] Lady Bird Johnson (née Claudia Alta Taylor) was the wife of Lyndon B. Johnson since 1934, and first lady of the United States from November 1963 to January 1969. Jack Valenti was a partner at Weekley and Valenti, a political and advertising consulting agency, from 1952 to 1963 special assistant to the president from 1963 to 1966 and president of the Motion Picture Association of America from 1966 to 2004.

But I asked everybody not to, just as I asked them not to see [Theodore H.] Teddy White. [note 14] Theodore H. “Teddy” White was a political journalist and historian, and author of The Making of the President series. I think they’re agents of the people who want to destroy me. And I hate for them to use my friends to do it. But they do do it. But my friends don’t know it, and they want to be popular, and they just do it. And I don’t say it’s so much popular I don’t think my wife wants to be popular, but I think she wants to be—accommodating would be a good word. And I think in the case of White, and I think in the case of Manchester, and I think in the case of [Charles L. “Charlie”] Bartlett, and I think in the case of [James B.] Scotty Reston, and I think in the case of [Thomas G.] Tom Wicker, and I think in the case of Chuck Roberts, and I think in the case of Peter Lisagor, and in the case of Rowland Evans [Jr.] , and in the case of those people, I think that they have people who, (a) are former associates of mine, are (b) people who know me that I like, or (c) people who work for me and want to be accommodating and feel that they ought to. [note 15] Charles L. “Charlie” Bartlett was a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist a columnist for the Chicago Daily News and the man who introduced John F. Kennedy to Jacqueline Lee Bouvier. James B. “Scotty” Reston was a columnist and Washington, D.C., bureau chief of the New York Times from 1953 to 1964 associate editor of the New York Times from 1964 to 1968 executive editor of the New York Times from 1968 to 1969 vice president of the New York Times from 1969 to 1974 and recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 1945 and 1957. Thomas G. “Tom” Wicker was a journalist and columnist for the New York Times, writing the “In the Nation” column from 1966 to 1992. Peter Lisagor was the Washington bureau chief of the Chicago Daily News from 1959 to 1976, and president of the White House Correspondents’ Association from 1971 to 1972. Rowland Evans Jr. was a prominent syndicated columnist. Together with Robert D. S. Novak, Evans wrote the political column “Inside Report” since 1963. I think they use those to hurt me with. And I think that the people don’t recognize it and don’t realize it. But I have continuously asked them, and I wish you’d hear, if I could recall for you, what I hear that my people say from you to Jack [Valenti] to [Horace] Buzz [Busby Jr.] to George [E. Reedy] to Walter [W. Jenkins] —I don’t guess Walter’s ever said much. [note 16] Horace “Buzz” Busby Jr. was a longtime aide and speechwriter for Lyndon Johnson, and Cabinet secretary and special assistant to the president from 1964 to 1965. George E. Reedy was an aide to Lyndon Johnson from 1960 to 1964 White House press secretary from March 1964 to July 1965 and a special consultant to the president from 1968 to 1969. Walter W. Jenkins was Lyndon Johnson’s office manager, personnel chief, and administrative assistant from 1939 to 1963, and special assistant to the president from 1963 to 1964, making him Johnson’s longest-serving employee. But all of them constantly—somebody coming to me every day and saying that these people say this and that. And it’s their impressions of what happens. And I honestly believe that they feel that they have a right and a duty, first, to defend me. And second, to give their knowledge of a situation. And (c) to comment on others. And you have no idea how troublesome it is, but they do.

But I have asked them all—I’ve told [Robert E.] Bob Kintner to ask everybody—he’s brought it to my attention three or four times—that nobody on the staff should discuss Manchester in any way. [note 17] Robert E. “Bob” Kintner was president of the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) from 1949 to 1956 president of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) from 1958 to 1965 and President Johnson’s Cabinet secretary from 1966 to 1967. First thing I heard about it was . . . I understood that . . . there’s some felt we ought to put out a statement. And [Abraham] Abe [Fortas] called me. [note 18] Abraham “Abe” Fortas was an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1965 to 1969, and a longtime friend and adviser to Lyndon Johnson. And I said, “Abe, I don’t think we ought to have a statement of any kind. Now, if you want to have the facts, and get the facts, and—put together ours . . . I took every precaution I knew. I asked . . . Marie [Fehmer] , and I asked [Clifton C.] Cliff Carter, and I asked [W.] Homer Thornberry to all take notes. [note 19] Marie Fehmer was secretary to Vice President Lyndon Johnson from 1962 to 1963, and secretary to the president from 1963 to 1969. Clifton C. “Cliff” Carter was a longtime friend of Lyndon Johnson one of Johnson’s administrative assistants from 1937 to 1966 and executive director of the Democratic National Committee from 1965 to 1966. W. Homer Thornberry was a U.S. representative [D–Texas] from 1949 to December 1963 a district judge in the Western District of Texas from December 1963 to 1965 and a circuit judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Judicial Circuit from 1965 to 1995. And I think they did. I’ve never looked at them. I’ve never discussed them. But I would try to put those together, and I’d take any questions that the leaks show in the papers that are uncomplimentary to me and try to get the facts.” And just—and he said, “That’d be fine.” So that is what’s done.

Now, that’s all I’ve done. And I’ve asked them all not to discuss the Manchester book. I’ve told George this morning to just say that—this. Now, maybe we ought to change it and make it different. I think that you ought to think about it and try to write something that would be one sentence and not get it—but I’d say that, “The President tells me that he’s had many requests to—for an interview in connection with the book and the events it relates to, and he has refused every one. And has asked all of his staff to do likewise.” [Pause.] Then, I think, if they’d say, “Well, does that mean he refused him with the . . . Newsweek?" And say, “The statement speaks for itself.” Because it does. And you have to give consideration to that.

I think I would probably be a little harder on Newsweek, a little more emphatic.

“He said, ‘I hate to bother you at a time like this,’ to Bobby.” Now, I don’t think anything like this. I never thought of “a time like this.” I thought the most important thing in the world was to decide who was president of this country at that moment. I was fearful that the Communists were trying to take us over. “‘I think you should be sworn in there,’ Bobby said.” I don’t think that Bobby said that at all. I don’t think Bobby took any initiative or any direction. I think that Bobby agreed that it would be all right to be sworn in and said he wanted [to] look into it, and he would get back to me, which he did. I think that after they found out there’s no recording—and there may be one—I think that they—when McHugh went out and thought there was none—and I think they have leaked some of this.

Newsweek said, “There was an instance when Johnson had to exert authority. According to Newsweek‘s Chuck Roberts, one of the two— [Kenneth P. “Ken”] O’Donnell did it.” [note 20] Kenneth P. “Ken” O’Donnell was White House appointments secretary from January 1961 to November 1963 aide to the president from 1963 to 1965 and executive director of the Democratic National Committee from 1964 to 1965. I don’t know about that. I didn’t know it. I didn’t know—I thought O’Donnell and Mrs. Kennedy were drinking a good deal back there, and he was looking kind of sad and wild-eyed. But I did not think that he was issuing orders to countermand mine. But he could have been I don’t know it. “LBJ remembers intercepting McHugh”—I do not. I didn’t know he was on the plane. I hardly knew McHugh. “Telling him he would tell the pilot when to take off. ‘I did tell him off,’ Johnson conceded.” I haven’t said that to any human. I don’t think I did. I don’t think I had a conversation with him.

“He agreed that he probably did call Mrs. Kennedy ‘honey.’ It’s a word that comes easy as a Texan. ‘You know, if I called some guy’s office and he isn’t in, I say to his secretary, “Honey, have him call in.“'” Now, I don’t think that I said that to anybody. And I don’t think I called Mrs. Kennedy “honey.” I think that’s their idea of a “you all” and “comin’”—c-o-m-i-n—and this stuff they write about Texas. [Moyers acknowledges.]

Now, Norma Milligan says that she’s been working on it up there. [note 21] Norma Milligan was a journalist and White House correspondent for Newsweek in the 1960s. And she says that she’s from Oklahoma, and she thinks she understands Texans better. So she’s been talking to some people on our staff there. I don’t know who. Chuck Roberts has been talking to some. I don’t know who. But—

—these are not the facts as I remember them. [Pause.] And my feeling on the Manchester book is the best thing we can do is I do not believe that we are equipped by experience, by tradition, by personality, or financially to cope with this. I just do not believe we know how to handle public relations, and how to handle advertising agencies, and how to handle manuscripts, how to handle book writers. And then I don’t believe that we’re . . . I just don’t think we’re equipped for it. So I think they’re going to write history as they want it written. And as they can buy it written. And I think the best way we can write it is to try to refrain from getting in an argument or a fight or a knockdown and go on and do our job every day as best we can. If I’m—if I just got Marie doing it with me. And I do that. I stay all—every hour. And it damn near causes you divorces, and it almost causes you troubles, and we’ve got everybody calling around on different things, and gossip pouring in, and pipelines of it, because everybody likes to show that they’re close to the President.

And I said to someone the other day that I don’t know of but four people that have left me that I know of that were my people that are brought in after Walter Jenkins was forced to leave. He didn’t leave of his own volition. But I think that you and Jack and Buzz and George Reedy. And I don’t believe any of them did better before they came in the White House than they did in the White House. I don’t think George had the fringes and the prestige and the car and the 30,000 [dollars] and anything. I don’t think Buzz did. Jack may have. My judgment is the three years he preceded, that he didn’t have 100,000 [-dollar] income like he had there. And—but he may have had a little more. But all of them came in, and all of them left to get money, to make money, because of their money requirement. And they all left with my consent and with my knowledge and, generally speaking, with my desire. That was not true of all of them. But I thought that they had problems. I thought Buzz was stood to be a great problem to us, like Myer [“Mike”] Feldman. [note 22] Myer “Mike” Feldman was deputy special counsel to the president from 1961 to 1964, and counsel to the president from April 1964 to January 1965. He hadn’t even paid his income tax. And I thought Jack, on account of Mary Margaret [Valenti] ‘s tastes and other things, and the fact that he had been demeaned to the press, and the press looked down on him, and so forth, I thought it would be better. [note 23] Mary Margaret Valenti was a White House secretary, and the wife of Jack Valenti since 1962. So I didn’t object. George Reedy, I thought it had to come because of his health, and because of the way the press treated him, and so on, and so forth. In your case, you know how I felt. But these particular instances, I think, they’ve drawn them up to where they have nine or ten. And I assume they give me credit for [Richard “Dick”] Goodwin, who was the Kennedy man, and [McGeorge “Mac”] Bundy, who was the Kennedy man, and Feldman, who was the Kennedy man. [note 24] McGeorge “Mac” Bundy was dean of the faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University from 1953 to 1961, and special assistant to the president for National Security Affairs from 1961 to 1966.

Now, I’m helpless to describe that. But I’m rather glad all of them left. I encouraged Feldman to leave. And Bundy asked me, and I told Bundy just what I told you: that I thought he’d be very helpful, I’d like for him to stay, I’d try to work out anything I could for him, but, if he felt that he ought to go on account of financial considerations and this opportunity, that I would not object, and he’d go with my blessing, and he did. And to be honest with you, I was rather glad he did. My days have been much relieved. I mean, I’m not angry with anybody, but I’m not unhappy. But I think they get different impressions. And I think we just have to—the best thing we can say is as little as we can, because you can see that you are the most truthful, the closest, the ablest, the finest man that’s ever been there. But still, they claim, our press relations are terrible.

Now, if that is true, and . . . then I can’t expect someone to be as good when you’re gone. So the best thing for us to do is just to keep it as limited as we can and as little. And my thought would be—and I’m not sure that I’m right I’d like for you to think about it—my thought would be that George could say, “I’ve had several requests for interviews with the President, or members of the staff, on this question. They have all been declined. The President has said—has stated—has refused to have any interviews on it. And . . . any . . . purported statements of his are not only inaccurate, but untrue.” Now, maybe that’s a little too strong. You had in mind that you’d go a little stronger than my original one. What did you have?

Here—Newsweek said, “LBJ’s own recollection of”—frankly, Mr. President, if you read this whole piece, it is a sympathetic piece to you and to your position. But it’s based upon total fabrication. But it says, “LBJ’s own recollections of that fateful day, as he has recounted them to friends, have a touching quality all their own. What raced through his mind when he learned that the President was dead was no personal thrust for power, but rather the memory of the day Harry Truman suddenly inherited the presidency from Franklin Roosevelt more than 18 years ago.”


How ‘Landslide Lyndon’ stole the Senate race in 1948

In 1941, Lyndon Baines Johnson ran for U.S. Senate. Franklin D. Roosevelt made a speech on the eve of the election criticizing LBJ’s opponent, Wilbert Lee O’Daniel, nevertheless, LBJ lost by 1,311 votes.

LBJ alleged voter fraud. In 1948, LBJ ran for Senate again. On election night, Sept. 2, 1948, in the Democrat Primary runoff against former Texas Governor Coke Stevenson, it appeared LBJ lost.

Then, mysteriously, a box of uncounted ballots was “discovered” in the south Texas town of Alice in Jim Wells County, Precinct 13. Confusion reigned in Texas and by the end of the week, LBJ won by 87 votes. Both sides accused the other of voter fraud.

The FBI, Postal Department and other agencies investigated. Piecing together the details, the story emerged alleging that during the tabulation period, LBJ’s campaign manager, John B. Connally, traveled to Alice, Texas.

With access granted by wealthy “political boss” of Duval County, George Parr, who later committed suicide, John Connally was present when the ballots were recounted and the returns amended.

When the dust settled, the new totals showed 202 additional voters, some of whom were deceased and buried in the local cemetery or were absent from the county on election day. These voters “lined up” in alphabetical order at the last minute, signed in the same blue ink in the same handwriting and all cast their ballots for LBJ.

The New York Times published an article July 30, 1977, titled “Ex-Official Says He Stole 1948 Election for Johnson”:

“The disclosure was made by Luis Salas, who was the election judge for Jim Well’s County’s Box 13, which produced just enough votes in the 1948 Texas Democratic primary runoff to give Mr. Johnson the party’s nomination for the United States Senate … ‘Johnson did not win that election – it was stolen for him and I know exactly how it was done,’ said Mr. Salas, now a lean, white-haired 76 year old … George B. Parr, the South Texas political leader whom Mr. Salas served for a decade, shot and killed himself in April of 1975. Mr. Johnson is dead and so is his opponent … Mr. Salas said he decided to break his silence in quest for ‘peace of mind’ … ‘I was just going along with my party’ … He said Mr. Parr ordered that 200-odd votes be added to Mr. Johnson’s total from Box 13.

“Mr. Salas said he had seen the fraudulent votes added in alphabetical order and had them certified then as authentic on order from Mr. Parr … Parr was the Godfather … He … could tell any election judge: ‘give us 80 percent of the vote, and the other guy 20 percent.’ We had it made in every election …”

The New York Times article continued:

“The Associated Press interviewed … a former agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, T. Keilis Dibrell … He confirmed Mr. Salas’ statement that the last 200 votes had been in alphabetical order’ … Mr. Dibrell said ‘Also, the last 202 names were made with the same colored ink, and in the same handwriting, whereas the earlier names in the poll list were written by different individuals and in different color inks.’

The final statewide count, including the Box 13 votes, gave Mr. Johnson an 87 vote margin … earning him the tongue-in-cheek nickname ‘Landslide Lyndon.'”

The Democrat Central Committee was deadlocked 28 to 28 on whether to certify the questionable election results, so Connally persuaded Frank W. Mayborn, publisher of the Temple Daily Telegram, to cut short a business trip in Nashville, Tennessee, and return to cast the deciding Committee vote to certify the election results.

Coke Stevenson took LBJ to court and on Sept., 24, 1948, Judge T. Whitfield Davidson ordered LBJ’s name removed from the general election ballot.

LBJ turned to Washington attorney and former FDR appointee Abe Fortas. Abe Fortas persuaded Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, who was also appointed by FDR, to intervene.

On Sept. 28, 1948, Justice Black overturned the lower court ruling, letting the decision in the Johnson-Stevenson race rest with the Texas Democrat Central Committee.

In return for his favor, Abe Fortas was nominated by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 to be a Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

During LBJ’s term as President, many records of LBJ’s contested race disappeared.

In 1966, Abe Fortas accepted money from a Wall Street financier investigated for securities violations. Abe Fortas resigned in 1969.

In the Washington Post article, “HOW ‘LANDSLIDE LYNDON’ EARNED HIS NAME,” March 4, 1990, David S. Broder reviewed Robert Caro’s book “The Years of Lyndon Johnson”:

“The slimy creature who stole the 1948 Texas Senate election … Lyndon Johnson … driven by ‘a boundless ambition … his career had been a story of manipulation, deceit and ruthlessness … the morality of the ballot box … in which nothing matters but victory and any maneuver that leads to victory is justified … Johnson … stole the victory in the 1948 Senate race … That campaign was an American classic … Johnson battled … a strongly favored opponent to win by the narrowest of margins — the 87-vote victory that earned him the derisive nickname of ‘Landslide Lyndon’ …

Johnson went through an equally breathless battle in the state convention and the courts to make his clearly tainted victory stand up.”

In March of 2006, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott posted a column on the Texas State Attorney General’s website, stating:

“Voter fraud is no newcomer to the Lone Star State. Six decades ago, the votes ‘found’ in Jim Wells County’s infamous Ballot Box 13 helped Lyndon Johnson squeak into the U.S. Senate in that 1948 primary.”

How ‘Landslide Lyndon’ stole the Senate race in 1948 added by World Tribune on November 14, 2018
View all posts by World Tribune &rarr


Contents

While on the first stop of his 1964 reelection campaign, President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas. Supporters were shocked and saddened by the loss of the charismatic President, while opposition candidates were put in the awkward position of running against the policies of a slain political figure. [2]

During the following period of mourning, Republican leaders called for a political moratorium, so as not to appear disrespectful. [3] [4] As such, little politicking was done by the candidates of either major party until January 1964, when the primary season officially began. [5] At the time, most political pundits saw Kennedy's assassination as leaving the nation politically unsettled. [2]

Democratic Party Edit

Candidates Edit

The only candidate other than President Johnson to actively campaign was then Alabama Governor George Wallace who ran in a number of northern primaries, though his candidacy was more to promote the philosophy of states' rights among a northern audience while expecting some support from delegations in the South, Wallace was certain that he was not in contention for the Democratic nomination. [6] Johnson received 1,106,999 votes in the primaries.

At the national convention the integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) claimed the seats for delegates for Mississippi, not on the grounds of Party rules, but because the official Mississippi delegation had been elected by a white primary system. The national party's liberal leaders supported an even division of the seats between the two Mississippi delegations Johnson was concerned that, while the regular Democrats of Mississippi would probably vote for Goldwater anyway, rejecting them would lose him the South. Eventually, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Reuther and the black civil rights leaders including Roy Wilkins, Martin Luther King Jr., and Bayard Rustin worked out a compromise: the MFDP took two seats the regular Mississippi delegation was required to pledge to support the party ticket and no future Democratic convention would accept a delegation chosen by a discriminatory poll. Joseph L. Rauh Jr., the MFDP's lawyer, initially refused this deal, but they eventually took their seats. Many white delegates from Mississippi and Alabama refused to sign any pledge, and left the convention and many young civil rights workers were offended by any compromise. [7] Johnson biographers Rowland Evans and Robert Novak claim that the MFDP fell under the influence of "black radicals" and rejected their seats. [8] Johnson lost Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina.

Johnson also faced trouble from Robert F. Kennedy, President Kennedy's younger brother and the U.S. Attorney General. Kennedy and Johnson's relationship was troubled from the time Robert Kennedy was a Senate staffer. Then-Majority Leader Johnson surmised that Kennedy's hostility was the direct result of the fact that Johnson frequently recounted a story that embarrassed Kennedy's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, the ambassador to the United Kingdom. According to his recounting, Johnson and President Franklin D. Roosevelt misled the ambassador, upon a return visit to the United States, to believe that Roosevelt wished to meet in Washington for friendly purposes in fact Roosevelt planned to—and did—fire the ambassador, due to the ambassador's well publicized views. [9] The Johnson–Kennedy hostility was rendered mutual in the 1960 primaries and the 1960 Democratic National Convention, when Robert Kennedy had tried to prevent Johnson from becoming his brother's running mate, a move that deeply embittered both men.

In early 1964, despite his personal animosity for the president, Kennedy had tried to force Johnson to accept him as his running mate. Johnson eliminated this threat by announcing that none of his cabinet members would be considered for second place on the Democratic ticket. Johnson also became concerned that Kennedy might use his scheduled speech at the 1964 Democratic Convention to create a groundswell of emotion among the delegates to make him Johnson's running mate he prevented this by deliberately scheduling Kennedy's speech on the last day of the convention, after his running mate had already been chosen. Shortly after the 1964 Democratic Convention, Kennedy decided to leave Johnson's cabinet and run for the U.S. Senate in New York he won the general election in November. Johnson chose United States Senator Hubert Humphrey from Minnesota, a liberal and civil rights activist, as his running mate.

Republican Party Edit

Candidates Edit

Primaries Edit

The Republican Party (GOP) was badly divided in 1964 between its conservative and moderate-liberal factions. Former Vice-President Richard Nixon, who had been beaten by Kennedy in the extremely close 1960 presidential election, decided not to run. Nixon, a moderate with ties to both wings of the GOP, had been able to unite the factions in 1960 in his absence the way was clear for the two factions to engage in an all-out political civil war for the nomination. Barry Goldwater, a Senator from Arizona, was the champion of the conservatives. The conservatives had historically been based in the American Midwest, but beginning in the 1950s they had been gaining in power in the South and West, and the core of Goldwater's support came from suburban conservative Republicans. The conservatives favored a low-tax, small federal government which supported individual rights and business interests and opposed social welfare programs. The conservatives also favored a hawkish foreign policy and resented the dominance of the GOP's moderate wing, which was based in the Northeastern United States. Since 1940, the Eastern moderates had defeated conservative presidential candidates at the GOP's national conventions. The conservatives believed the Eastern moderates were little different from liberal Democrats in their philosophy and approach to government. Goldwater's chief opponent for the Republican nomination was Nelson Rockefeller, the Governor of New York and the longtime leader of the GOP's liberal-moderate faction.

Initially, Rockefeller was considered the front-runner, ahead of Goldwater. However, in 1963, two years after Rockefeller's divorce from his first wife, he married Margaretta "Happy" Murphy, who was nearly 18 years younger than he and had just divorced her husband and surrendered her four children to his custody. [10] The fact that Murphy had suddenly divorced her husband before marrying Rockefeller led to rumors that Rockefeller had been having an extramarital affair with her. This angered many social conservatives and female voters within the GOP, many of whom called Rockefeller a "wife stealer". [10] After his remarriage, Rockefeller's lead among Republicans lost 20 points overnight. [10] Senator Prescott Bush of Connecticut, the father of President George H. W. Bush and grandfather of President George W. Bush, was among Rockefeller's critics on this issue: "Have we come to the point in our life as a nation where the governor of a great state—one who perhaps aspires to the nomination for president of the United States—can desert a good wife, mother of his grown children, divorce her, then persuade a young mother of four youngsters to abandon her husband and their four children and marry the governor?" [10]

In the first primary, in New Hampshire, both Rockefeller and Goldwater were considered to be the favorites, but the voters instead gave a surprising victory to the U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., Nixon's running mate in 1960 and a former Massachusetts senator. Lodge was a write-in candidate. He went on to win the Massachusetts and New Jersey primaries before withdrawing his candidacy because he had finally decided he did not want the Republican nomination. [11]

Despite his defeat in New Hampshire, Goldwater pressed on, winning the Illinois, Texas, and Indiana primaries with little opposition, and Nebraska's primary after a stiff challenge from a draft-Nixon movement. Goldwater also won a number of state caucuses and gathered even more delegates. Meanwhile, Nelson Rockefeller won the West Virginia and Oregon primaries against Goldwater, and William Scranton won in his home state of Pennsylvania. Both Rockefeller and Scranton also won several state caucuses, mostly in the Northeast.

The final showdown between Goldwater and Rockefeller was in the California primary. In spite of the previous accusations regarding his marriage, Rockefeller led Goldwater in most opinion polls in California, and he appeared headed for victory when his new wife gave birth to a son, Nelson Rockefeller Jr., three days before the primary. [10] His son's birth brought the issue of adultery front and center, and Rockefeller suddenly lost ground in the polls. [10] Goldwater won the primary by a narrow 51–49% margin, thus eliminating Rockefeller as a serious contender and all but clinching the nomination. With Rockefeller's elimination, the party's moderates and liberals turned to William Scranton, the Governor of Pennsylvania, in the hopes that he could stop Goldwater. However, as the Republican Convention began Goldwater was seen as the heavy favorite to win the nomination. This was notable, as it signified a shift to a more conservative-leaning Republican Party.

    – 2,267,079 (38.33%) – 1,304,204 (22.05%) – 615,754 (10.41%) – 386,661 (6.54%) – 299,612 (5.07%) – 245,401 (4.15%) – 227,007 (3.84%) – 197,212 (3.33%)
  • Unpledged – 173,652 (2.94%) – 114,083 (1.93%)
  • Other – 58,933 (0.99%) (write-in) – 23,406 (0.40%) – 1,955 (0.03%)

Convention Edit

The 1964 Republican National Convention at Daly City, California's Cow Palace arena was one of the most bitter on record, as the party's moderates and conservatives openly expressed their contempt for each other. Rockefeller was loudly booed when he came to the podium for his speech in his speech he roundly criticized the party's conservatives, which led many conservatives in the galleries to yell and scream at him. A group of moderates tried to rally behind Scranton to stop Goldwater, but Goldwater's forces easily brushed his challenge aside, and Goldwater was nominated on the first ballot. The presidential tally was as follows:

The vice-presidential nomination went to little-known Republican Party Chairman William E. Miller, a Representative from upstate New York. Goldwater stated that he chose Miller simply because "he drives [President] Johnson nuts". This would be the only Republican ticket between 1948 and 1976 that did not include Nixon.

In accepting his nomination, Goldwater uttered his most famous phrase (a quote from Cicero suggested by speechwriter Harry Jaffa): "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." [12] For many GOP moderates, Goldwater's speech was seen as a deliberate insult, and many of these moderates would defect to the Democrats in the fall election.

Campaign Edit

Although Goldwater had been successful in rallying conservatives, he was unable to broaden his base of support for the general election. Shortly before the Republican Convention, he had alienated moderate Republicans by his vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, [13] which Johnson championed and signed into law. Goldwater said that he considered desegregation a states' rights issue, rather than a national policy, and believed the 1964 act to be unconstitutional. Goldwater's vote against the legislation helped cause African-Americans to overwhelmingly support Johnson. [14] Goldwater had previously voted in favor of the 1957 and 1960 Civil Rights acts, but only after proposing "restrictive amendments" to them. [14] Goldwater was famous for speaking "off-the-cuff" at times, and many of his former statements were given wide publicity by the Democrats. In the early 1960s, Goldwater had called the Eisenhower administration "a dime store New Deal", and the former president never fully forgave him or offered him his full support in the election.

In December 1961, he told a news conference that "sometimes I think this country would be better off if we could just saw off the Eastern Seaboard and let it float out to sea", a remark which indicated his dislike of the liberal economic and social policies that were often associated with that part of the nation. That comment came back to haunt him, in the form of a Johnson television commercial, [15] as did remarks about making Social Security voluntary [16] and selling the Tennessee Valley Authority. In his most famous verbal gaffe, Goldwater once joked that the U.S. military should "lob one [a nuclear bomb] into the men's room of the Kremlin" in the Soviet Union.

Goldwater was also hurt by the reluctance of many prominent moderate Republicans to support him. Governors Nelson Rockefeller of New York and George Romney of Michigan refused to endorse Goldwater and did not campaign for him. On the other hand, former Vice President Richard Nixon and Governor Scranton of Pennsylvania loyally supported the GOP ticket and campaigned for Goldwater, although Nixon did not entirely agree with Goldwater's political stances and said that it would "be a tragedy" if Goldwater's platform were not "challenged and repudiated" by the Republicans. [17] The New York Herald-Tribune, a voice for eastern Republicans (and a target for Goldwater activists during the primaries), supported Johnson in the general election. Some moderates even formed a "Republicans for Johnson" organization, although most prominent GOP politicians avoided being associated with it.

Shortly before the Republican convention, CBS reporter Daniel Schorr wrote from Germany that "It looks as though Senator Goldwater, if nominated, will be starting his campaign here in Bavaria, center of Germany's right wing." He noted that a prior Goldwater interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel was an "appeal to right-wing elements". However, there was no ulterior motive for the trip it was just a vacation. [18]

Fact magazine published an article polling psychiatrists around the country as to Goldwater's sanity. Some 1,189 psychiatrists appeared to agree that Goldwater was "emotionally unstable" and unfit for office, though none of the members had actually interviewed him. The article received heavy publicity and resulted in a change to the ethics guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association. In a libel suit, a federal court awarded Goldwater $1 in compensatory damages and $75,000 in punitive damages. [19] [20] [21] [22] [23]

Eisenhower's strong backing could have been an asset to the Goldwater campaign, but instead, its absence was clearly noticed. When questioned about the presidential capabilities of the former president's younger brother, university administrator Milton S. Eisenhower, in July 1964, Goldwater replied, "One Eisenhower in a generation is enough." However, Eisenhower did not openly repudiate Goldwater and made one television commercial for Goldwater's campaign. [24] A prominent Hollywood celebrity who vigorously supported Goldwater was Ronald Reagan. Reagan gave a well-received televised speech supporting Goldwater it was so popular that Goldwater's advisors had it played on local television stations around the nation. Many historians consider this speech—"A Time for Choosing"—to mark the beginning of Reagan's transformation from an actor to a political leader. In 1966, Reagan would be elected Governor of California in a landslide.

Ads and slogans Edit

Johnson positioned himself as a moderate and succeeded in portraying Goldwater as an extremist. Goldwater had a habit of making blunt statements about war, nuclear weapons, and economics that could be turned against him. Most famously, the Johnson campaign broadcast a television commercial on September 7 dubbed the "Daisy Girl" ad, which featured a little girl picking petals from a daisy in a field, counting the petals, which then segues into a launch countdown and a nuclear explosion. [25] The ads were in response to Goldwater's advocacy of "tactical" nuclear weapons use in Vietnam. [26] "Confessions of a Republican", another Johnson ad, features a monologue from a man who tells viewers that he had previously voted for Eisenhower and Nixon, but now worries about the "men with strange ideas", "weird groups" and "the head of the Ku Klux Klan" who were supporting Goldwater he concludes that "either they're not Republicans, or I'm not". [27] Voters increasingly viewed Goldwater as a right-wing fringe candidate. His slogan "In your heart, you know he's right" was successfully parodied by the Johnson campaign into "In your guts, you know he's nuts", or "In your heart, you know he might" (as in "he might push the nuclear button"), or even "In your heart, he's too far right". [28] [29]

The Johnson campaign's greatest concern may have been voter complacency leading to low turnout in key states. To counter this, all of Johnson's broadcast ads concluded with the line: "Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home." The Democratic campaign used two other slogans, "All the way with LBJ" [ This quote needs a citation ] and "LBJ for the USA". [30]


The Bobby Kennedy Myth

Many on the left have learned the wrong lessons from his ill-fated presidential bid.

Joshua Zeitz, a Politico Magazine contributing editor, is the author of Building the Great Society: Inside Lyndon Johnson's White House, which will be released on January 30. Follow him @joshuamzeitz.

Fifty years ago this evening, Robert F. Kennedy stepped off a dais in the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after declaring victory in California’s presidential primary. Moments later, as he walked through the kitchen to greet the hotel’s busboys and dishwashers, a lone gunman assassinated the New York senator in a tragic reprise of the events that had claimed his brother’s life just a few years earlier.

In the half-century since his death, Bobby Kennedy has come to embody the Democratic Party’s lost dream. He alone, it seemed, could draw working-class white, black and Latino voters into an umbrella coalition. He was an “activist champion of the country’s disinherited,” argues Chris Matthews, the MSNBC host and longtime political observer. He seemed uniquely capable of preaching a message of reconciliation in a country violently torn at the seams in 1968. Or, if he was not singular in this ability, then his powerful message of “inclusive patriotic populism,” as Richard D. Kahlenberg has argued, should inform today’s Democratic Party as it charts a long course back to power.

It’s a compelling story. But the truth is, we just don’t know. The myth of Kennedy’s cross-racial appeal is grounded in a limited number of precinct-level results from two states—Indiana and Nebraska—where the results were, at best, mixed. It seems equally likely that Kennedy, had he been nominated, was on track to sweep black and Latino neighborhoods but bleed support among working-class whites—the same fate that ultimately befell Vice President Hubert Humphrey, the Democratic nominee that year.

Ironically, RFK’s younger brother, Senator Ted Kennedy, came closer to building what many pundits today believe is the Democratic Party’s winning combination: people of color, educated white suburbanites and enough blue-collar white workers who have been drifting for the past 50 years into Republican ranks.

But history doesn’t always tell a neat story. For those looking to either Kennedy brother for the magic formula, there is a warning. Context and contingency matter. What works in one year, for one candidate, might not work in the next. As instructive as the past might be, it doesn’t necessarily give us clear insight into the future.

The hard reality is this: Bobby Kennedy would most likely not have won the presidency, because he was already on track to lose his party’s nomination. In 1968 only 15 states chose their delegates by primary. Almost three-fifths of conventional delegates were selected by county committeemen, state party officers and elected officials, and those officials were squarely behind Humphrey.

Kennedy also faced opposition from three groups central to the nominating process: Southern Democrats, many of whom bitterly resented his advocacy of civil rights many leaders of organized labor, who remembered his crackdowns on Jimmy Hoffa and other corrupt union officials and—despite his upbringing and pedigree—titans of industry, who viewed with deep worry his steady, leftward drift during his four years in the Senate. “Who else could have brought together Big Business, Big Labor and the South?” Bobby quipped to a campaign aide.

Finally, young antiwar voters, whom he needed to draw into in his coalition, remained steadfastly loyal to Senator Eugene McCarthy, the Minnesota Democrat who had preceded RFK in challenging President Lyndon B. Johnson, and who had “un-kinged” the incumbent by nearly beating him in the New Hampshire primary, thus prompting LBJ to drop out.

Despite victories in Indiana, Nebraska and California—and the likelihood of wins in New York and New Jersey later that spring—Bobby, who had expertly managed his brother Jack’s campaigns for the Senate and presidency, ran an astoundingly undisciplined campaign in 1968. His operation was torn between old-guard practitioners of traditional machine politics—disbursers of “walking around” money, delegate counters, deal-cutters—and young Senate aides who favored an aggressive, shock-and-awe appeal to the dispossessed. It’s hard to imagine they would have run a sufficiently methodical operation at the Democratic National Convention. And even if they had, the odds were steep.

Yet despite its shortcomings and structural blockers, Kennedy’s campaign was a singular event. “Black Bobby,” as his own family once called him in reference to the brooding, bitter, pragmatic enforcer who scoffed at liberals as impractical, even weak, dreamers—had evolved into a sad-eyed and genuinely empathetic champion of Americans who had been left behind: black people living in squalid urban ghettos, Latino immigrants laboring for pennies in California’s vineyards, poor white residents of Appalachian coal towns that had long ago been stripped to their veins.

At frantic rallies and in frenzied motorcade swings through black and Latino neighborhoods, Kennedy transformed into something bordering between Christ-like and celebrity. “The crowds were savage,” one of his advisers remembered. “They pulled off his cufflinks, tore off his clothes, tore ours. In bigger towns with bigger crowds, it was frightening.” Kennedy would stand in an open-topped convertible, a young aide kneeling with his arm wrapped around the candidate, who wore a weary half smile as residents reached out to touch his limp arms and hands or tear off a piece of clothing as a keepsake. “It was like he wasn’t there,” another aide observed. “His stare was vacant.”

Bobby veered sharply between preaching a message of reconciliation and lobbing bruising attacks on those representing wealth, privilege and power (he was never so effective as when those attacks were aimed at his nemesis, President Johnson). To the black and brown voters who composed the base of his support, he seemed a savior. But to many middle-class white Democrats, Kennedy’s rallies and motorcades were unsettling. In their heat and intensity, they seemed eerily of a piece with violent antiwar protests and urban riots that defined that most disorderly time. “You have to turn it down,” implored Ted Sorensen, a longtime Kennedy family confidant. “We can’t,” Bobby replied. “It’s too late.”

The myth of Kennedy’s interracial appeal was born in Indiana, where the candidate trounced his cooler, more professorial rival, Eugene McCarthy. In the immediate aftermath of the primary, the influential political columnists Robert Novak and Rowland Evans noted that in Gary, “while Negro precincts were delivering about 90 percent for Kennedy, he was running 2 to 1 ahead in some Polish districts.” Such findings quickly formed the basis of Bobby’s image as a candidate of racial reconciliation. He was a tough, Irish Catholic Democrat with unimpeachable credentials as a Cold Warrior and law enforcer. But he was also the preferred candidate of the urban ghetto—a truth speaker on racial and economic injustice. “Kennedy’s Indiana Victory Proves His Appeal Defuses Backlash Voting,” one headline declared.

Historians and political scientists see the matter differently today. Kennedy’s own vote counters later conceded that he lost 59 out of 70 white precincts in Gary. While Kennedy’s internal polls showed him faring better than might be expected among former supporters of George Wallace’s bid for the Democratic nomination four years earlier, he nevertheless struggled to retain working-class, white ethnic voters and relied instead on robust turnout in minority neighborhoods for his electoral cushion.

The best analysis of the limited data available is Richard Kahlenberg’s superb and largely persuasive paper, “The Inclusive Populism of Robert Kennedy,” published earlier this year. Kahlenberg is more inclined to believe that RFK was on a path to build a winning alliance of working-class whites and minorities, but a fair read of his work acknowledges that we just don’t know. Kennedy didn’t run in enough primaries—and data science was too primitive in 1968—to tell us much. There is evidence to support either conclusion.

Counterfactuals are a dangerous game, but Kennedy and his team instinctively understood that their real base was among people of color. As early precincts from Gary reported on May 7, opening up a wide gap in what early returns had shown to be an unexpectedly close race against McCarthy, Ethel Kennedy, the candidate’s wife, crowed, “Don’t you just wish that everyone was black?”

What does seem clear is that Kennedy struggled with educated white professionals, a group central to the Democratic Party’s ambitions in 2018 and beyond. The journalist David Halberstam attributed much of the problem to style. Kennedy’s motorcades and rallies captured the very fever that many suburbanites hoped to quell. “There would be two minutes of television each night of Robert Kennedy being mauled, losing his shoes, and then there would be 15 free—that was painful—minutes of Gene McCarthy talking leisurely and seriously about the issues.”

Much focus is given to understanding whether Bobby Kennedy could have forged a white, black and brown working-class coalition, to the exclusion of considering whether he could have held enough white suburbanites to defeat Richard Nixon—assuming, that is, that he had been able to win the Democratic nomination.

Heading into the Oregon primary, Bobby rued that “it’s all white Protestants. There’s nothing for me to grab ahold of.” On the eve of the ballot, the candidate turned to his aide, Joe Dolan, and observed, “You think I’m going to lose.” “I know you are,” replied Dolan. “We don’t have blacks and Chicanos, and we do have gun nuts.” (Kennedy became an early gun safety supporter after his brother’s assassination, a position that was no more popular in certain pockets then than it is now.)

The Netflix documentary, “Bobby Kennedy for President,” opens with bracing—almost jaw-dropping—footage of Bobby campaigning in open-topped convertibles throughout California. It was days after his defeat in Oregon, and he was in the fight of his life. The crowds are interracial, to be sure, but upon close examination, they are composed of people of color in sharp disproportion to the state’s population in 1968. We don’t know how Kennedy might have fared among working-class whites if he had survived into the fall. But it’s fair to say that he was one of the first national Democrat in aftermath of the Voting Rights Act to solidify the loyalty of black and Latino voters in large and meaningful numbers.

Bobby Kennedy—a late arrival to the cause of racial justice, but a powerful and important voice in the last years of his short life—didn’t live long enough to build on that legacy. As the nation’s demographics changed, Democrats would struggle to layer other groups on top of its growing minority base: young people, the LGBT community, suburban professionals and enough working-class whites to avoid an absolute rout in key states.

That’s the coalition that Barack Obama assembled in 2008 and 2012. But he wasn’t the first to build it. That honor falls to Bobby’s younger brother, Teddy.

Having spent nearly four years leading liberals in opposition to their party’s centrist president, in November 1979 Ted Kennedy—the youngest and last-surviving of Joe Kennedy’s sons—announced that he would challenge President Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination the next year. The campaign did not begin promisingly.

In the early months of the race, CBS aired a documentary on Kennedy in which the Massachusetts senator nearly came unraveled. After stumbling through tense questioning from newsman Roger Mudd about his conduct 10 years earlier at Chappaquiddick, Kennedy badly flubbed what should have been a soft-ball question: Why was he running for president?

“Well, I’m—were I to—to make the announcement,” he began in a halting voice, “… is because I have a great belief in this country, that is—has more natural resources than any nation in the world … the greatest technology of any country in the world … the greatest political system in the world … And I would basically feel that—that it’s imperative for this country to move forward, that it can’t stand still, or otherwise it moves back.” Kennedy’s performance was shockingly sub-par and created a clear impression that he had no particular reason, other than personal ambition, for seeking the highest office in the land. “He was running because he wanted to be president,” Carter’s chief of staff later noted. “That was not such an unusual motive, but most aspirants figure out some way to disguise it better.”

As an anxious nation rallied behind its commander in chief in the initial days of the Iran hostage crisis in November 1979 (hard though it is to imagine all these years later, Carter’s rating in the Gallup Poll shot up from 32 percent to 61 percent overnight), the Boston Globe observed that “the flame under the [Kennedy] charisma has been turned down so low it seems to have gone out, and the motivation seems muffled. It is a Kennedy campaign without a Kennedy.”

Yet by late spring, after losing a string of critical early primary and caucus states, Kennedy hit his stride. He defeated Carter in delegate-rich New York and then proceeded to win a straight row of contests in Pennsylvania, Arizona, New Mexico, California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Michigan. As the hostage crisis wore on—and after Carter ordered a disastrous, failed rescue mission in April—exit polls revealed that Kennedy was attracting support from voters disillusioned by the president’s inability to resolve the situation in the Middle East and equally animated by economic concerns over persistent stagflation, mounting job losses in the manufacturing sector and soaring energy and food prices. Increasingly, Kennedy homed in on economic grievances that resonated across a broad swath of voters from different backgrounds.

As a journalist observed, the electoral coalition that Kennedy managed to assemble late in the primary season was precisely the alignment his brother Bobby had attempted with great fanfare but less success to cobble together in 1968: “blacks and liberals and blue-collar conservatives, all united by their anger at the way things were.”

It was both an understatement and a half-truth. Exit polls and precinct-level data revealed that Kennedy trounced Carter in heavily black and Latino precincts. In New York, he won the 10th Congressional District—a Bronx-based district populated mostly by black and Latino residents—by a 2-to-1 margin. He also won early 70 percent of the vote in the 8th District in Queens, an enclave of Roman Catholic working-class and middle-class families. He performed similarly well in Philadelphia and its suburbs, among black and working-class white voters, though Carter bested him in smaller towns in the western part of the state, where Kennedy’s advocacy of abortion rights and gun safety measures was a liability.

In Arizona and New Mexico, Teddy racked up lopsided numbers in heavily Latino precincts. Though the president enjoyed the support of the state party chair and the mayor of Albuquerque, Kennedy amassed 4-to-1 and 3-to-1 majorities in counties where Latino voters composed the lion’s share of the electorate.

It wasn’t merely that Kennedy managed to build the coalition that eluded his brother, though by April he led Carter in polling among Jews, Catholics and liberals. He also broadened that coalition to include new constituencies. In California, he and his wife campaigned openly in gay bars around San Francisco’s Castro district, leading the San Francisco Chronicle to marvel at the “striking diversity” of the crowd. Kennedy pulled under one roof representatives of blue-collar labor unions, LGBT activists, and black and Latino community organizers. He also began performing well in middle-class suburbs—not necessarily winning them outright, but drawing near enough to Carter blunt his advantage.

By the time Kennedy recovered his early momentum, the president had already won enough delegates to secure re-nomination on the first ballot. Nevertheless, Kennedy had succeeded—if only fleetingly—in assembling the outlines of the coalition that Barack Obama would later forge in 2008.

America’s fundamental demography has changed markedly since 1968 and 1980. We’re a more diverse country, not only by measures of race and ethnicity, but by sexuality, family composition and lifestyle. Working-class voters have for some time shifted gradually to the GOP, just as college-educated white suburbanites—particularly, women—have made the opposite migration to the Democratic Party.

Yet on the week of the 50th anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s assassination, many pundits have found it tempting to locate in his last campaign the Democratic Party’s map out of the wilderness. That would be a mistake. The examples are instructive on a limited basis, but in both cases, context and contingency mattered.

Context: Bobby Kennedy ran for president at the high-water mark of white backlash, in a year when America seemed at war with itself. It’s possible that no candidate—even one so apparently hard-wired for the challenge—could have bridged racial and class divides. (Another candidate, Richard Nixon, knew how to profit from them.)

Contingency: Without a prolonged hostage crisis, Ted Kennedy might not have gained sufficient traction in the late primaries.

Context: Ted Kennedy ran for president in a transitional decade, when millions of Americans swung wildly between left and right. It was an era when women could be found at both feminist marches and anti-abortion rallies union members could demand economic collectivism one day, and angrily oppose school busing the next. On Election Day, some 27 percent of Ted Kennedy’s primary supporters cast their votes for Ronald Reagan, including a self-identified white-ethnic liberal from Queens, who told a reporter shortly before the general election: “Carter’s a disaster. I think what the country really needs is a father figure, so I’m voting for Ronald Reagan.” In so fluid an environment, Ted Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could profit.

Contingency: What if RFK had lived and had taken the nomination from Humphrey? Ultimately, the 1968 election results were painfully close, with Nixon taking 43.4 percent of the popular vote to 42.7 percent for Humphrey and 13.5 percent for George Wallace. It’s not impossible to believe that he might have shaved off enough points from Wallace among white-ethnic and blue-collar workers in key East Coast and Midwestern states to win the race.

History can and should inform our present. But it doesn’t operate by timeless rules. Democrats should study the examples of 1968 and 1980, but they should also recognize that the country and its citizenry have changed a lot since then. Robert Kennedy in his final years had indeed transformed himself into a rare and noble voice for America’s forgotten communities. He preached a vital message of reconciliation and appealed to people’s better nature. There’s much to admire, and even venerate, in that legacy. But it’s not necessarily a template for the Democratic Party’s campaign strategy in 2018 and beyond.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this piece misstated when the Iran hostage crisis began. It was in November 1979.


Last month, The New York Times obtained a copy of Ted Kennedy’s then-unseen memoir and scoured it for the new pieces of history it had to offer. One of those anecdotes was a heretofore unknown “secret meeting in the spring of 1967 between President Lyndon B. Johnson and Robert Kennedy,” in which RFK proposed a plan for peace in Vietnam. Since the Times’ Sept. 2 article, news of this “secret meeting” has appeared in dozens, if not hundreds, of publications around the world.

But a secret meeting never happened. Not in Kennedy’s book. Not in real life.

In fact, the meeting the late Sen. Kennedy refers to in his memoir has been well-known, practically since the moment it happened. And though the Times describes the meeting as “secret,” Ted Kennedy never does. “On his return [from Europe], Bobby had met privately with Johnson and told him frankly what he thought the president should do.” That’s not new. Kennedy even held an impromptu press conference immediately after stepping out of the Oval Office. Newsweek got the details of the encounter days later, which the Times then reported on. Reached for comment, one of the paper’s lead reporters on the Kennedy book story acknowledged they should have used the word “private” instead of “secret.”

Now, was there another secret meeting? Not likely. And in the event that there was, it sure isn’t what Ted Kennedy writes about in his book.

First, a little background. The meeting was the result of Robert Kennedy’s trip to Europe in late January/early February 1967. There, Kennedy met with heads of state, the pope and other diplomats. Much of the discussion revolved around bringing peace to Vietnam, including a meeting in Paris with a French diplomat and an eager U.S. Embassy official. Long story short, a cable got sent off to the State Department that alleged Kennedy had received a peace feeler from the North Vietnamese. Somebody at Foggy Bottom handed it off to Newsweek’s Edward Weintal, who just happened to be roaming the halls looking for something interesting. (Boy, was it his lucky day.) Now Newsweek was running with the story of how Kennedy was seeking peace in Europe while Johnson was twiddling his thumbs, ordering up more troops and more bombs. The president, convinced the senator had leaked the news to embarrass him, was furious.

Meanwhile, a completely oblivious Robert Kennedy returned to Washington. He had no peace feeler to relay, nor did he understand just how angry Johnson was when he walked into the Oval Office late in the afternoon on Monday, Feb. 6, 1967. It was an ugly meeting. Kennedy told the president there was no feeler and said that Newsweek’s source probably came from “your State Department.” (Keep in mind: Neither man knew the true story yet.) Johnson shot back, “It’s not my State Department. It’s your goddamn State Department!” LBJ then launched into a lecture on how the military effort was going so well that the war would be over by summer and that if Kennedy continued his calls for negotiations, “I’ll destroy you and every one of your dove friends. You’ll be politically dead in six months.”

Kennedy did his best to ignore what the president was saying — ranting, really — and told him what the leaders of Europe thought. They proposed prolonging the four-day bombing pause that was scheduled for the upcoming Tet holiday, a move that could lead to negotiations. Kennedy said he shared this opinion and that if the president didn’t speak out, he would: “Say you’ll stop the bombing if they’ll come to the negotiating table.” A bombing halt, Kennedy told Johnson, was the only way to bring peace.

“There just isn’t a chance in hell that I will do that,” Johnson replied. “Not the slightest chance in the world.” He then told the senator he was tired of hearing the suggestions of someone like him, someone who was only aiding the enemy. “You have blood on your hands.”

Kennedy had had enough and got up to leave. The meeting almost ended there but didn’t. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Katzenbach, Bobby’s old deputy at the Justice Department, was also in the room, and he got Kennedy to stay a little while longer. Katzenbach later described the president’s behavior as “totally out of control.” The fourth person in the meeting, National Security Adviser Walt Rostow, was completely simpatico with Johnson, and even he was taken aback by the president’s manner. “It was rough,” was all he could say about it. “It was very rough.” Johnson essentially browbeat Kennedy into addressing the gaggle of reporters who had gathered in the West Wing lobby after hearing rumors of this high-profile summit. “I did not bring home any feelers,” he told them. It was on the front page of The New York Times the next morning.

This is the story as it has been known for decades. What Ted Kennedy’s memoir does reveal are exciting new details of this meeting, but unfortunately, his account seems inaccurate, as well.

Ted Kennedy writes of a “serious offer” RFK made to Johnson in their Feb. 6 meeting. “He proposed that the president give him the authority to personally negotiate for peace. He would shuttle back and forth between Washington and Saigon and would even travel to Hanoi and China if necessary — and Moscow — if Johnson would trust him to be the U.S. government’s agent in these secret negotiations.” Johnson, needless to say, did not accept.

First, there is circumstantial evidence that this offer was not made. Johnson started the meeting livid at the idea that Kennedy was personally inserting himself into peace negotiations. He unleashed years of pent-up vitriol for this very reason. It’s unlikely that RFK would continue to antagonize him by suggesting he be made a secret envoy — the very idea that had sent LBJ into a tizzy. Furthermore, the president’s indecent behavior did nothing to facilitate a chummy atmosphere. Odds are slim that Kennedy would have felt comfortable offering to work with — or for — “that marvelous human being who’s president of the United States,” as Kennedy sarcastically put it to his speechwriter Adam Walinsky.

Other Kennedy associates witnessed this sentiment, as well. When the senator returned to his office that evening, aide Peter Edelman was astounded by how disturbed he appeared. “I seldom saw him shaken, but he came back shaken from that meeting.” As news of what Johnson said to him set Washington abuzz, Kennedy would wear the president’s threats like a badge of honor. Before an anti-war speech three weeks later, he quipped, “Am I a big enough dove for you, Peter?” The joke would have been innocuous had it not been made right in front of a reporter. . Nevertheless, the senator was deeply disturbed when he left his meeting with the president. It was then that he resolved that Johnson was incapable of engaging in peace talks. “I kept thinking,” Kennedy told Jack Newfield, “that if he exploded like that with me, how could he ever negotiate with Hanoi or De Gaulle or Mao?”

Conversely, might that very feeling — that LBJ was incapable of negotiating — have prompted RFK to volunteer as chief emissary, as Ted says he did?

Robert Kennedy was a savvy politician. He knew when to play a hand and when to fold. And he had a brilliant and creative political mind. Forking over negotiating powers to your greatest political enemy seems like a ludicrous idea, but only if you take a one-dimensional look at it. Imagine Kennedy saying to the president, “Sure, the negotiations will be secret, but if this blows up and ends in failure, it will be my failure — not yours. All the weight of the anti-war protesters? Off your shoulders and onto mine. And if it works, you’ll have made peace!”

Yeah, a little too “Kumbaya”-ish, in my opinion. Especially given the rancor of the LBJ-RFK dynamic. Some in the White House actually suspected the reverse: that the feeler leak was Kennedy’s way of artificially inflating hopes for peace, only to have Johnson let all the air out and look like a warmonger.

But a final piece of evidence lands the most devastating blow to Ted Kennedy’s account. After all, the senator from Massachusetts was not in the room. His telling is secondhand. Of the four in attendance that day, only one is still with us. And upon hearing the details described in Ted Kennedy’s memoir, Katzenbach says that at no point did Kennedy propose going abroad to personally serve as chief negotiator. Of course, Katzenbach concedes, the offer might have been made at some other time — just not at that meeting.

Except for possibly J. Edgar Hoover, Katzenbach had the most experience working directly with both Robert Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson at the height of their power. He believes that Johnson would not have made that kind of a deal with someone he simply did not trust. And while he also doubts that Kennedy would have proposed something he knew Johnson would not accept, “Bobby was both fearless and a romantic. He was not afraid of failure and [was] willing to take responsibility — and probably thought he could pull it off.”

How did this story end up in Ted Kennedy’s autobiography? His editor Jonathan Karp said Kennedy originally wrote this passage in the ’70s, was queried on it twice and reviewed the pages again earlier this year. But it still doesn’t account for his source.

Might Robert Kennedy have told him what he would have liked to have offered the president, rather than what was really said? Maybe it was RFK being RFK, buttering up the little brother in a private moment with the story of what he’d really be doing if he had his druthers? Perhaps these are other proposals, misplaced in time? Two similar-sounding instances spring to mind. In June 1964, Kennedy offered to leave the Justice Department and go to Vietnam in whatever capacity the president desired. A few years later, Teddy, Ted Sorensen and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley hoped Bobby would force a “Vietnam commission” upon the White House in lieu of making a primary challenge. Both events are a plausible basis for confusion.

Or, sadly, is this the amalgamated memory of the youngest sibling, clinging to the belief that life might have been better, the burden a little lighter, were it not for a decision or two? After all, Ted concludes that had Johnson made Bobby a secret envoy, he would have been far too busy to run for president and, thus, far too busy to be shot on the night of the California primary.

Kennedy’s memoirs were written from notes he had squirreled away since he was a boy of 7, and when his papers are opened, we will have a better understanding of why he wrote what he did.

There is also the hope that a more precise account of the Feb. 6, 1967, meeting will someday come to light. Press secretary Frank Mankiewicz says RFK was certain that the meeting was taped, though such a recording has yet to be revealed. If it is, perhaps then we will know how many secrets remain to be told.

John R. Bohrer is writing a book about Sen. Robert Kennedy and his young aides.


V. Tricks of the Trade

In interviews, silence is the weapon, silence and people’s need to fill it—as long as the person isn’t you, the interviewer. Two of fiction’s greatest interviewers—Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret and John le Carré’s George Smiley—have little devices they use to keep themselves from talking and to let silence do its work. Maigret cleans his ever-present pipe, tapping it gently on his desk and then scraping it out until the witness breaks down and talks. Smiley takes off his eyeglasses and polishes them with the thick end of his necktie. As for me, I have less class. When I’m waiting for the person I’m interviewing to break a silence by giving me a piece of information I want, I write “SU” (for Shut Up!) in my notebook. If anyone were ever to look through my notebooks, he would find a lot of “SU”s.


Going all the way with LBJ

Around noon on Saturday, Nov. 23, 1963, almost exactly 24 hours after the assassination in Dallas, while the president’s casket lay in the East Room of the White House, Arthur Schlesinger, John Kennedy’s kept historian, convened a lunch at Washington’s Occidental restaurant with some other administration liberals. Their purpose was to discuss how to deny the 1964 Democratic presidential nomination to the new incumbent, Lyndon Johnson, and instead run a ticket of Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Sen. Hubert Humphrey.

This example of the malignant malice of some liberals against the president who became 20th-century liberalism’s most consequential adherent is described in Robert Caro’s “The Passage of Power,” the fourth and, he insists, penultimate volume in his “The Years of Lyndon Johnson,” which when completed will rank as America’s most ambitiously conceived, assiduously researched and compulsively readable political biography. The new volume arrives 30 years after the first, and its timing is serendipitous: Are you seeking an antidote to current lamentations about the decline of political civility? Immerse yourself in Caro’s cringe-inducing catalogue of humiliations, gross and petty, inflicted on Johnson by many New Frontiersmen and, with obsessive hatred, by Robert Kennedy.

Caro demonstrates that when, at the Democrats’ 1960 Los Angeles convention, John Kennedy selected Johnson, an opponent for the nomination, as his running mate, Robert Kennedy worked with furious dishonesty against his brother, trying to persuade Johnson to decline. Had Robert succeeded, his brother almost certainly would have lost Texas, and perhaps both Carolinas and Louisiana — President Eisenhower had carried five of the 11 Confederate states in 1956 — and the election.

Johnson, one of the few presidents who spent most of their adult lives in Washington, had no idea how to win the presidency. Convinced that the country was as mesmerized as Washington is by the Senate, Johnson did not formally announce his candidacy until six days before the 1960 convention.

Johnson did, however, know how to use the presidency. Almost half the book covers the 47 days between the assassination and Johnson’s Jan. 8 State of the Union address. In that span he began breaking the congressional logjam against liberal legislation that had existed since 1938 when the nation, recoiling against Franklin Roosevelt’s plan to “pack” the Supreme Court, produced a durable congressional coalition of Republicans and Southern Democrats.

Caro is properly enthralled by Johnson putting the power of the presidency behind a discharge petition that, by advancing, compelled a Southern committee chairman to allow what became the 1964 Civil Rights Act to get to the Senate, where Johnson’s meticulous cultivation of another Southern chairman prevented tax cut legislation from becoming hostage to the civil rights filibuster. By taking such arcana seriously, and celebrating Johnson’s virtuosity regarding them, Caro honors the seriousness of his readers, who should reciprocate the compliment.

Caro astringently examines Johnson’s repulsive venality (regarding his Texas broadcasting properties) and bullying (notably of Texas journalists, through their employers) but devotes ample pages to honoring Johnson as the most exemplary political leader since Lincoln regarding race. As vice president, he refused to attend the 400th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine, Fla., unless the banquet would be integrated — and not, he insisted, with a “Negro table” off to the side. He said civil rights legislation would “say to the Mexican in California or the Negro in Mississippi or the Oriental on the West Coast or the Johnsons in Johnson City that we are going to treat you all equally and fairly.” Caro never loses sight of the humiliations and insecurities that were never far from Johnson’s mind.

Caro is a conventional liberal of the Great Society sort (“Unless Congress extended federal rent-control laws — the only protection against exorbitant rents for millions of families . . . .” ) but is also a valuable anachronism, a historian who rejects the academic penchant for history “with the politics left out.” These historians consider it elitist and anti-democratic to focus on event-making individuals they deny that a preeminent few have disproportionate impact on the destinies of the many they present political events as “epiphenomena,” reflections of social “structures” and results of impersonal forces. Caro’s event-making Johnson is a very personal force.

Samuel Johnson said of Milton’s “Paradise Lost” that no one ever wished it longer. Not so Caro’s great work, which already fills 3,388 pages. When his fifth volume, treating the Great Society and Vietnam, arrives, readers’ gratitude will be exceeded only by their regret that there will not be a sixth.

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