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tv   The Presidency Secret Presidential Recordings  CSPAN  August 31, 2019 8:45am-10:01am EDT

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american history tv come all weekend, every weekend on c-span3. analyze historians secret white house tapes of john kennedy and we get an inside look at how presidents conducted their day-to-day business and hear their candid assessments. -- use diversity of virginia the university of virginia's miller center hosted this event. good afternoon, everyone. i am marc selverstone. associate professor in presidential studies at the university of virginia's miller center, and as chair of the center's presidential recordings program, i'd like to welcome you to a special panel, "echoes of the past," featuring my colleagues on the recordings program. it's quite wonderful to be here with everybody. it's something of a reunion, in fact. kent was with us for years and years, now spending time at the
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university of south carolina. for the next 75 minutes, we'll share insights from the secret white house tapes, and we'll look to explore the dynamics therein, but also to relate them to contemporary developments, to see what kinds of questions they prompt us to ask about contemporary dynamics, about the history they contain, about parallels to today's events, about the practice of democracy itself. just a word about the recordings program, we were established in 1998, and our goal, we are the only institution of this kind doing it, is to analyze and transcribe the secret presidential tapes that presidents made from 1940 through 1973, that's from franklin roosevelt through
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richard nixon. we do this work at the miller center. we do it offsite as well, because so much of our work these days is browser-based. but we publish work through the university of virginia press and its electronic imprint, rotunda. the presidential recordings digital initiative, digital edition, is our publication. we also publish snippets of conversations, kind of the greatest hits, through millercenter.org, and we will share many of those clips with you today. before we get going, i want to acknowledge a few people who have helped us along the way. the national historical publications and records commission, an arm of the national archives and records administration, has been very generous in their support, and we appreciate their belief and confidence in us and the work that we do.
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i'd like to acknowledge carrie matthews, associate editor and our program administrator. carrie's guiding hand is evident in every thing we do. she keeps us honest, and makes sure there are as few mistakes as possible in our work. if there are any here today, that is all on me. and finally, i'd like to acknowledge mark saunders. mark saunders was the director of the university of virginia press, the founder and motive force behind its electronic imprint, rotunda, and a close friend. mark passed away this weekend, suddenly. it is a tremendous loss for all of us. mark had the great vision for our program, taking us from letter-press editions we were
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publishing with norton that worked out very well, but mark ushered us into the digital age, and we are deeply saddened by his loss. we will miss his guiding hand. but in the spirit of what mark wanted, which was for us to be an important voice in bringing this history to the united states, and encouraging greater transparency into the workings of the government and into the presidency, we will push on. and so, we are pleased to be here today. to help us sort out the connections between past and present, nicole hemmer will be our guiding hand today. she is perfect for this job. she is an assistant professor in presidential studies at the miller center, a member of the presidential recordings program, and again a wonderful colleague.
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she's also editor and founder of the washington post series "made by history," and the podcast "past present." i'm deeply grateful to niki to over here from the session she just moderated to help us. thanks. prof. hemmer: thank you, mike. i really look forward to this. working with secret white house tapes is as exciting as it sounds. you get to be a fly on the wall in the oval office in the 1960's and early 1970's, a time that big decisions are being made and big plots are being hatched and we will hear that today. we will learn about what the white house tapes tell us about endless wars, something that is incredibly timely. marc is also the author of the award-winning book "constructing
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the monolith." why don't you start us off? prof. selverstone: thank you. so, the united states has been at war, on a war footing for 17 years, 18 years. most conspicuously, of course, in iraq and afghanistan, but also in locales as disparate as somalia, yemen, libya, syria. collectively, these engagements have been known as the war on terror, or the global war on terror. most recently, president trump in his state of the union address referred to them as "endless wars." several presidents preceding trump recognized their endurance, and had sought to at various points disengage in the midst of ongoing hostilities. they didn't do so willingly
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necessarily, or even with the same amount of enthusiasm, but do so they sought to. president bush, in the status of forces agreement with iraq, something he was led to pursue, looked to extricate the united states from iraq by december 2011, with combat forces out of the cities by 2009, and by 2011 u.s. combat forces out of iraq. president obama, through his afghanistan review that took place in the fall, into the winter of 2009, he looked to begin the departure of u.s. forces from afghanistan in the summer of 2011. and president trump most recently had spoken about
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withdrawal from syria, in an announcement on december of 2018, that has subsequently been qualified by the pentagon. this is not the first time in recent history that a president has sought to turn over the fighting in ongoing conflicts to local allies, particularly in the midst of the unpopularity of these wars, and with a specific timetable in mind. that honor goes to vietnam. we associate the term vietnam-ization with the process that richard nixon pursued, to de-americanize the war, wind down the american profile in vietnam, and turn the fighting over to the south vietnamese forces. but this wasn't the only time americans looked to wind down the engagement in vietnam. president kennedy did so in the middle of his 1000 days. in the summer of 1962, president john f. kennedy began planning
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to get american troops out of vietnam. drafts for such planning were produced in early 1963, were debated and refined, into may and june, then presented to kennedy in fall of 1963. on october 2, president kennedy was presented with plans to get virtually all united states combat troops, not combat troops necessarily at that time, they were military advisors, but u.s. soldiers out of vietnam by the end of 1965. in an effort to kickstart that process, 1000 advisors were to be withdrawn by the end of 1963. we know about this because of the pentagon papers, which has a lengthy section on this withdrawal.
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but we also know about it in much greater color and texture because of the kennedy white house tapes. so what i would like to do for you now is play a combination of tapes, tapes we spliced together from two meetings that took place on october 2, 1963, one of them a morning session, relatively small between kennedy and most senior national security advisors, and then an evening national security council session, after which a public statement was made in the rose garden of the white house indicating the united states would be leaving vietnam by 1965, and that 1000 troops would be withdrawn by the end of 1963. the people we will hear from in this conversation are president kennedy, secretary of defense robert mcnamara, national security advisor george bundy, and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, maxwell taylor.
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[audio recording] [indiscernible]
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this the many thing
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conversation prompts, the intensely political nature of the withdrawal process that much of this is keyed to the way folks were feeling in congress to the flexibility, that kennedy seems to embrace while the white house statements came out squarely and said we would look to be out by 1965, kennedy seems to be hedging on that, if 19 seized by does not work that we would get a new date. there were other bureaucratic reasons kennedy is pursuing this with -- this withdrawal. does he get out of it what he wants? that is something we want to engage in. initially, one of the goals of this withdrawal and other withdrawals is to encourage your local partners to fight harder and better, to tell them, we
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are not here forever. the local partners didn't really push on the way the administration wanted. some changes took place in the short time that he was around to see them. but we know from what took place in early 1964, that it was not certainly was not sustainable. this is a question we need to ask, as we think about timetables for withdrawals. how effective are they? are presidents really able to sustain the domestic political support that they want to get from these? it is not clear that kennedy was able to do that, either. and is it really the case you are going to induce in your local allies the capabilities and functions these withdrawals are supposed to provide?
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prof. hemmer: i think that would be my question, marc. you listen to the conversations, and you can see they are really thinking about this. they have a strategy. they have a set of theories. these are very smart people, engaging in what historians and americans would come to think of as a very dumb war. the same thing goes for some of the wars we are engaged in today. is the answer that you cannot think your way out of these? what is the lesson to draw? prof. selverstone: i would say, it's a question i asked, too, the extent to which subsequent administrations have reflected on this case or on the case that nobody knows better than ken hughes, vietnam-ization. how much do they look at that history and understand it? because in kennedy's case, i don't think they thought terribly hard about the timetable. they threw it out, particularly because the 1964 presidential campaign was coming up, and there was a real concern the u.s. was getting bogged down in asia, as bob mcnamara says. they're looking for an out. but if you look at, say, the process president obama engaged in, the extended, months-long
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review for afghanistan. you recall there was the initial surge of troops in spring of 2009, but in the late summer, fall of 2009, and we know about this through a series of well-placed, well-timed leaks at the time, obama was getting his national security team together again and again. would this be a surge of 10,000, of 30,000, of 40,000 troops, or more? would we be going full counterinsurgency, would we be trying for counterterrorism? this was all playing out in the papers. and obama was doing something the kennedy administration did not do, to think much more rigorously about this and bring in the stakeholders. one thing neither of them seem to do sufficiently, the kennedy administration certainly, was to bring in congress. one of the questions is how do you get out of endless wars? think harder about how you get into them, and have a better
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grip on that. which leads to all kinds of questions about the authorization for the use of military force, a major matter that we need to engage on with these processes. prof. hemmer: as we know, the vietnam war didn't end in 1963, or 1964, etc. and it led to a real shakeup in u.s. politics. and ian mcgee, associate -- and guian mcgee, associate professor of presidential studies at the miller center, and author of "the problem of jobs," is going to walk us through somne of those insurgencies. we're getting now into the johnson and nixon tapes, and they get a little earthier.
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there's going to be some swearing and slurs in these tapes, i just want to say, in the forthcoming segment. prof. mckee: thank you, niki. good afternoon, everyone. i assure you, there's much more out there. i have two short clips from lyndon johnson's secret white house recordings i want to share with you this afternoon. my goal in doing so is to contrast the insurgencies in the 1960's, civil rights, antiwar, anti-poverty activists compared to political insurgencies today. in doing so, i would like to step back from the standard left and right frame of politics. to consider both past and present more broadly. as periods of profound challenge, but in many respects a functional political establishment in the united states. i would like to offer a -- an important observation about what
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is different today and what that contrast means. my first clip comes from december 1966. the day after christmas. lbj's presidency has entered its period of decline at this point. he is facing increasing opposition to the war on poverty, the emergence of a much stronger antiwar movement, and he has taken serious losses in the november midterm elections. during a long telephone conversation that day, with bill moyers, press secretary, president johnson turned to the question of how to encourage sargent shriver to stay on as the director of the office of economic opportunity, the agency charged with managing johnson's troubled war on poverty. johnson indicated that he was not increasing the budget that shriver wanted, and offered a direct and really blunt statement about his perception of the tension between funding for the war on poverty and the
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activist insurgencies. this is a clear indication of an establishment figure's perception of the period's activism and what he saw as its cause. [audio recording] pres. johnson: i am not anxious for him to stay. i would like for him to. i think he's the best man for it, and he has my support and my confidence and so forth. and i will, whatever figure i give in the budget, i will fight for it, as i did last year. but i can't keep him from being the victim of bobby and ribicvoff and clark, and i can't keep him from being the victim of the commies out here yesterday. to give the money to poverty, not vietnam. i think that is hurting poverty more than anything in world in the world. these commies operating as --
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are parading as these kids with long hairs, saying they want poverty instead of vietnam. i think that's what people regard as the great society. prof. mckee: the second clip, spring of 1968. and to the fight the democratic presidential nomination that year. senator mccarthy of minnesota and senator kennedy launched campaigns trying to channel the insurgent political energy, the ose "long hairs, those commies" that johnson referred to against the president. to challenge him for the party's nomination. on march 23, 1968, president johnson spoke with chicago mayor richard j. daly. this is the establishment. johnson and daly talking politics. they spoke about how they thought that bobby kennedy could be defeated by their network of mayors, governors, and members of congress. their confidence on march 23, 1968 is striking. [audio recording]
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pres. johnson: the committee, to a man, they said, we welcome a primary, let them come in here. >> well, god bless you. pres. johnson: you and dick hughes, pennsylvania, texas. prof. mckee: of course, despite
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their confident expectations of a landslide, lbj would withdraw
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from the race a little more than a week later. two months after that, of course, kennedy would be dead. the thing is, johnson and daley weren't really wrong. vice president hubert humphrey would capture the nomination over mccarthy and mcgovern at the convention in chicago, which of course was tremendously disrupted by protests. we can discuss this more in conversation, i'd argue the outcome would have been no different had the contest in fact been between johnson and bobby kennedy. ultimately, despite trying to channel this energy from the activists of the period, both bobby kennedy and mccarthy were themselves establishment figures -- one, the former attorney general and brother of a slain president, and the other a senator. both of them were trying to capture the energy of the
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civil rights, the new left, and the anti-war insurgency johnson reacted to. they could not do it. the establishment johnson and daley discussed in the second conversation. partly this is the political limitation of the strength of the insurgency itself. after all, nixon wins the election that fall. but also, they were not really of those movements. they were ultimately part of the establishment themselves, not really part of the activism or the insurgency. they and johnson and the daley represented the establishment. this is the broad contrast i want to draw to our current moment. we, too, live in an era of insurgencies, but in contrast to bobby kennedy, eugene mccarthy, donald trump succeeded in 2016 in part because he could position himself with some degree of authenticity, at least to his core audience, as an outsider figure, not just
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mobilizing but actually representing populist insurgent resentment and anger against the country's political establishment. what that energy actually meant of course, we can discuss and debate. i would even add that bernie sanders, with his reluctance to join the democratic party, represents a variant of the same thing. so here we are today, facing the 2020 election, which will test trump's continued ability to ride that populist, outsider momentum and energy, as well as the ongoing strength of that movement itself. just as fascinatingly, we'll watch again as the democratic party establishment, joe biden, elizabeth warren, kamala harris, and the cast of many, many, many other contenders for the nomination, attempt once again to mobilize, to channel, and perhaps to contain the energy. thank you. prof. hemmer: so, from political insurgencies to political chicanery. ken hughes has been with the presidential recording program
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since 2000. he was called by bob woodward one of the foremost experts on the secret presidential recordings. particularly for his work on the nixon tapes, which have produced two books, "fatal politics" and "chasing shadows." you're going to draw more parallels between the political chicanery of the past and today. mr. hughes: thanks. interestingly, the nixon administration comes and goes in waves. when things are going well, i do not get phone calls from reporters. when things are not going well, i get many calls from reporters. these days, you can guess i get a lot of attention from reporters. most recently within the release of the mueller report, the questions of a president encouraging aides to perjure themselves and engaging in obstruction of justice came up once again. it was particularly interesting to me to see the analysis of
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trump's attempt to dangle pardons over the heads of aides like paul manafort because it was so different than the way nixon did it. trump did it on twitter and rudolph giuliani did it on television. trump talked about how unfair the treatment of manafort was. giuliani said the president will look at the end of the investigation to see if anybody was treated unfairly, and, yeah, they might get a pardon. robert mueller had to say, you know, obstruction of justice is not usually taking place in public. the fact that it takes place in public does not make it more legal.
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i will turn to my president, nixon, the more subtle one. when he was trying to encourage his aides to not cooperate with the special prosecutor investigation and the congressional investigations of watergate, he did things in secret. the tape we are going to play was made the day after john dean testified to the senate watergate committee in may of 1973. dean was of course white house counsel. nixon had originally refused to allow dean to testify, just as donald trump is trying to prevent his aides from testifying before congress. but trump is invoking executive privilege, as nixon did then. but nixon discovered that when your former aide volunteers to testify, executive privilege is not going to stop them, because your aide has a right to do that. nixon has just discovered that if he does not send the aides on who are still on his side to
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testify before the senate investigating committee, then the country will only hear from the aides who are going to testify against him, so he is meeting with his former chief of staff, white house chief of staff, h.r. haldeman, and he talks about pardoning everybody in his inner circle. and there is some blue language in this as well. [audio recording]
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mr. hughes: this was an invitation to all of the aides to perjure themselves when they testified in public. and they all did. and they -- all the ones he mentioned, his former attorney general and campaign chairman, they were all charged with obstruction of justice and perjury in 1974, and the grand jury that indicted them wanted to indict nixon as well. but the special prosecutor at the time said, we are not really sure we can indict a president, so they simply named him as an unindicted co-conspirator.
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they, up until richard nixon got on that helicopter in 1974 to leave the white house for good, pressed him to fulfill his promise to them, his secret promise, and pardon them all. right before nixon resigned, his aides told him, look, the people need somebody's head, and if you pardon everyone else, they will take your head. nixon did not fulfill this promise. he ended up being the only person pardoned for his crimes in watergate. everybody he promised to pardon went to prison. mr. hughes: do we have time to get to vietnam? prof. hemmer: sure. mr. hughes: ok. everybody is paying attention to obstruction of justice.
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few people are paying attention to donald trump's exit negotiations in afghanistan. but they are taking place. he has a plan. it has three elements. complete american troop withdrawal, a cease-fire between the warring parties in afghanistan, coupled with negotiations about a future government, and security guarantees. in the case of afghanistan, the security guarantee would be that the taliban will not allow any terrorist to use afghanistan as a base for terrorist attacks in the united states.
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as someone who wrote a book about richard nixon's exit from vietnam, i have to tell you, all three elements were involved in nixon's exit strategy, and nixon's strategy was basically designed to make it look like he had succeeded in getting peace with honor in vietnam, but in fact, all he was getting was what he called a decent interval, a period of a year or two between the day the last american troops left and the day north vietnam finally took over south vietnam. when nixon talked about withdrawing all of the troops from vietnam, he timed it to his reelection campaign and made sure the troops stayed just long enough to keep south vietnam from collapsing before election day, which would have revealed the strategy failure. almost all of them came back before election day, so he could tell the public, i am withdrawing, and that would be very credible. he too got a security guarantee from the enemy. in nixon's case, it was north vietnam's agreement to withdraw. you can hear nixon on the tape saying it does not matter if you get the guarantee. they will never withdraw. and henry kissinger says, that's right, but you will get it anyway. right before the election, they were able to say, look, we finally got the north vietnamese to agree to withdraw from the --
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the final thing was a cease-fire between the warring parties and negotiations between them over future elections. nixon and kissinger say quite plainly that the elections will never take place in vietnam. the cease-fire will break down, the two sides will fight it out, but by that time, they will be gone, and the 1972 election will be in the rearview mirror. so the american people can't hold them accountable. this tape was made the day before henry kissinger flew to paris to close the deal with north vietnam. he suspects, and he is absolutely correct, that the north is finally willing to accept nixon's demands. he has had the president of south vietnam, our ally, briefed on those demands, and the president of south vietnam actually wept when he heard them and said, this will keep us going for a little while, but i'm going to have to commit
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suicide. this is going to destroy our country. so henry kissinger is going to explain to nixon his take on that. [audio recording]
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mr. hughes: the henry kissinger who says our terms will destroy him in private is the same henry kissinger who says before cameras two weeks before the election that the north has accepted our terms. we believe that peace is at hand. nixon and kissinger were very clever about arranging this so that it looked like they had won, when in fact they had just done what buzz lightyear called "a controlled form of fall out." [laughter] washughes: i'm sorry, that woody. trump can do that.
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the last time that they discussed their plans in public, his plans were to bring the last american troops home sometime in late 2020. if he can come out and say, our troops are coming home and the taliban guarantees that afghanistan will not be the home of terrorism, the taliban and afghan government are entering into negotiations about the future government and a cease-fire, he can. fool some of the people at a crucial time for him, when it all falls apart after the election, it would be too late to hold him accountable. keep an eye on that. prof. hemmer: in the midst of all of this, as we are experiencing today, there were major shifts in realignment with and reorganizations that were going on with the two major parties and their coalitions. kent germany, a professor of history at the university of southern carolina and a south carolina research fellow at the miller center specializing in the great society is going to tell us a little bit about it.
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prof. germany: thank you, professor hemmer. when i was a kid, i was in texas. there was a guy who hosted the sports news, and after the sports was over, he would be on this show called bowling for dollars. i never understood how verne lundquist could go from the sports desk to the bowling for dollars desk. the professor has done a similar thing today. this is the bowling session. [laughter] prof. germany: nixon would be the best bowler in the white house. mr. hughes: according to nixon. [laughter] prof. germany: according to nixon. the democratic primary is coming up. there are a lot of bowling pins up, and there will just be one standing. i will try to extinguish that metaphor right now and talk about lbj from 1964. we know that richard nixon quit. we may not know that lbj actually quit, too. he just did not make it public. he talked about it to a couple of his closest allies, a couple of his oldest friends.
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and he talked to his wife about it. i'm going to talk about the most sincere political minute of lbj's life. i have been doing lbj for over 20 years. i boil it down to this one minute. and it is going to take me about to talk about it. seven nixon quit because of a lot of reasons. johnson quit, i will sum up, because he was a baby. [laughter] prof. germany: i grew up in rural texas, rural indiana. they would say that because his mama did not raise him right. we can debate that at another time. i wanted to focus on august 25, 1964. this is two days into the democratic convention in atlantic city. it is two days before lyndon johnson gave his acceptance speech, the fireworks, his name
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in lights, and it was the perfect coronation of johnson in his political career, and a little more than two months after this moment, landslide lyndon, who had made it to the senate by 87 votes, would have defeated the republican candidate by almost 16 million votes. 61% of the electorate voted for him. about 90% of the electoral college gave their votes to lyndon johnson. it would be the high point of american liberalism in the post-world war ii period. it would be the beginning of the end of the democratic party's dominance of american politics. now, on august the 25th, lyndon johnson awoke in a bad mood, which was not uncommon. [laughter] prof. germany: he skipped his calisthenics regime. he would have a serious heart attack in 1965. he called his brother at the beach in south carolina, had to get the south carolina reference in, he would make a series of phone calls throughout the
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morning to richard russell, the senator from georgia, to several of his key aides, his press secretary, his longtime aide walter, and he would talk to his wife. now, a little bit after noon, he would find lady bird lying on the ground, at the white house on the lawn, underneath the tree, holding hands a little bit and talking. it might be a weird thing to do during the middle of the democratic national convention. and what they were talking about, among many things, was the fact that lbj had told lady bird that he was going to quit. he had for the first time in a decade actually written out a press statement that he was withdrawing his name from nomination. he was -- the country needed better educated people, they needed harvard educated people, they needed younger people. he could not hold the country together. he could not even hold the
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democratic party together. this was the mississippi freedom democratic party issue. they are trying to figure out a compromise. they would come out with a compromise that did not make many people happy, but enough it would make enough people happy that johnson could move on, and he would change his mind and withdraw. he did not release a statement, but -- the defense that he would make after he made the decision to stay in is what i think is the most sincere political minute of lyndon johnson's life. before we play that, i want to say a few things about what lady bird said while she was lying there under that tree. she had left lyndon "alone in his room with the shades drawn." [laughter] prof. germany: he told her he was quitting. he talked to all of these people. she would arise from the lawn, go upstairs, write a letter to johnson. you can read this letter if you want. she told him that he was brave. as brave as fdr, as brave as harry truman.
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she told him that if he quit, it would embarrass his friends and it would make his enemies so happy. they would jeer and cheer. she would tell him that his future would be "a lonely wasteland," and if you know anything about lyndon johnson, he could not stand to be alone. he always wanted somebody just sitting next to the bed, even if they were just sitting there. and she ended it, i love you always. so this is this moment of lbj stripped down to the bare essence. if we could peel all the onion away that was lbj, what was that at the middle? what was the onion there? so we will go back to january 1928. i want to just preface this with what he said to hubert humphrey about what the democratic party was for. we are for war on poverty. and by the way, i tell students every time i teach, if you want to go into politics, read this. if you can convince your voters that you control these words, then you are going to win.
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we are for war on poverty, we are for economic growth, world peace, security, medicare, human dignity, human rights. this is johnson talking with a texas twang. this is what we stand for. a government of strength. a government that is sovereign, and a government that is compassionate, and it just makes these guys look silly. he said god have pity on the republican party, because what do they stand for? if we go from that january back to august 25, they had just come up with this compromise johnson was happy with. lady bird had written him this letter. he was talking to hubert reuther, ad robert union leader. i think this is where the purity of johnson's thoughts come out. he is explaining what he thought the democratic party was for, what it had always stood for, and what it would continue to stand for. [audio recording]
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prof. germany: that is johnson a couple days before he accepted the nomination. he was exhausted, he had been pushed through the ringer. he had been up late at night for several days. this is what his brain reflexively went to. this is what i stand for. this is what the party that i have been part of since the 1930's, for the past three decades, this is what they stand for. when somebody asks, what are you do you stand for, this is it. i think johnson nails it down here in this one minute. i have a second clip i want to play. i'm going to run out of time. maybe we can talk about it more in questions. this comes in negotiations for the voting rights act. what i want to insert here is -- that in 1964, there is a rebirth or revisitation of the conservative movement. many people who look at this moment look at the very goal of transforming the republican party.
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i would make a suggestion to go back and see the transformation , the republican party that emerges after 2016, go back to the george wallace primary for the democratic party in 1964, where he carried over 30% of voters in a shocking upset, even though he did not win, the same and wisconsin, and about the same percentage in indiana, and 43%, the vast majority of white voters in maryland voting for george wallace, segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever candidate. that is who lyndon johnson was most afraid of. was those wallace voters. here in 1965, johnson is trying to hammer down the voting rights act. martin luther king, jr. had made an antiwar speech. and he had called the white house to try to feel johnson's pulse on this. johnson is going to tell him a little bit here about the voting rights act and how he thinks king needs to use his influence
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and other civil rights leaders need to use their influence to influence republicans in the house and in the senate. they need to go after those republicans who seem to be wavering on particular issues. i will just let lyndon johnson predict the future here of american politics. [audio recording]
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prof. germany: i will let lbj have the last word. and we will set the bowling pins down. [laughter] prof. hemmer: we are going to open this up for questions from the audience. but before we do that, i just wanted to ask a few questions from the panel as a whole. taking a step back and thinking about -- we just listened to all of these tapes that have such resonance with the present moment. is there anything about the presidency at the time from the tapes that is different from the present moment? is it all just, like, shocking similarities? what is different? prof. germany: besides the fact that we are living in an opposite world? [laughter] prof. germany: it is hard to
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explain the president, as you know. as the name of your podcast, but great question. mr. hughes: it is a contrast, but it may be an on-ramp to where we are today. the fact that lbj in the oval office had three televisions, one for each of the major networks, so he could follow the news in real time, you know, he has that ticker with the newswires as well. think about that. that the president of the u.s. is setting this up, and he is the first to do it. and you compare that media and news and information environment, the speed that it represents, to the world we live in today, and particularly the way social media has been mobilized by trump, increasingly by other politicians as well, it is an incredible contrast, but i
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think that is actually one of the starting points. we can point to a number of cases. that is a striking one for me. prof. selverstone: i would just refer to a conversation that kent and i had privately yesterday about our experience listening to the tapes, which is a joy and an extraordinary opportunity to spend your day with lbj, if you are a fan, and even with richard nixon. their ability to shock is wearing off a little bit, because we are in a different generation. kent is teaching students on a daily basis now, and where 10 years ago, we were finding the tapes to be startling and revelatory and shocking in some respects -- you hear richard nixon and johnson as well, and if we played other tapes, you would hear more obscenities from jfk than you thought he uttered, but he would. but that whole sense of what is public and what is private and what is acceptable anymore, i mean, private lives are being
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played out publicly in ways that just would not have been the case before. and so the very private nature of what they are talking about here is i think partly what leads us to think of these materials as so extraordinary. now, you have decrees, when you have pronouncements, potential presidential pardons coming out in public, the difference between public and private and the ability to play out the private lives in public , i think it changes the way that we understand the past, the way we understand the presidency itself. certainly, what we now know about john f. kennedy i do not think that have happened. john f. kennedy could not have comported himself today as he had in the past. prof. hemmer: i am really struck by the presidents you hear on the tapes versus our image of them still today. i mean, you listen to lbj really miss those major political shifts of his era.
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he is somebody we think of as a political whiz. he just whiffs on both of these clips you played for us, to a certain extent. with jfk, not being able to navigate his way out of this war with the brightest men of his generation around him. i mean, which do you think is realer? the men on the tape or the ones that the public saw every day? mr. hughes: nixon was really very self-conscious about crafting a public image that made sense and that fit all the norms of his time. if you listen to richard nixon doing an interview that was going to be broadcast, everyone would say, here is the best
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informed, most prepared, most statesmanlike person who could possibly fill this office. that person was a creation of the nixon who you hear in private, who is the most brilliant political strategist and tactician, and who -- you know, one example, he knows exactly what he should be saying about race and civil rights in america, and he says it in public, and in private, he is quite racist. policies he thinks will help the base of his party, which now, thanks to him, includes a large part of the white south that formerly voted for democrats. he makes calculations that, if i do affirmative-action, that will create a richer class of black people who might become republicans the way catholics
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became republicans once the new deal helped them. but if i do affirmative-action, white people in the south will think i am helping black people. that will really hurt me. it is this very calculated thing. prof. selverstone: i think you really have to listen to nixon in private in order to see what he is up to. prof. selverstone: with kennedy and the public-private persona, at least with respect to vietnam, i think kennedy is a skeptic on vietnam. he is a skeptic through much of his administration. you can hear that skepticism in terms of the policy that he is presented with. is it going to help us all that much? what is the advantage of doing this? what if it is not going well? can we really pull out? there is enough, i think tolicl, to hang your hat on
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suggest that that is the real kennedy. kennedy never committed in public to winning the war. lyndon johnson does. that is one of the differences that takes place in the transition between jfk and lbj. by 1964, the rhetoric changes. there is a sense of sticking with it. you don't get that from jfk that much. on the other hand -- on the tapes -- on the other hand, there are these moments, publicly, where he will say, it is their war to win. we can help them, we can assist them. he also says, "but i think it would be a mistake to withdraw." that does not to me mean that he does not think that we have to stay there until we win. the question of what is his -- what was his actual posture towards vietnam, and where would he have been later on -- my personal sense is that he would have tried to stay in vietnam and to have supported some
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portion of a south vietnam to maintain sovereignty below the 17th parallel. i think that is what it is all about for him. whether that looks like, what roger helton was pursuing, whether it involved more sabotage, there is a good chance it would have as well. but i think there is skepticism about american prospects pushing on to victory. i think that was there throughout. prof. germany: for johnson, the public johnson, it is pretty boring. [laughter] germany: he thought he should be a statesman and be graded by his high school speech teacher, which he was. obviously, in private, he was a different person. there are many stories of when his aides were writing his memoir, giving him a draft and saying, that is not good.
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they would be trained to put lbj into it, and he would be trying to take it out. i think he is never not writing. he is trying to build a fire break among moderate white voters. he spends 1965 trying to do that. his paranoia about bobby is one of the things we definitely see coming out. prof. mckee: i would agree with that. pushing a little farther, i think you listen to it, he understands the political order is fracturing. -- political order he has come up in is fracturing, permanently. it is not going to continue to exist. what drives him out of politics in 1968 is the realization he is not the leader to manage that transition. i don't necessarily think he is
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i don't necessarily think he is withing. the republican party will run the five of the next six presidential elections. it took watergate to secure that six. and johnson saw that. he did not know what to do with it. prof. hemmer: we would like to open this up for questions. we have a microphone up here, so if anybody would like to ask a question. >> with the richness of this, i -- with this material from roosevelt to nixon, i was thinking about trump. do you daydream about finding a box of sd cards of similar material from those people? what would be gained if you did find that box? what is lost because you don't have it? prof. hemmer: i would like to say quickly, because i write a lot about the current administration, there have been
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enough statements from the current president, where he hints he is recording things , that it has people salivating a little bit. what would it be like if we had those tapes? we know the current administration is not good at keeping its records intact, so i think it is unlikely we will find them. but you think about somebody like ronald reagan, who continues to baffle biographers and historians in terms of who is the man behind the public image? i think that is one case where -- i don't know if the tapes would actually answer that question, but it would be really great to have them just to see if they could. prof. selverstone: there are reagan tapes, by the way. there were tapes that were recorded when he was on the phone with world leaders, tapes that were made from the situation room. there are not too many of them. unfortunately, several of the conversations were taped over themselves, which is really unfortunate. but there are a few to give us
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more of the private side of ronald reagan. and to see the president in unguarded moments i think is priceless. when we have had a chance to listen to franklin roosevelt, for instance, roosevelt is as staged as any president you can remember. certainly our image of him, which is of course the image he wanted everybody to see, not in a wheelchair, but the audio as well, through the fireside chats. we hear roosevelt through conversations with civil rights leaders, saying things that are a little surprising today, perhaps not for the time. but again, an unguarded roosevelt? we never get the chance to hear that. >> there is an incredible degree of democratic accountability to these recordings, transparency. because of the associations with watergate, we see them in a dark light with the revelations. if you think about it, this is a remarkable legacy to history for
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these few administrations, that we can go back and view this kind of research, not just a memo that can be shaped or maneuvered by the writers. but what was actually said in that room. prof. germany: and i want to put in a plug for the students who works in the miller center on the projects. i say, if you want to learn about politics, if you want to be a politician, you need to study those tapes. one of the students from 2004 who worked on some of these civil rights tapes was the andbiden's press secretary deputy campaign manager right now. we had another student who was worked on this who was an obama speechwriter. university of virginia students have come through and learn from this. so if you know any great students, send them. [laughter] >> i have seen only a few of those clips. you might well conclude that neither the leader of the country nor his closest associates is really among the best and the brightest.
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and i am just wondering what the impression you have, who have read great quantities or listened to great quantities of these tapes? prof. germany: i will be quick. if you listen to lyndon johnson long enough, it is hard not to be amazed by the memory that he has, the capacity for detail, to know what is going on, where it is going, the arcane rule for this, the arcane rule for that, who is sleeping with whom. i mean that institutional , knowledge that johnson had is amazing, and that comes out on the tapes. i think it is one of the reasons why they are so rich. >> i second that. mr. hughes: i agree that they she president and their aide tend to be very intelligent, but they are a lot less high-minded. there is a demystification of the presidency you get from listening to the tapes. i think that is a good thing you get from the standpoint of democratic accountability, because while we should respect presidents, we should not really
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revere them or be in awe of them. very often, they make decisions based on very mundane political calculations, and -- though they might have a vast amount of information at their fingertips with regard to, for example, the vietnam war, including classified information. when they make a decision about abouttely, it is something that is pretty mundane. like, will i be reelected? or can i sell this or will it affect my legislative program? >> these presidents we are talking about, with the exception of john kennedy, who was killed, in 1964, about 80% of the american people believed they could trust government to do the right thing in most instances. these two presidents have done a lot to drop that down to the 20%
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range. [laughter] >> the changes in the middle east, the arab-israeli wars, do they appear on the tapes? and if so, are they part of the way in which any of these presidents were calibrating their political base, taking well, just, taking those into account in terms of domestic politics? >> the second half of your question for nixon, nixon the was anti-semitic and basically s, he was surprised when he received a much larger portion of the jewish vote. >> it is unfortunate that nixon turns off the tape machine in july 1973. we do not have the october 1973
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war. it would have been interesting to follow nixon through that. >> with lbj, he had insights into exactly that point because you do see some very early negotiations in arms sales to israel. this is really a point where the american-israeli relationship that we know today is just at its very starting point. prof. hemmer: well, thank you all for coming out this afternoon, and please give a hand. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2019] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> this is american history tv
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on c-span3, where each weekend we feature 48 hours of programs exploring our nation's history. labor day weekend on american history tv, tonight, at 8:00 a.m. eastern, on "lectures in history," a discussion about abraham lincoln and native americans. sunday, at 4:00 a.m. on "reel america," the 1950 army film "invasion of southern france." and monday, labor day, at 8:00 a.m. eastern, the commemoration of the hundreds anniversary of virginia's first general assembly, held at jamestown. onlore our nation's past american history tv, every weekend on seize c-span3. senate comes back
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into session on monday, september 9, with two important issues on their agenda, passing federal spending bills and anti-gun violence legislation, but before senators return to washington, get a behind the scenes look at the senate with c-span's history program "the senate: conflict and compromise." here is a preview. >> this very government under which we live was created under a compromise in mutual concessions or >> iowa's questioned the need for senate -- >> the framers believed -- >> that follow the constitution -- tothe framers for the senate protect the people from the rulers. >> the fate lies in the hands of congress and the united states senate. >> "the senate: conflict and compromise," using videos, c-span's archives, access to the chambers. we will look at the history
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and the roles of the u.s. senate. >> please raise your right hand. >> sunday that 9:00 em easter and pacific on seizedn ran -- p.m. eastern and pacific on c-span. >> jean becker was chief of staff to george h.w. bush starting shortly after he left the white house and up until his death in 28 he entered this weekend on "the presidency," ms. becker talked about the man she knew. here is a preview. this is the prince of saudi arabia, who was the saudi ambassador to the united states for almost 20 years. he was the ambassador all during president bush's presidency, president clinton, a lot of george w. bush's, and president bush was very close to him. presidentto call clinton their brother by another mother, and they gave prince
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vanguard the exact same nickname , their brother from another mother. i got a call late one night from a buddy who used to be in the administration, to ask me if i had heard anything about the head of what was essentially the saudi arabia in saudi arabia. she said "we have her that he has been assassinated, possibly by the syrians, have you heard this?" so i broke the news to him, and he said -- well, have you tried calling him? and i said, no. [laughter] ms. becker: that really had not occurred to me to call him him and he said well, let's try to get them on the phone, so we are sitting outside in alaska, and i holler upstairs, and one of his appleby,s, jen
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jenny, i said can you please get ce on the phone for president bush? two minutes later, and this could be a chapter title, "prince online two." [laughter] ms. becker: so i am sitting over here, and he is like yes, this is bush, is he dead or alive? [laughter] >> learn more about president george h.w. bush from his former chief of staff jean becker sunday at 9:00 p.m. and midnight east, on "the presidency." explore our nation's past on american history tv. in the late 1850's, americans generally trusted their
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congressman, but they did not trust congress as an institutio, nor did congressma trust each other. many were routinely armed, not because they plan to kill their opponents will because they feared their opponent would kill them. >> joanne freeman will be our sunday from depth," noon until 2:00 p.m. eastern. her book is "the field of blood," "the essential hamilton," and "affairs of honor." join our life conversation with your phone calls, tweets, and facebook conversations. in later on "after words," his book "immoral majority," ben howell questions whether people are choosing power. ben: i think it contributes to keeping a system in place that takes accountability out of the
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system, and i think it also is an easy way to bring in something like evangelicalism or any other faith and then use that as a way to get votes, lifebook tv every weekend on c-span2 -- what book tv every weekend on c-span2. >> we go to learn about american and next week visit the virginia beach ems history and culture in richmond to look at their exhibit on 400 years of african-american history, this is the second of a two-part tour. >> welcome back. virginia museum of history and culture in richmond, we are standing in the middle of the exhibition titled determine, the 400 year struggle for black equality. this section explores the time from the end of the civil war, after the civil

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