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The Lyndon Johnson tapes: Richard Nixon's 'treason'
March 16, 2013 6:29 AM   Subscribe

Declassified tapes of President Lyndon Johnson's telephone calls provide a fresh insight into his world. Among the revelations - he planned a dramatic entry into the 1968 Democratic Convention to re-join the presidential race. And he caught Richard Nixon sabotaging the Vietnam peace talks... but said nothing.
posted by Obscure Reference (64 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Alas, after Nixon, the Presidents stopped recordings of things like this for the historic record.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:35 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Holy shit. Fuck Nixon.
posted by humanfont at 6:39 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


There is no place where "even Richard Nixon has got soul."
posted by jmccw at 6:44 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow. Once again, you think you know just how callous Richard Nixon could be, but then he just goes and proves you wrong.

That's a lot of blood on his hands. Holy shit.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:47 AM on March 16, 2013


Man, every time you think you really have really plumbed the depth of Nixon's loathesomeness, something new comes out.
posted by absalom at 6:48 AM on March 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


I wonder how many people died so Richard Nixon could have the White House.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:50 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ok, Mr. Caro, now that the last tapes have been declassified, can we please have Volume Five?
posted by ariel_caliban at 6:52 AM on March 16, 2013 [10 favorites]


The Nixon treason issue, along with many other fascinating stories about our presidents, is recounted in the book The Presidents Club. Highly recommended.
posted by The Deej at 6:53 AM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Richard Nixon foundation's most recent dinner symposium in honor of the 100th anniversary of his spawning was called "Nixon: Patriot. President. Peacemaker."

I mean, I guess one out of three ain't bad.

Frankly, that entire site is mind blowing.
posted by absalom at 6:53 AM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


My fervent wish: more declassified LBJ pants tapes (NSFW).
posted by Gordion Knott at 7:01 AM on March 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


The president did let Humphrey know and gave him enough information to sink his opponent. But by then, a few days from the election, Humphrey had been told he had closed the gap with Nixon and would win the presidency. So Humphrey decided it would be too disruptive to the country to accuse the Republicans of treason, if the Democrats were going to win anyway.
Or to prosecute Nixon and his assholes for crimes, and it would be too disruptive to prosecute Bush Administration members who authorized torture and lied to Congress and everyone else to start a war, etc.

This system needs some disruption.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:08 AM on March 16, 2013 [24 favorites]


I wonder how many people died so Richard Nixon could have the White House.

I was trying to do the math on this. So, there were about 20,000 American deaths after January 1, 1969. God only knows how many Vietnamese, both military and civilian. And then of course, there are the hundreds of thousands of people who came back from Vietnam, wounded or psychologically harmed, to a country that didn't want them.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:08 AM on March 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


One of my first thoughts was to wonder if any key people from the Nixon '68 campaign were involved with the Reagan '80 campaign. This sounds so much like the rumored Iranian "October Surprise" theory....
posted by 1367 at 7:11 AM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


My fervent wish: more declassified LBJ pants tapes

I'm guessing Barr McClellan has a different wish.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:14 AM on March 16, 2013


Fuck Nixon, but the bit about Johnson calling Daley to congratulate him for his handling of the convention protesters merits a big "Fuck LBJ," too.
posted by COBRA! at 7:19 AM on March 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


[Comment deleted. Maybe link to the related article, rather than posting it in full here?]
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:41 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


He was a Crook, Hunter Thompson's obituary for Richard Nixon.
posted by thewalrus at 7:42 AM on March 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


I wonder how many people died so Richard Nixon could have the White House.

And how many died once he had it, as just business as usual.

Consider Down on Us as a documentary, perhaps?
posted by mikelieman at 8:02 AM on March 16, 2013


The really SUPER mind blowing thing is that Nixon in many ways was much more left wing than any President since Carter.
posted by DU at 8:15 AM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


The very people who think that America is somehow anointed by God and--except for its lamentable, traitorous liberal Fifth Column--essentially perfect, think Nixon was a fine president.

I wish more people would sit down and reflect deeply on the fact that a recent president (and, just for the record, a Republican president) was a psychopath.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 8:17 AM on March 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Frankly, that entire site is mind blowing.

No kidding:

"Nixon demonstrated compassion for all: the young and the aged, the economically disadvantaged and the middle class, the soldier and the civilian."

Oh, the cognitive dissonance...it burns! Did "compassion" have a different meaning in the 60s?
posted by fuse theorem at 8:19 AM on March 16, 2013


Ah, here it is, the entry for "compassion" from the dictionary in the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum:
com·pas·sion /kəmˈpaSHən/ (noun)

1. Callous indifference to or pleasure in causing pain and suffering.
2. Behavior that causes pain or suffering to a person or animal.

Synonyms
cruelty - atrocity - inhumanity - barbarity - savagery - ferocity
That explains a few things.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 8:27 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Did "compassion" have a different meaning in the 60s?

Go ask some Blacks in the South from back then.

If you lack a time machine, how about the poor today? Because if you can't buy anything in a Corporate driven state what good are ya?
posted by rough ashlar at 8:30 AM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I guess now we know where Reagan got the idea.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:41 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, the cognitive dissonance...it burns! Did "compassion" have a different meaning in the 60s?

Same way shame and disgrace had a different meaning in the 90s.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:45 AM on March 16, 2013


The Richard Nixon foundation's most recent dinner symposium in honor of the 100th anniversary of his spawning was called "Nixon: Patriot. President. Peacemaker."

I mean, I guess one out of three ain't bad.


When asked about his record, his brain specialistNational Security Advisor Henry Kissinger said: "Vell, Nixon's just zis guy, you know?"
posted by zombieflanders at 8:49 AM on March 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


So when was the last time a Republican president *wasn't* a traitor? (I consider the Iraq war to have significantly weakened the USA both financially and on the world stage.) I guess GHWB? Before that, Ike?
posted by notsnot at 8:51 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've heard the Nixon back-channel story before. It's enraging to imagine how self-satisfied Nixon must have felt to have pulled it off.

The post makes a nice book-end to the one previously about "Mr. Hoo" and the Deer Team.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 8:52 AM on March 16, 2013


Same way shame and disgrace had a different meaning in the 90s.

Hmmm, maybe if Tricky Dick had gotten a few blowjobs in the Oval Office he'd have been too distracted to pull the near-treasonous crap he did and would have been able serve out his second term.
posted by fuse theorem at 8:53 AM on March 16, 2013


zombieflanders: "When asked about his record, his brain specialistNational Security Advisor Henry Kissinger said: "Vell, Nixon's just zis guy, you know?""

Wance dey go uph, hoo cares vere dey coom down? Das not mie depahrtment...
posted by notsnot at 8:53 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


... says Gag Halfrunt Von Braun.
posted by Reverend John at 9:03 AM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Last year the Oregon Shakespeare Festival performed the play "All the Way" which it commissioned from Pulitzer-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan. The play focuses on LBJ's efforts to get civil rights legislation passed. It blew me away. Check local listings. A followup play, "The Great Society", will be performed at OSF in the 2014 season.

We happened to be in Austin in December when the LBJ library opened its new exhibit. Highly recommended. LBJ was always on the phone. Scattered through the exhibit are vintage telephones. Pick one up and put it to your ear to hear recordings of LBJ's phone calls.

We also went to the Johnson ranch which is about 90 minutes west of Austin. It was a slow day and we were the only guests there, so the ranger (it is a national park) gave us our own tour of the house lasting over an hour. As I recall, the house has 27 rooms and 24 telephones. Great stuff.
posted by neuron at 9:48 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


At work we had a discussion about what president we would most like to have lunch with. I chose Nixon.

First of all, the guy and I are cottage cheese soulmates and love our avocados, fresh fruit, and salads.

Second, I maintain that the guy was easily the most interesting president we ever had. Not the best, the most fascinating... a guy who pulled so many stunts it is unbelievable (some were great stunts, like the decision to go to China, others were diabolical stunts which we know all too well).

This info is totally unsurprising and completely confirms my original feelings.
posted by Old Man McKay at 9:58 AM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


absalom: Man, every time you think you really have really plumbed the depth of Nixon's loathesomeness, something new comes out.

This isn't actually new. The story about Nixon sabotaging the peace negotiations was published by Vanity Fair back in 2000. Wikipedia has numerous references.

But I think we should avoid jumping to the conclusion that if Nixon hadn't sabotaged the negotiations, the US and North Vietnam would have been able to negotiate an end to the war. Wallace Thies, reviewing James Hershberg's Marigold, about a failed 1966 peace initiative, on H-DIPLO:
At times, the book focuses so intently on efforts to get peace talks started that it loses sight of the fact that there is a difference--a very big difference--between beginning peace talks and ending a war. In the context of 1965 and 1966, the search for a formula that would allow peace talks to begin served only to confirm to the parties what they already knew--namely, that they differed over who should rule in Saigon, and there was no way to compromise on this issue or to put it off until later. ...

On the American side, the Johnson administration was both explicit and consistent in its approach to how the Marigold peace initiative (and all the others as well) should progress. The Johnson administration wanted to talk about mutual de-escalation, whereby both sides would do less of what they already were doing. Ideally this would mean that the United States would stop bombing North Vietnam; the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong would halt their attacks in and around Saigon; and the North Vietnamese would cut back and ultimately halt infiltration of soldiers, weapons, and supplies into South Vietnam.

... In effect, the Johnson administration saw mutual de-escalation as a pathway to victory, because once infiltration from North Vietnam into South Vietnam had been halted or even largely reduced, communist forces in South Vietnam would have been no match for American and South Vietnamese forces. ...

Seen this way, there was no "lost chance for peace in Vietnam," at least not in 1966, when the events covered by Hershberg's book were played out. Each side was willing to hold the door open while the other walked away, but neither was willing to walk away itself. The war for South Vietnam was a civil war. Civil wars rarely end in negotiated compromises. Usually one side wins, and the other escapes into exile (if it can).
Hans Morgenthau's assessment, in the November 7, 1968 New York Review of Books was that Nixon seemed somewhat more likely than Humphrey to be able to end the war (as indeed he did). Humphrey was LBJ's vice-president, and was just as committed to the war as LBJ was.
... while Nixon has not shown his hand with regard to Vietnam, Humphrey has shown his, and it is Johnson’s. The best that can be said of Humphrey’s speech of September 30 is that it reiterates Johnson’s position. The worst that can be said about it is that it goes beyond Johnson’s position in asking Hanoi not only for some kind of reciprocity—explicit or implicit—in exchange for a complete cessation of the bombing of North Vietnam, but specifically for “Communist willingness to restore the demilitarized zone between North and South Vietnam.”

The role Humphrey has played in the conduct of the Vietnam war has been deliberately obscured and falsified. It has been said that the Vice President could not help defending the President’s policy in public while trying to change them in private, and that he would emerge with a different policy once he could be “his own man.” The trouble with this argument is that there never have been two Humphreys—any more than there have been two Nixons—one willy-nilly supporting the war, the other opposing it. There has only been one Humphrey, wholeheartedly and passionately supporting the war in private as well as in public. ...

Nixon's assets and liabilities are the reverse of Humphrey’s. He has shown no intellectual understanding of the momentous issues with which the next president will have to deal. Most disturbing is his apparent conviction—I stress here as elsewhere “apparent,” for in Nixon’s case the distinction between appearance and reality is extremely hazardous—that the more nuclear weapons a nation has the better off it is militarily. His remedy for the disintegration of American society appears to be private enterprise and the police. However, Nixon has one quality, indispensable but not sufficient in a political leader, in which Humphrey is lacking: the gift of political organization and manipulation. He transformed the Republican Party, virtually moribund four years ago, into an instrument of his power and victory. He has done this by organizing the party from the grass roots up, by giving his competitors enough rope to hang themselves, by straddling the issues, such as Vietnam, or by glossing them over with unexceptionable generalities, such as those on the cities and race.

These political gifts are at the service not of a great political vision nor even of a limited political program, but of a drive for personal power. Nixon thus far has shown all the qualities of a politician of the second rank, but none of those of a political leader or statesman. The mistakes Humphrey would have made enthusiastically, unthinkingly, well-meaningly, Nixon is likely to make by limiting his calculations to the effect his actions might have upon his personal political fortunes. Thus, as Johnson, in spite of his different intentions, was reduced to executing in Vietnam approximately Goldwater’s policies, so Humphrey, his intentions and insights notwithstanding, would in all likelihood be forced to put Nixon’s policies into practice on the domestic scene because he would have failed in the tasks of political leadership, organization, and manipulation. While Nixon would embark upon an unlimited nuclear arms race deliberately, and with conviction, Humphrey, lacking the political savvy to make his convictions prevail against strong hostile pressures, would do so hesitatingly and regretfully but would be likely to acquire Nixon’s convictions in the process. However different the two contenders are in personality, ability, and style, they offer us the prospect of the same calamities.

That grim picture has only one redeeming feature, favoring Nixon. Nixon is more likely than Humphrey to make an end to the Vietnam war; for in contrast to Humphrey, he is not emotionally committed to it, nor does he bear any responsibility for it. He can afford to allow political calculations to determine his actions, and these calculations point unmistakably in the direction of speedy liquidation of the losing enterprise. If the cost of liquidation should be painfully high, the Democrats are available for blame.
posted by russilwvong at 10:06 AM on March 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


Excellent post, Obscure Reference. Thanks for my first "holy shit" of the day, immediately followed by head nodding that yes, it makes total sense. As a person who protested the Vietnam War from the time I was 13 in 1967, deeply suspicious of the US government since then, reading the article in the original post has been very validating.

Prompted by this, down the rabbit hole I went reading all kinds of related articles.

It has been painful to be an American and choose between rotten choices for President for so long.

Although both LBJ and Nixon accomplished some good in their presidencies, they were both men with little integrity and Nixon perhaps had none.

Interestingly, on Oct. 11, 1963, Kennedy signed National Security Action Memorandum 263. This ordered a withdrawal of 1,000 troops out of roughly 16,000 Americans stationed in Vietnam by the end of 1963, with the complete withdrawal by the end of 1965.

Then, days after JFK's assassination, on Nov. 26, 1963, the first National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) on Vietnam under LBJ overturned Kennedy's NSAM 263 and ordered the planning of increased activity in Vietnam. The memorandum also authorized open-ended covert operations against North Vietnam. This, in turn, led to the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which President Johnson used to obtain congressional authorization for a drastic escalation of the war. The draft of NSAM 273 was dated Nov. 21, 1963, the day before the assassination; however, Kennedy had not ordered its creation and did not see it. Newly sworn-in President Johnson signed 273 on Nov. 26, the day after Kennedy was buried. (Quoted from the 13 documents you should read about the JFK assassination website.)

Some of the details and back story of JFK's exit strategy from Vietnam are really worth reading, written by James Galbraith. This footnote, #12, was jaw-dropping: “Did the U.S. Military Plan a Nuclear First Strike for 1963?” The article is here.

1367, you wrote: wonder if any key people from the Nixon '68 campaign were involved with the Reagan '80 campaign

I wondered the same thing. Certainly some of the same mindset was there. The first thing that came to my mind was that malicious scumbag, Lee Atwater, wondering if he were behind the scenes with Nixon. It wasn't Atwater but his mentor, Harry Dent, who played a role in Nixon's campaign and the GOP agenda at that time: the GOP, in its appeal to Southern voters starting with Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy, reconfigured overtly racist policies from the Jim Crow era into Reagan-era economic policies, including particularly budget cuts targeting the poor.

Another tangent, from the article ennui.bz linked above: Some 18 years after his resignation following the Watergate scandal, Mr Nixon wrote to Mr Clinton to congratulate him on his hard-fought presidential election victory over President George HW Bush.

That made me go hmmm, because it was Ford, Nixon's successor and pardoner, who helped put the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld dynasty in place. Ford's Secretary of Defense was Rumsfeld and his Chief of Staff was Cheney.

Anyway, stimulating post and thread. Thanks so much.
posted by nickyskye at 10:36 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's a lot of blood on his hands. Holy shit.

Now wait a minute. It was LBJ and Robert McNamara who engineered the Gulf of Tonkin incident, it was LBJ who launched Rolling Thunder and sent 200,000 American troops in South Vietnam, and it was LBJ who eventually had 500,000 American soldiers in Vietnam. No one had more blood on their hands than LBJ.

Nixon ordered the bombing of Cambodia, but he also ENDED the war.

LBJ and Nixon were both crooks, but one sent 1/2 million soldiers to Vietnam and the other brought them home.
posted by three blind mice at 10:42 AM on March 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


That comment reads as if you didn't even bother reading the article.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:48 AM on March 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


If LBJ had announced his candidacy at the 1968 convention and had then won, he probably would have died in office.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:06 AM on March 16, 2013


Meanwhile a google news search seems to indicate that a full day after this story was posted not one single US news service has picked it up. While not 'current events' by some strict interpretation, they usually don't hesitate to carry revelations of this magnitude. So what gives?
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:06 AM on March 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Nixon sabotaging the Vietnam peace agreement is actually somewhat old news I believe, it's apparently just been confirmed recently. As the article states:
The BBC's former Washington correspondent Charles Wheeler learned of this in 1994 and conducted a series of interviews with key Johnson staff, such as defence secretary Clark Clifford, and national security adviser Walt Rostow.
Christopher Hitchens used to talk about this all the time, and wrote about it in The Trial of Henry Kissenger:
"There exists, within the political class of Washington, DC, an open secret that is too momentous and too awful to tell" (6) But Hitchens is made of tough stuff and bravely lets the cat out of the bag. During the 1968 presidential campaign, Kissinger, at that time a Democrat, was working for Lyndon Johnson, assisting with the peace talks taking place with the North Vietnamese. Hitchens claims that Kissinger told Nixon that Johnson was contemplating a bombing halt to help the campaign of Hubert Humphrey, Nixon's opponent. Nixon's supporters in turn told the South Vietnamese government that a Nixon government would offer a better deal than any that could be offered by the Democrats. The South Vietnamese promptly withdrew from the Paris talks, damaging the 'peace plank' on which the Democrats were contesting the election.
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:17 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I really wonder if Nixon actually "sabotaged" anything? I think the American leadership was deluded until April 1975 that the North would be satisfied with a communist-friendly provisional government in the South, but I think it's fair to say that the North was determined to defeat the Americans no matter how long it took.

So while Nixon's behaviour was certainly "unethical", to say that he was responsible for prolonging the war really assumes that the Paris Peace Talks had a chance of succeeding, and I'm arguing the talks could never have ended the war.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:25 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]



I really wonder if Nixon actually "sabotaged" anything? ... to say that he was responsible for prolonging the war really assumes that the Paris Peace Talks had a chance of succeeding


The fact that the peace talks may have failed despite Nixon's efforts to prevent them from succeeding does not mean that what he did can not be accurately described as actively sabotaging the U.S. Government's attempts to end the war.
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:31 AM on March 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


The fact that the peace talks may have failed despite Nixon's efforts to prevent them from succeeding does not mean that what he did can not be accurately described as actively sabotaging the U.S. Government's attempts to end the war.

Yeah, I think we agree.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:46 AM on March 16, 2013


History Comes To Call

Shocking New Evidence Reveals Depths of 'Treason' and 'Treachery' of Watergate and Iran-Contra
posted by homunculus at 12:02 PM on March 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


LBJ and Nixon were both crooks, but one sent 1/2 million soldiers to Vietnam and the other brought them home.

I mean, I don't think there's any love in here for LBJ, nor should they be. But Nixon brought them home in 1973, meaning that any of the war dead from roughly 69-73 are 100% more dead than they would be had the war stopped at the Paris Peace Talks.
posted by Apropos of Something at 2:12 PM on March 16, 2013


I don't think there's any love in here for LBJ

Depends how willing you are to compartmentalize. Take Vietnam out of the equation and LBJ is one of the greatest progressive Presidents the US ever had. The Vietnam war was something that LBJ utterly loathed (he called it "that bitch of a war") but felt that the only way out of was through to the other side. It's worth remembering that when LBJ became President, and for some years after, US involvement in the war was strongly favored by US popular opinion. Whatever else the terrible tragedy of Vietnam was, it wasn't some kind of wacky personal crusade that LBJ dreamed up on his own.
posted by yoink at 2:45 PM on March 16, 2013


I don't really get why "treason" is in quotes in the linked article. That's what it was.

I'm reading Nixonland right now Rick Perlstein (a MeFi recommendation), and I'm having a hard time getting through the chapters about 1968. Just too damn depressing.

LBJ and Nixon were both crooks, but one sent 1/2 million soldiers to Vietnam and the other brought them home.

I get really tired of this strawman, whenever it pops up. The constant attempts to excuse Nixon based on LBJ's flaws and mistakes. What a bunch of crap. None of it excuses the endless litany of broken laws, deceptions, and calculated allegiances/betrayals that marked Nixon's career.

"He ended the war". When he could get the credit.

You could make the case that no president struggled with his demons so publicly as Johnson. And you could make a similarly strong case that he lost that fight. But with Nixon, there was no struggle.
posted by dry white toast at 3:17 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm surprised nobody has commented on the fact that the FBI was tapping the phones of foreign embassies and the President's political enemies.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:33 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Good christ Homunculus, how do you cope with reading all the stuff you post on here - it is fantastic and fascinating and necessary reading, but man is it ever depressing.


Although to learn that there was a real X-file, and it is fucked up, is stunning.
posted by marienbad at 3:34 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Dont forget Nixon also started secret wars in Cambodia and Laos.
posted by humanfont at 3:51 PM on March 16, 2013


The really SUPER mind blowing thing is that Nixon in many ways was much more left wing than any President since Carter.

I hear this all the time, and I don't know what scale is being used. Here's a system used by DW Nominate:

By contrast, there has been no consistent pattern among Democratic presidents. Mr. Obama, according to the system, rates as being slightly more conservative than Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy, but slightly more liberal than Lyndon B. Johnson, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman — although all of the scores among Democratic presidents are close and generally within the system’s margin of sampling error.

I mean, sure, 12 percent of Democrats find Obama "too conservative." But, then, 14 percent find him too liberal. And I know we like to believe that Democrats have gotten more conservative compared to some period of, I don't know, extreme leftyism in the past (an era that never existed in my lifetime, and I can find no evidence of), but according to this study, contemporary Democrats are actually more liberal than previous versions.

I know, I know -- pro-corporate, warmongering, etc. But when has that ever not been the case for Democrats? I mean as a whole, in any sustained way? In the meanwhile, Obama's accomplishments include repealing DODT, created Race to the Top, created tighter restrictions on mercury and toxic pollution, passed credit card reforms, signed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, signed a new START treaty, signed the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act, invested invested $90 billion in renewable energy, signed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, among many other bona fide liberal presidential act; his next term will probably see the end of discriminatory laws regarding gay marriage, thanks in part to Obama's two successful supreme court nominations.

Now, Nixon was less conservative than Bush or Reagan, as the Republican party has been pushing further and further right, but researching the argument that Nixon was somehow a liberal, it seems to stem mostly from Republicans who want to distance themselves from Nixon's fraught legacy (as opposed to those that try to rewrite his legacy). Nixon's Middle Eastern policy was basically to turn the US into an arms broker for srael, Iran and Saudi Arabia; his domestic policy was "New Federalism," which favored states rights, and while he is credited for creating the EPA, environmentalism was still a new political issue and unsettled as to whether it broke left or right. When it got in the way of his essential conservativism, as with the Clean Water Act of 1972, he vetoed it. Nixon also started the War of Drugs, which is hardly the most progressive thing a president has ever created.

I think some of the confusion about Nixon's conservatism is because he was so craven in his pursuit of power. For instance, he supported the Equal Rights Amendment when it had passed both houses of Congress, but gave it almost no support after he was elected. And he maintained some of Johnson's civil rights work, which he is credited for, but this also seems nakedly political -- he personally opposed busing.

I don't know that his tendency to leap in front of a popular topic marks him as a liberal. The Republican Party was much less in lockstep then, it certainly hadn't experienced the religious takeover begun by the Moral Majority in the 80s, and it wasn't as flagrantly set up to benefit millionaires and big business as it became in the Reagan era. But if we were to bring Nixon to our era, he would be seen as a moderate Republican, and an especially crooked one. If we were to take Obama back to Nixon's time, he would be seen as an extremist in a lot of ways, and in general to the left of many Democrats of the era (as evidenced by his comparison to Johnson, who is to the right of him). And if both Obama and Nixon were to exist side-by-side in the same era, Obama would undeniably be to the left of Nixon.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:12 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


while he is credited for creating the EPA

Which isn't particularly true in the first place. His part was pretty much to propose that the various environmental agencies be consolidated, not create it from nothing. Besides, a lot of the environmental legislation was coming out of Congress veto-proof.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:26 PM on March 16, 2013


This isn't actually new.

You're telling me -- it was common (rumored) knowledge when I was growing up in the 70s. I don't know what documentation was available at the time, though.

Second, I maintain that the guy was easily the most interesting president we ever had. Not the best, the most fascinating

Heh. "Nixon is certainly one of the queerest men to ever occupy the Oval Office." -- me

Yeah, all presidents have had their quirks, and the current one may indeed be the most comparable to a monk, or perhaps a sphinx, when it all comes out (don't get me wrong though, I don't think personality is necessarily the way to judge a president, and I'm happy with things like ACA), but Nixon's particular blend of Machiavellian strategic thinking -- which he applied robustly both to foreign policy and domestic tactical politics -- and sneering, even livid contempt for enemies and the paranoia to make lists of them and the unchecked desire to attempt to destroy their lives probably sets records.

Oh, the cognitive dissonance...it burns! Did "compassion" have a different meaning in the 60s?

Really, yes, it did. Nixonian-era Republicanism was positively socialist by comparison with current Randite Tea Partyism. Price controls, employer health insurance mandate, expansion of Social Security and Medicare -- put the man in office now and the uprising on the right would be apocalyptic. I don't think the R by his name, in other words, means he is to be equated with Romney-Ryan policy positions. Bush's veneer motto of "compassionate conservatism" was the last gasp of this moderate wing of the GOP, but it's worth noting that it existed and that the whole of the postwar era up until the new millennium, both parties had ideological overlap with each other (liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats), whereas today there is a distinct gap.

And I say this as a progressive that if it weren't for Watergate, the man would likely be remembered as a good President who ended the war in Vietnam and created a peace-building framework with both the Soviets and the ChiComs.
posted by dhartung at 6:11 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


> Mr. Obama, according to the system, rates as being slightly more conservative than Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy, but slightly more liberal than Lyndon B. Johnson, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman

!

Mr. Obama.

Is more liberal.

Than FDR?

Looking at the source, the issue is that their methodology is bogus, which is why it gives bogus answers.

At their Web site, and in books like “Ideology and Congress”, they argue that the preferences of individual legislators are relatively stable across time, so shifts in the ideological preferences of Congress can be measured by how newly elected legislators vote as compared to the old ones.

Of course, Mr. Obama himself is a perfect example of an individual legislator who has moved sharply to the right - even on specific individual issues.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:29 PM on March 16, 2013


Think for a moment about the NSA's current warrantless wiretapping program, and suddenly this story becomes less of a history lesson and more of an object lesson:
In calls recorded with Clifford they express the fear that going public would require revealing the FBI were bugging the ambassador's phone and the National Security Agency (NSA) was intercepting his communications with Saigon.

So they decided to say nothing.
Suppose that our illegal and unchecked national security apparatus discovers an internal threat to the United States. What do you do? How do you openly prosecute it while keeping secret the illegal programs? You certainly can't call in a drone strike on Richard Nixon. You let it slide, and as a result there's a black wall in DC with 10,000 extra names on it.

Between those who really hate Obama and those who really hate Bush, there must be very few who can imagine that we haven't overlooked some terrible offense at least a fraction the size of Nixon's.
posted by compartment at 7:46 PM on March 16, 2013


Good christ Homunculus, how do you cope with reading all the stuff you post on here - it is fantastic and fascinating and necessary reading, but man is it ever depressing.

The cute animal videos cheer me up.
posted by homunculus at 7:52 PM on March 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Whatever else the terrible tragedy of Vietnam was, it wasn't some kind of wacky personal crusade that LBJ dreamed up on his own.

Well he certainly escalated the conflict. It will be interesting (an understatement) to read the final Caro book on LBJ. What I got out of the most recent book is that LBJ was not only shut out of Cuba discussions because the Kennedy faction hated him, but also because he was not temperamentally equipped to defuse the situation - he advocated bombing the missile launch sites immediately, as a show of force, and his entire approach to the Vietnam War was (to put in simplistic terms) an effort to avoid losing face. Johnson didn't have the imagination or the skills to do anything but escalate the conflict.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:03 PM on March 16, 2013


What I don't get is how JFK's legacy isn't commonly saddled with any of the liability for Vietnam (& RFK's, before he was against it )
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:04 AM on March 17, 2013


If I recall correctly, at the time of JFK's death the total US involvement in south vietnam was 3000 to 4000 "advisors". Under Johnson it went from 4000 to a peak in-country of 500,000.
posted by thewalrus at 7:01 AM on March 17, 2013


JFK's legacy is still be filtered through Boomer nostalgia. That generation will have to move on before Kennedy is going to be looked at more objectively.
posted by riruro at 1:41 PM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Apropos of Something: ... any of the war dead from roughly 69-73 are 100% more dead than they would be had the war stopped at the Paris Peace Talks.

But how could peace negotiations have succeeded? Hanoi wanted South Vietnam, and the Johnson Administration wasn't willing to abandon South Vietnam. (It's not a very good analogy, but imagine the US allowing North Korea to invade and take over South Korea.) According to Hans Morgenthau, neither was Humphrey. But Nixon and Kissinger certainly were.
posted by russilwvong at 8:27 AM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


History's Yard Waste Explored, Continued
posted by homunculus at 11:55 AM on March 18, 2013


The New Roger Ailes Biography Manages to Go 35 Pages Before Credulously Repeating a Documentable Lie
posted by homunculus at 1:50 PM on March 21, 2013


Obama’s Nixonian Precedent
posted by homunculus at 2:45 PM on March 24, 2013


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