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tv   The Presidency Secret Presidential Recordings  CSPAN  January 12, 2021 3:20pm-4:31pm EST

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history tv every weekend on cspan3. the votes for president of the united states are as follows joseph r. biden jr. of the state of delaware has received 306 votes. donald j. trump of the state of florida has received 232 votes. >> with the votes in the 2020 presidential election now countnd and confirmed by congress, attention now turns to the inauguration of the 46th president of the united states. on january 20th, joe biden and kamala harris take the oath of office as president and vice president of the u.s. our live coverage begins at 7:00 a.m. eastern on january 20th. watch live on cspan and watch live streaming or on demand at or listen with the free c-span radio app. next on the presidency, historians analyze the secret white house tapes of john f. kennedy, lyndon b. johnson and richard nixon.
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we get an inside look at how presidents conducted their day-to-day business and hear their candid assessments. the university of virginia miller center hosted this event. good afternoon, everyone. i'm 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 is quite wonderful actually to be here with everybody. it is something of a reunion in fact since kent was with us for years and years and spending his time at university of south carolina. for the next 75 minutes, we'll share with you insights from the secret white house tapes. and we'll look to explore the dynamics therein and to relate them to contemporary
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developments to see what kind 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 its kind doing it, is to analyze and transcribe the secret presidential tapes that presidents made from 1940 through 1973. that is from franklin roosevelt through richard nixon. we do this work at the miller center. we actually do it off site as well because so much of our work is browser based. but we publish our work through the university of virginia press
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and its electronic imprint rotunda, the presidential recordings digital initiative is our -- digital addition is our publication. we also publish snippets of conversations, kind of the greatest hits through and will share many of those clips with you today. and before we fully get going, i just wanted 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 support and long time sustained and we appreciate their belief and confidence in us and in the work that we do. i'd like to acknowledge kerry matthews, an associate editor and our program administrator and carrie's guiding hand is evident in everything we do. she keeps us honest and makes
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sure there are as few mistakes as possible appearing in our work and if there are any that appear today that is all on me. and then finally i would like to acknowledge mark saunders. mark saunders was the director of the university of virginia press, the founder and motive force behind rotunda, the electronic imprint and a close friend. mark passed away this past 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 that we were 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.
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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. with we will push on. and so we are pleased to be here today. to help us sort out of connections between past and present, niki hemmer, nicole hemmer, will be our guiding hand today. niki's perfect for this job. she is an assistant professor in presidential studies at the miller center. she is a member of the presidential recordings program. and, again, a wonderful colleague. she is also the editor and founder of "the washington post" series "made by history" and of the podcast "past, present." and i'm deeply grateful to niki
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for running over here from the session that she had just moderated to help us. thanks. >> thank you, marc. i'm really looking forward to the panel. working in the secret white house tapes is as exciting as it sounds. you get to be a fly on the wall of the oval office during the 1960s and early 1970s. a time when big decisions are being made and big plots are being hatched and we're going to hear a little bit of that day. and we're going to start with marc who is going to talk to us a little bit about what the white house tapes tell us about endless wars, something that is incredibly timely, as you could imagine. and the chairman of the presidential recordings program and the author of the book constructing the monolith, the united states and great britain and international communism. so why don't you start us off. >> thanks, niki. so the united states has been at war on a war footing for 17 years, 18 years this coming fall.
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most conspicuously in iraq in afghanistan but also in locals 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. and 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 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.
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looked to extricate the united states from iraq by december 2011, u.s. forces were to be out of combat forces were to be out of the cities by the middle of 2009 but by december 2011, u.s. combat forces were to be out of iraq. president obama through his afghanistan review that took place in the fall and 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 withdrawal from syria in an announcement that he had made in december of 2018 that it had subsequently been qualified by the pentagon. but this is not the first time in recent history that a president has sought to turn over the fighting in an ongoing conflict to local allies,
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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 vietnamization with the process that richard nixon pursued to de-americanize the war, to wind down the american profile in vietnam and to turn over fighting to the south vietnamese forces. but this wasn't the only time that americans had looked to wind down the engagement in vietnam. president kennedy did so in the middle of his thousand days. in the summer of 1962 president john f. kennedy began planning to get american troops out of vietnam. drafts for such planning were produced in early 1963. they were debated and then
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refined that spring and into may and into june. and then they were presented to kennedy in the fall of 1963. and on october 2nd president kennedy was presented with a plan to get virtually all united states combat troops, they weren't combat troops at that time, they were military advisors. but u.s. soldiers out of vietnam by the end of 1965 and in an effort to kick start that process a thousand 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. but we also know about it in much greater color and texture because of the kennedy white house tapes and what i would like to do for you now is play a combination of tapes, tapes
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we've spliced together from two meetings that took place on october 2nd, 1963. one a morning session which was a relatively small session between kennedy and his most senior national security advisers and then an evening national security council session after which a public statement was made in the rose garden of the white house that indicated that the united states would be leaving vietnam by 1965 and that a thousand troops were to be withdrawn by the end of 1963. the people we'll hear from in this conversation, president kennedy, secretary of defense robert mcnamara, national security adviser mcgeorge bundy and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff maxwell taylor.
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>> so, many things, i think, that this conversation prompts, aside from rocket mcnamara being the one who seeming is pushing this planning process is the intensity political nature of the withdrawal process that much of this is keyed to the way folks were feeling in congress, to the flexibility of the
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timetable that kennedy seems to embrace while the white house statement certainly came out squarely and said that we would look to be out by 1965, kennedy certainly seems to be hedging on that. if '65 doesn't work out, we will simply get a new date. there are a host of other strategic, economic and bureaucratic reasons that kennedy is pursuing this withdrawal. one of the questions that does arise is whether he gets out of it what he really wants. that's something that niki and i want to engage in briefly. just initially, one of the goals of this withdrawal and of other withdrawals is to encourage your local partners to fight harder, to fight better, to tell them that we're not here forever. that doesn't really seem to have happened as a result of the kennedy withdrawal. the local partners didn't really push on as the way the administration wanted. some changes took place in the short time he was around to see them. we know from what took place in early 1964, that is certainly
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wasn't sustainable. this is a question we need to ask as we think about timetables for withdrawal going forward. how effective are they? are presidents really able to sustain the domestic/political support that they want to get from these? it's not clear kennedy was able to do that either. and is it really the case that you're going to induce in your local allies the capabilities and the stiffening function that these withdrawals are supposed to provide? >> and i think that would be my question, marc. you listen to these conversations and you are like, these people are really thinking about this. they have a strategy. they have a set of theories. like, these are very smart people engages in what historians and americans would come to think of as a very dumb war. and the same goes for some of the wars we're currently engaged in today. is the answer you can't think
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your way out of these? what's the lesson to draw from this? >> so, i would say that -- it's the question that i've asked, too, the extent to which subsequent administrations have reflected on this case or the case that nobody knows better than ken hughes, vietnamization. how much did they look at that and understand it? in kennedy's case, i don't think they thought terribly hard about the timetable. they threw it out there for a variety of reasons, i think, particularly because the 1964 presidential campaign was coming up. and there was a real concern that the united states was getting bogged down in asia, as bob mcnamara says. they're looking for an out and certainly willing to engage in that until a q and a. but if you look at the process that president obama engaged in, the extended months' long review for afghanistan, the call that there's an initial surge of troops in spring of 2009, but then in the fall of, late fall, excuse me, late summer/fall of
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2009 and we know about this through a series of well-placed and well-timed leaks at the time. obama was bringing his national security team together again and again and again. with this be a surge of 10,000 troops, 30,000 troops, 40,000 troops or higher? would we be going full counter insurgency? would we be trying for a counterterrorism approach? this is all played out in the papers. obama was doing something that i think the kennedy administration did not do, which was to think much more rigorously about this, to bring in the stakeholders. one thing neither of them seem to do sufficiently. certainly, the kennedy administration didn't do it. obama was trying to do it was to bring in congress. one of the questions of how do you get out of endless wars well is to think harder about how you get into them. to have a better grip on that, which leads to all kinds of questions about the authorization for the use of
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military force, which is i think a major matter that we need to engage on the front end of these processes. >> so as we know, the vietnam war did not end in 1963 or '64 or et cetera. and it led to a real shake-up in u.s. politics. mckee an associate professor at the miller center and author of "the problem of jobs, industrialization in philadelphia" is going to walk us through some of those insurgencies. we're getting into the johnson and nixon tapes. they get a little earthier. there's going to be some swearing, some slurs in some of the tapes. i want to preface the forthcoming segments with that. >> thank you. good afternoon, everyone. i assure you, i'm going with a soft johnson this afternoon. there's much more out there. i have two short clips from lyndon johnson, secret white
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house recordings that i want to share with you this afternoon. my goal in doing so is to contrast the insurgencies of the 1960s to civil rights, anti-war and political insurgencies today. in doing so, i would like to step back a bit from our standard left/right framing of politics. consider past and present more broadly. as periods of profound challenge and deeply rooted and many respects dysfunctional political establishments in the united states. i will offer a simple but i hope important observation about what is different today and perhaps something of what that contrast means. my first clip comes from december 1966, the day after christmas that year, in fact. lbj's presidency has really begun to enter its period of decline by this point. he's facing increasing opposition to the war on
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poverty. resistance of the emergence of a stronger anti-war movement. he has taken serious losses in that november midterm elections. during the long telephone conversation that day with press secretary bill moyers, president johnson turned to the question on how to encourage sargent shriver to stay on to the office of economic opportunity. johnson indicated that he would not increase budget and he began to draft really blunt statements about his perception between funding for the war on poverty and the active insurgencies for his political left. this is a clear indication of an establishment figure's perception of the period's activism and what he saw as its costs.
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and he has my support and my confidence and so forth. and i will whatever figure i give the budget i will fight for it. as i did last year. but i cannot keep him from being the victim of bobby and joe clark and morris. i cannot keep him and give the money to poverty, not vietnam. and i think that's hurting poverty more than anything in the world is that these are parading and these kids long hairs saying you know they want poverty instead of vietnams. i think that's what people regard as the great society. >> my second clip leaps wildly ahead to the spring of 1968 and
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the fight for the democratic presidential nomination and senator eugene mccarthy of minnesota and senator robert f. kennedy had launched campaigns that sought to channel that political energy, the long hairs the commys that johnson just referred to against the president. and challenged him for the party's nomination. on march 23, 1968, president johnson spoke with chicago mayor richard j. daley. this is the establishment. johnson and daley talking politics and 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. >> of course, despite their >> well, god bless you. both of them have ducked it, you
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know. >> you and dick hughes pennsylvania. i don't think we'll lose a single state. i think -- i counted the congressmen last night. we have 160 and he has eight. and they're from massachusetts and new york and most of them are real extreme reform left-wingers. the more we think about it, i know you're trying to hold off and do everything, and i was trying to talk. i was giving them some sound advice. >> you were and everybody knew that. >> i guess it's just as well because he doesn't seem to be going anyplace. i don't know where he's going. >> he's going to get a lot of publicity. a lot of media treatment. >> they said all you're going to do is try to divide our party. >> going to have a lot of polls. he's always got three or four
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polls higher. what we've got to do this, we've got to have four men, my board of directors, we've got to get you and dick hughes of new jersey who is just as solid as a rock. we've got to get barr to pittsburgh and we've got ohio at the moment, he's trying to buy it off. if we can take ohio and illinois, pennsylvania and texas and new jersey -- that's all of it. that's all of it. >> i think it will be a landslide. >> of course, despite their confident expectation of a landslide, lbj would withdraw from the race a little more than a week later. two months after that bobby kennedy would be dead. the thing is though, johnson and daley were not really wrong in this conversation. vice president hubert humphrey
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would capture the nomination over mccarthy at the convention in chicago. of course a convention of tremendous disruption and protest. we can discuss this more in conversation. i would argue that the outcome really would have been no different had the contest 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 the establishment figures. one, the former attorney general and brother of the slain president, the other a senator. both attempting to capture that energy of the civil rights and new left and anti-war insurgencies. that johnson reacted to so strongly in the first call. they could not do it at least against the establishment that johnson and daley discussed in the second conversation. partly this is the political limitations, the limitations of the political strength, that is, of the insurgency itself. after all, nixon does win the election that fall. but it is also that they were
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not really of those movements. they were ultimately part of the establishment themselves, not really part of the activism or the insurgency that was challenging that establishment that both they and johnson and daley represented. this is the broad contrast that i want to draw to our current moment. we, too, live in an era of insurgencies. different position in contrast. to bobby kennedy and eugene mccarthy, donald trump succeeded in 2016, in part, because he could position himself with some degree of authenticity, at least for his core audience, as an outsider figure. not just mobilizing but actually representing the populous insurgent resentment against the country's political establishment. what that energy actually meant, of course, we can discuss and debate. i would add that bernie sanders with his long reluctance to join the democratic party, represents a variant of the same thing.
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so here we are today, facing the 2020 election. an election that will test trump's ability to ride that populist outsider momentum and energy as well as the ongoing strength of that movement itself. just as fascinatingly, we will watch again as the democratic party establishment, joe biden, elizabeth warren, kamala harris and a cast of many, many, many other contenders for the nomination attempt to once again mobilize the channel and perhaps to taken the energy of their activists. thank you. >> from political insurgencies to political chicanery. ken hughes has been with the presidential recordings program since 2000. he was called by bob woodward's one of america's foremost experts on the secret presidential recordings. particularly for his works on the nixon tapes which have included two books.
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favorite politics and chasing shadows. you're going to draw some more parallels between the political chicanery of the past and today. >> yes. thanks. the nixon administration interest comes and goes in waves. when things are going well in america, i don't get many phone calls from reporters. when things are not going well, i get very many calls from reporters. these days, you can guess i get a lot of attention from reporters. most recently, with the release of the mueller report, questions of a president encouraging aides to perjure themselves. and engaging in obstruction of justice. in order to thwart an investigation of himself came up once again. it was particularly interesting to me to see the analysis of trump's attempt to dangle pardons over the heads of aides like paul manafort because it was so different from the way nixon did it. trump did it on twitter and
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rudolph giuliani, his attorney, did it on television. trump talked about how unfair the treatment of manafort was. giuliani said that the president will look at the end of the investigation and see if anyone was treated unfairly, and, yeah, they might get a pardon, and robert mueller had to say, you know, obstruction of justice generally is something that does take place in private but the mere fact that it takes place in public doesn't make it any more legal. so i'll 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 congressional investigations of watergate, he did things in secret. the tape we're going to play was made the day after john dean testified to senate watergate committee in may of 1973.
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dean was, of course, a white house counsel. nixon had originally refused to allow dean to testify, just as donald trump is trying to keep his current and former white house 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 do that. nixon has just discovered that if he does not send the aides who are still on his side to testify before the senate investigating committee, then the country is only going to 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. hauhaldemad
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he talks about pardoning everybody in his inner circle. >> and there is some blue language in this as well. >> what i mean to say is this, talking in confidence in this room. there's nothing more important you and john have than to keep me in this -- office because i don't give a shit what comes out of you or john, even that poor damn dumb john mitchell. there is going to be a total pardon. >> well, don't even say that. >> you know it. you know it and i know it. >> it's wrong. wrong. of you guys. you and john. you and john cannot be condemned for something you didn't do. >> well -- >> god damn it, it was -- john dean.
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>> i don't think we will be. we didn't do. >> why not? >> because we didn't do it. >> this was an invitation to all the aides to perjure themselves when they testified in public. they all did. they, all the ones he mentioned, halderman, mitchell, 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're not really sure we can indict a president. they simply named him an as unindicted co-conspirator. they, richard nixon got on the helicopter in 1974 to leave the white house for good, pressed him to fulfill his promise to them, the secret promise, and pardon them all.
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right before nixon resigned his aides told him, look, the people need to have somebody's head, if you pardon everybody else, they're going to take your head. so nixon didn't fulfill his promise and he wound up being the only person who was pardoned for his crimes in watergate. and everybody he promise to pardon went to prison. do we have time for me to get into vietnam? >> sure. >> okay. this is something -- everybody is paying attention to obstruction of justice today. few people are paying attention to donald trump's exit negotiations in afghanistan. but they are taking place. he's got a plan. it's got three elements. complete american troop withdrawal. a cease-fire in the warring parties in afghanistan coupled with negotiations between them about a future government. and security guarantees, in the case of afghanistan, the security guarantee would be the taliban will not allow any terrorist to use afghanistan as
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a base for terrorist attacks on the united states. as someone who wrote a book about richard nixon's exit from vietnam, i got to tell you that all three elements were involved in nixon's exit strategy for vietnam and nixon's strategy was a fraud. it 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, which was a period of a year or two between the day that the last american troops left and north vietnam finally took over south vietnam. so when nixon talked about withdrawing all the troops from vietnam, he timed it to his re-election campaign and made sure the troops stayed in just long enough to keep south vietnam from collapsing before election day which would have revealed the failure of his strategy but that almost all of them came home before election day so he could tell the public
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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 from the ho chi minh trail and you can hear nixon on tape say, it doesn't matter if you get the guarantee, they're never going to withdraw, and henry kissinger says that's right, but we'll get it, anyway. so right before the election they were table to say, look, we've finally gotten the north vietnamese to agree to withdraw from the ho chi minh trail. peace is at hand. the final thing was, again, as trump is proposing, in afghanistan, a cease-fire between the warring parties, north and the south in vietnam's case, and negotiations between them over future elections. nixon and kissinger say quite plainly the elections will never take place in vietnam, the cease-fire will break down, the two sides will fight it out, but
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by that time, they'll be gone and the 1972 election will be in their rearview mirror, so the american people can't hold them accountable. this tape was made of the day before henry kissinger flew to paris to close the deal with north vietnam. he suspects and he's 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 suicide and this is going to destroy our country. so henry kissinger is now going to explain to nixon his take on that.
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>> the henry kissinger who says, our terms will destroy him in private, is the same henry kissinger who goes out less than two weeks before the election and says the north has accepted our terms, we believe peace is at hand. nixon and kissinger were very clever about arranging it so that it looked like they had won when, in fact, they had just done what i think buzz lightyear called a controlled form of falling. sorry, that was woody talking about buzz lightyear. trump can do that. his -- the last time that they discussed their plans in public, his plans were to bring the last american troops home some time in late 2020. if he can come out and say, look, our troops are coming home, the taliban guarantees that afghanistan will not be the home to terrorism, and, look, the taliban and the afghan government are entering into negotiations about the future government in a cease-fire, he
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could fool some of the people at the crucial time for him. and when it all falls apart would be some time after the election when it would be too late to hold them accountable. so, everyone, please keep an eye on that. >> well, in the midst of all of this tumult in the 1960s and early 1970s, injustice we are experiencing today, there were some major shifts and realignments and reorganizations that were going on. ken germany, a professor, a research fellow at the miller center specializing in the great society is going to tell us a little bit about that. >> thank you, professor. when i was a kid i lived in texas, and there was this guy named vern lundquist who hosted the sports news. and after the sports was over he would be on this show called "bowling for dollar." i never understood how verne lundquist got from the sports
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desk to the "bowling for dollar's" desk. this is the bowling section, nixon, was he the best bowler in the white house? >> according to nixon. >> according to nixon. with the democratic primary coming up, there are a lot of bowling pins up and there will just be one standing so i'll try to extinguish that metaphor right now and talk about lbj from 1964 and we know that richard nixon quit. we may not know that lbj actually quit, too. he just didn't make it public. he talked about it to a couple of his closest allies, a couple of his closest oldest friends, and he talked to his wife about it. and so i'm going to talk about what my few minutes here today are at the most sincere political minute of lbj's life. so i've been doing lbj for over 20 years.
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i boiled it down to this one minute. and it's going to take me seven to talk about it. nixon quit because of a lot of reasons. johnson quit, i'll sum up, because he was a baby. so i grew up in rural texas, rural louisiana. they would have said his mama didn't raise him right. and we could debate that at another time. i want us to focus on what happens on august 25th, 1964. this is two days into the democratic national convention at atlantic city. it is two days before lyndon johnson gave his acceptance speech in this grand thing and they exploded fireworks and his name was in lights and it was the perfect coronation of johnson and his political career. and then two months after this moment, a little over two months after this moment, landslide lyndon who had made it to the u.s. senate by 87 votes would've defeated the republican candidate by almost 60 million votes. about 90% of the electoral college sent their votes to
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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. he skipped his calisthenics regime. he had had a serious heart attack in 1955. he called his brother who was at the beach in south carolina. had to get a south carolina reference in. he would make a series of phone calls throughout the morning to richard russell, the senator from georgia, to several of his key aides, his press secretary, his longtime aide walker jenkins. and he would talk to his wife.
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a little bit later in the afternoon you would find lady bird and lyndon on the lawn lying underneath a tree holding hands and talking. it might be a weird thing to do during the middle of a democratic national convention. what they were talking about, among many things, was the fact that lbj had told ladybird 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. the country needed better educated people, they needed harvard educated people, they needed younger people. he couldn't hold the country together. he couldn't even hold the democratic party together. now this is the mississippi freedom democracy party issue. they were trying to figure out a compromise. they would come up with a compromise that didn't make many people happy, but it made enough people happy that johnson could move on. he did release his 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
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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 laying there under that tree. he had left lyndon, quote, alone in his room with the shades drawn. he told her he was quitting. he had talked to all these people. she would arise from the lawn, go upstairs and write a letter to johnson. you can read this letter if you want. she told him he was brave, as brave as fdr, as brave as harry truman. she told him that if he quit, it would embarrass his friends. and it would make his enemies so happy. they would jeer and they would cheer. she would tell him that his future would be, quote, 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 he could just have him sitting there.
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and she ended it with "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, there's just onion at the middle, but what was that at the middle? whar what was the onion there? so we'll go back to january 1928. i want to just preface this with what he had said to hubert humphrey about what the democratic party was for. we're for war on poverty. by the way, till students every time i teach if you want to go into politics, read this. and if you can convince your voters that you control these words, then you're going to win. we're for war on poverty, we're for economic growth, we're for world peace, we're for security, we're for medicare, we're for human dignity, we're for human rights. this is johnson talking a texas twang. now, this is what we stand for, a government of strength, a government that's solid, and a government that's compassionate and it just makes these guys
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look silly. he said, god have pity on the republican party because what did they stand for? so if we go from that january back to august 25th, they had just come up with this compromise. johnson was happy with. lady bird had written him a letter. he was talking to hubert humphrey and walter luther, a union leader. and 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 if it was going to last as a party, what it would continue to stand for. >> our party's always been a group that you could come to with any bellyache of injustice, whether it was a pecan-shelling plant that paid 4 cents an hour of sweatshop wages or whether it was usurious interest rates or whether it was discrimination to
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vote, ku klux klan whipping somebody, and all of these injustices have wound up and we've symbolized them some way or another in the county or state or national convention for time immemorial. that's what the democrat party's for. that's why it was born and that's why it survives and that's why it thrives and exists and long as the poor and the downtrodden and the bended know that they can come to us and be heard and that's what we're doing. we're hearing them and we're just saying -- we passed a law back in '57 and said that first time in 85 years everybody's going to have a chance to vote and we said it again in '60. and we said it again in '64. and then, by god, it still hadn't been executed. and we're going to say it again in the convention in '64. >> that's johnson couple of days before he accepted the nomination. he was exhausted. he had been pushed through the wringer. he had been up late at night for several days. so this is what i think his
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brain just reflexively went to. this is what i stand for. this is what the party that i've been part of since the 1930s for the past 3 decades, this is what they stand for. when somebody asks me, what are you for? that's it. so i think johnson nails it down here in this one minute. i have a second clip that i want to play, it which i'm going to run out of time here. maybe we can talk more about it in questions. this comes in negotiations for the voting rights act in 1965. now what i want to insert here is that in 1964 there's a rebirth or a revivivication of the conservative movement. i will make the suggestion to actually go back and see the transformation of the republican party that emerges after this. go to the george wallace primary for the democratic primary in 1964 where he carried over 30% of the voters in a shocking upset, even though he didt win in wisconsin, and then about the
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same percentage in indiana. and then 43%, the vast majority of the white voters in maryland voted for george wallace, the segregation forever candidate. that's who lyndon johnson was most afraid of were those wallace voters. so here in 1965 johnson's trying to hammer down the last bits of the voting rights act. martin luther king jr. had made an anti-war speech and he'd called the white house to try to feel johnson's pulse on this. johnson's going to tell him a little bit here about the voting rights act and how he thinks king needs to use his influence and other civil rights leaders need to use their influence to influence republicans in the house, and republicans in the senate. they need to go after those republicans who seem to be wavering on some of these particular issues. i will just let lyndon johnson predict the future here of american politics.
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>> i called joe rauh, and said for god's sakes, you try to get in here before it's too late. we're all off celebrating and doing something else. they're going to put a package together that i can see forming. and i called biemiller and i got him to agree to go send some and they got a wire sent from roy to all the republicans. but the republicans are going to hold pretty well. they're not going to -- they're going to quit the nigras. they will not let the nigra vote for them. every time they get a chance to help out a little, they'll blow it. they could help out here and they could elect a good man in suburban districts and cities but they haven't got that much sense. that's why they're disintegra disintegratidisintegrat disintegrating as a party. so they're going to wind up being pretty solid then they're going to get the southerners. >> so i'll let lbj have the last word. we'll set the bowling pin. >> excellent. well, we're going to open this up for questions from the
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audience. 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, you know, 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 that we learn from the tapes that differ from this present moment? is it all just, like, shocking similarities? or what's different about the president -- >> besides the fact that we're actually living in an opposite world? it's hard. for historians, it's incredibly difficult to explain the present, right, as you quite know from the name of your podcast. >> yeah. >> but great question. who wants to answer? >> it's wi'll note, a contrast maybe also an onramp 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
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news in real time. and he had the ticker with the newswires as well. you think about that, that the president of the united states is setting this up. he's the first to do it and 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 as we mobilize by trump and increasingly by other politicians as well, so i think an incredible contrast but also where the onramp is, i do think that's actually one of the starting points. we can probably point to a number of cases with others. but that's a striking one for me. >> you know, i would just refer actually to the conversation that kent and i had privately yesterday about our experience listening to the tapes, which is joy. it's an extraordinary opportunity to spend your days
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with lbj, jfk, and even with richard nixon. but their ability to shock is i think wearing off a little bit. because we're in a different generation. kent is teaching students on a daily basis now. and whereas i think ten 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. if we played other kennedy tapes, you would hear more obscenities from jfk than you thought he really uttered. but he would. but that whole sense of what's public and private and what's acceptable anymore. private lives are being played out publicly in ways that just would not have been the case before. and so the very private nature of what they're talking about here is i think partly what leads us to think of these materials as so extraordinary. now when you have decries, when you have pronouncements, when
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you have potential presidential pardons coming out if public, the difference between public and private, i think it changes the way that we understand the past, where we understand the presidency, itself. certainly, what we now know about john f. kennedy i don't think could have happened. john f. kennedy could not have comported himself today as he had in the past. >> i'm really -- go ahead. >> oh, no, go ahead. >> i'm really struck by the presidents you hear on the tape versus our image of them still today. i mean, you listen to lbj really miss the major political shift of his era. and he is somebody who we think of as a political whiz. and he just whips on both of these tapes that you played for us to a certain extent. and with jfk, like, just not
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being able to navigate his way out of this war with the brightest men of his generation around him. i mean, do you think that -- which do you think is realer kind of, is my question, i think, the men on the tape or the ones that the public saw every day? >> nixon on tape. nixon was really very self-conscious about crafting a public image that made sense and that fit all the norms of his time. so if you listen to richard nixon doing an interview that was going to be broadcast, everyone would think, you know, here is the best informed most prepared, most statesmanlike person who could possibly fill this office. and 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,
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just to use 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's quite racist and puts forth policies that he thinks will help the base of his party, which includes a large part of the white south that formerly voted for democrats. and he makes calculations like, well, if i do affirmative action, that will create a richer class of black people who might become republicans the way that, you know, catholics became republican once the new deal helped them rise. but if i do affirmative action, white people in the south will think i'm helping black people. and that will really hurt me. so it's just very a calculated thing.
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i think you really have to listen to nixon in private to see what he's up to. >> on kennedy and the public/private, his persona, at least with respect to vietnam. i think kennedy's a sceptic on vietnam. i think he's a sceptic right to the end of his administration. you can hear that skepticism at least in terms of the policy that he's been presented with. is this really going to help us all that much, what's the advantage of doing this? what if the war's not going well, can we really pull out? and i think there is enough publicly to hang your hat on to suggest that that is the real kennedy. kennedy never commits in public to winning the war. lyndon johnson does. and that's one of the differences between what takes place in the transition between jfk and lbj. by early 1964 the rhetoric changes. and there is a sense of sticking with it.
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and you don't get that from jfk that much. on the other hand, on the tapes, there are these moments publicly where he will also say while it is their war to win, we can assist them. he also says, but i think it would be a mistake to withdraw. that's not to mean that he doesn't think that we have to stay there until we win. the question of what was his actual posture toward vietnam and, obviously, where would he have been later on? my own personal sense is that he would have tried to stay in vietnam and to have supported some portion of a south vietnam to maintain sovereignty below the 17th parallel. i think that's what it was all about for him, and whether that looked like an oil spot approach that one was pursuing, whether it would involve more sabotage
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and clandestine work north of the 17th parallel, good chance it would have as well. but i think that skepticism about american prospects pushing on to victory, i think that was there are throughout. >> well, for johnson, the public johnson, was pretty boring. he thought he should be a statesman and be like he's being graded by a high school speech teacher, which he was. obviously, in private he was a much different person. there are many stories of him when his aides were writing his memoirs for him and giving him a draft and he said, that's not going to be good. and they were trying to put lbj into it, and he was trying to take lbj out. i think that happened in politics. on the point of him whipping, i think he's definitely not whipping. i think he is restructuring the democratic party. and he's trying to build a firebreak among moderate white voters. and he spends most of 1964 and '65 attempting to do that. his paranoia about bobby
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definitely comes out. bobby kennedy. >> i agree with that. pushing a little farther, we listen to johnson recorded. what you see is a man who understands that the political order he's come up in is fracturing permanently. it's not going to continue to exist. what ultimately drives him out of politics is the realization that he is not the leader to manage that transition. but, yeah, i don't necessarily think that he's whipping. the new left is not in fact the future of american politics. and the republican party is going to win, what is it, five of the next six presidential elections, and it took watergate to secure that sixth. and johnson saw all that and did not know what to do about it, ultimately. >> well, we'd like to open this up for questions.
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we have a microphone up here. so if anybody would like to ask a question. >> with the richness of this material from roosevelt to nixon, i was thinking about forward to trump. and do you daydream about finding a box of sd cards, similar material, from those people? what would be gained if you did find that box? what's lost because you don't have it? >> i'll just say very quickly because i write a lot about the current administration. and there have been enough statements from the current president where he, like, hints that he's recording things that have gotten people salivating a little bit. like, what would it be like if we had those tapes? and we know that the current administration is not really good at keeping its records in tact. so i think it's unlikely that we'll find them. but you think about somebody like ronald reagan who continues to just really baffle biographers and historians in
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terms of, like, who is the man behind the public image? and i think that's one case where i don't know if the tapes would actually answer that question, but it would be really, really great to have them just to see if they could. >> there are reagan tapes, by the way. there are tapes that were recorded when he was on the phone with world leaders, tapes that were made from the situation room. and there aren't 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 more of a 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 we can remember. certainly, our image of him, which is, of course, the image that he wanted everybody to see
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of him not in a wheelchair, but the audio as well, the fireside chats, we hear roosevelt in conversations with civil rights leaders saying things that are a little surprising today, perhaps not for the time. but, again, it's an unguarded roosevelt. we never get a chance to hear that. >> there's an incredible degree of democratic accountability, transparency to these recordings. and because of the associations with watergate, we see them often in kind of a dark light in some of the revelations that if you think about it, this is really a remarkable legacy to history for these few administrations that we can go back and do this kind of research, not just in a memo that can be shaped or maneuvered by the writer's perspective, but what was actually said in that room. it's a remarkable thing. >> and i want to put in a plug for the students that have worked on the miller center
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project doing presidential recordin recordings. i say to all my students, if you want to learn about politics, if you want to be a politician, you need to study these tapes. one of the students from 2004 that worked on some of these civil rights tapes was joe biden's press secretary, his deputy campaign manager right now. we have another student that worked on this who was an obama speechwrite e i believe. so university of virginia students who have come through and worked on this project have learned an enormous amount from this. if you know any great students, send them. >> one who has seen only a few of those clips might well conclude that neither the leader of the country nor his closest associates is really among the best and the brightest. and i'm just wondering what the impression you have who have read great quantities or listened to great quantities of these tapes. >> i'll be quick. if you listen to lyndon johnson long enough, it's hard not to be
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amazed by the memory that he has, the capacity for detail, to know what's going on, where it's going, the arcane rule for this, the arcane rule for that, who's sleeping with whom, who was a mistress with whom back when. that institutional knowledge that johnson had is amazing and that comes out on the tapes. and i think is one of the reasons why they are so rich. >> i'll second that. >> i agree that the presidents and their aides tend to be very intelligent, but they're also a lot less high-minded. there's a great demystification of the presidency that you get from listening to the tapes. and i think that's a good thing again from the standpoint of democratic accountability. because while we should respect presidents, we shouldn't really revere them or be in awe of them. very often, they make decisions based on very mundane political calculations and, you know, though they might have a vast amount of information at their fingertips with regard to, say,
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for example, the vietnam war, including all sorts of classified information, when they make a decision ultimately, it's about something pretty mundane like will i be re-elected or can i sell this or how does this affect my legislative program? >> and i should say that these presidents that we're talking about with exception to john kennedy who was killed in 1964, about 80% of the american people believed that they could trust government to do the right thing in most instances. these 2 presidents have a lot to drop that down into the 20% range. >> does the -- 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, their --
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well, just taking those into account in terms of domestic politics. >> i can answer the second half of the question for nixon. nixon was anti-semitic, basically hated jews and thought they would never support him. so he was actually surprised when in the 1972 election when he actually received a much larger share of the jewish vote than he had expected. >> it's unfortunate that nixon turns off the tape machine in july of 1973 so we don't have the october '73 war. it could have been interesting to follow nixon through that, no doubt. >> with lbj, you get fascinating insights into exactly that point because you do see some of the very earliest negotiations of american arms sales to israel, and real hesitation on lbj's part of exactly which direction the u.s. should go on this issue.
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you know, this is really a point where the american/israeli relationship is -- that we know today is just at its very starting point. >> well, thank you, all, for coming out this afternoon. and please give a hand to these great panelists. [ applause ] weeknights this month we're featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on c-span3. tonight, we look at ronald reagan. university of central arkansas historian marcus witcher looks back at conservative criticism of president reagan's foreign policy toward the soviet union and explains how its criticism was downplayed in later decades as conservatives sought to reimagine their relationship with the 40th president.
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watch tonight beginning at 8:00 p.m. eastern and enjoy american history tv every weekend on c-span3. the votes for president of the united states are as follows. joseph r. biden jr. of the state of delaware has received 306 votes. donald j. trump of the state of florida has received 232 votes. >> with the votes in the 2020 presidential election now counted and confirmed by congress, attention turns to the inauguration of the 46th president of the united states. on january 20th joe biden and kamala harris take the oath of office as president and vice president of the u.s. our live coverage begins at 7:00 a.m. eastern on wednesday, january 20th. watch live on c-span, watch live streaming or on demand at, or listen with the free c-span radio app. ♪


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