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Stab in the Back

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Continue to count me out of the “Richard Nixon was really a liberal because he was willing to sign some of the legislation a Democratic Congress put on his desk if it didn’t interfere with his other political objectives” club. More evidence about his role in sabotaging peace talks in 1968 has emerged, and as Charles says:

There were 22,000 more Americans who died in Vietnam after Nixon sabotaged the peace talks in order to win an election. That’s 44,000 more American parents. That’s thousands and thousands more American children. That’s god alone knows how many more men, women, and children in Southeast Asia, all of whom died, very likely unnecessarily, because of Richard Nixon’s treasonous ambitions. Millions of people visit the Vietnam Memorial in Washington every year. Everyone of them who comes to commemorate a loved one lost in the war after 1968 should say a silent prayer at the wall and then turn slowly, and, with great dignity and quiet grace, spit in the direction of the White House, just because Richard Nixon once lived there.

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  • I think Nixon considered himself a Tory in the Disareli mould.

    • John

      That seems about right. And Disraeli’s political opponents hated him nearly as much as Nixon’s did – saw him as a cynical, opportunist with no principles besides maintaining himself in power. That said, I don’t think Disraeli ever did anything on the abuse of power front anywhere near what Nixon did. And arguably Disraeli’s political philosophy was much more sympathetic to the actual needs of the working classes than Gladstonian Liberalism. Disraeli was pretty serious about his idea of an alliance between the aristocracy and the working classes against the Liberals, and was willing to do actual things to help the working classes to achieve it.

      But the analogy to Nixon seems a propos in a lot of ways.

      • A family friend served as a medic in the South Seas in the same general area said that the word was that Nixon was a superb poker player.

        His intellect was first-rate, but he had the temperament of a resentful downstart, someone who always felt he was an outsider even when he attained the peak of Executive power in these United States.

        He was a good example what my noble spouse would term a “prodi”, someone from the provinces(and, in Southern California, Yorba Linda was a province next to LA itself) who was able to take advantage of the opportunities given to him.

        I grew up in a smallish California town, but I never felt that there were those who set their faces against me, even when I went to school at the Harvard of the Midwest.

        I can sympathize with Nixon, but I’ll never forgive him.

  • c u n d gulag

    I’m still not sure who was the greater evil, and/or who gave birth to the evils of Modern Conservatism as we now know it – Joe McCarthy, or Richard Nixon?
    Now, some may also add Goldwater, but I don’t think he did as many evil things to as many people, and have the far-reaching results, as those two – not by a long shot.

    I lean towards Nixon, since McCarthy was only a Senator, and Nixon was able to spread his evil for longer, and with a broader reach.

    We’re still paying for having him involved in the nations politics.
    Many of the ratfuckers out there now, learned their ratfucking from the “Master Ratfucker” himself – “Tricky” Dick Nixon.

    • NBarnes

      It was Nixon.

      • Bruce Baugh

        Definitely Nixon. Remember that he really got his start in national politics playing a crucial role in destroying the then-existing apparatus of scholars and diplomats with actual experience dealing with China, then blaming ensuing troubles on the victims. “Who lost China?” You did, R.M., you and your buddies in HUAC. And he kept it up ever since, scooping up benefits from disasters that wouldn’t have existed or wouldn’t have been so bad were it not for his own deliberate efforts.

    • Nixon was far worse. There were others who could have been McCarthy, but as the proverb goes, only Nixon could have gone to Watergate

  • Ronan

    Why does sabotaging peace talks make Nixon a conservative on domestic politics?

    • snarkout

      I concur, even though I think Scott is essentially correct. (That is, I don’t think Nixon was in any sense a liberal, but I don’t see how either this particularly disgusting and treasonous ratfucking proves the case.)

    • Scott Lemieux

      Why does sabotaging peace talks make Nixon a conservative on domestic politics?

      It doesn’t, in and of itself, but he still wasn’t.

      • Joe

        It seems like you are connecting two things that aren’t quite the same. They both are notable, but they are not the same thing. Seems to be the concern.

        • Joe

          like it’s in the same paragraph … a carriage return might have ended the misunderstanding

    • Ronan

      Yeah, from my limitied knowledge of the Nixon admin this liberal nostalgia for him does seem a little off

    • Why does sabotaging peace talks make Nixon a conservative on domestic politics?

      The claim isn’t that it makes him a conservative, but that it shows that he was not a liberal.

      Since his support of liberal domestic policies was based, as Scott wrote, on unprincipled political maneuvering aimed at consolidating his own power and allowing him to implement his foreign policy vision, this piece of unprincipled political maneuvering aimed at consolidating his own power and allowing him to implement his foreign policy vision serves to back up Scott’s analysis.

    • José Arcadio Buendía

      So, let me see if I get this post right. Nixon stopped a peace deal on LBJ’s war, LBJ knew this, kept quiet, and so it’s all Nixon’s fault. But LBJ is a liberal and Nixon isn’t, because Civil Rights and not because EPA, wage controls, and going to China.

      Also, this isn’t news enough to have been in books I’ve read and also in that Oliver Stone doc on Showtime, and Nixon alleged that LBJ wiretapped him long ago.

      If LBJ was a liberal, Nixon was at least center-left domestically.

      • Nixon stopped a peace deal on LBJ’s war

        A peace deal LBJ was trying to accomplish. Yes, that makes everything that happened after Nixon prevented the end of the war Nixon’s fault.

        But LBJ is a liberal and Nixon isn’t, because Civil Rights and not because EPA, wage controls, and going to China.

        Answered below. FYI, most people do not consider “China” to be a domestic issue.

        Also, this isn’t news enough to have been in books I’ve read and also in that Oliver Stone doc on Showtime, and Nixon alleged that LBJ wiretapped him long ago.

        The discovery of the tapes providing proof of the allegations is new, and news.

        • John

          Proof of what allegations? I don’t think there’s been any doubt since at least 1969 that Chennault told the South Vietnamese that Nixon would give them a better deal. And these tapes provide no more evidence than we already had about whether Nixon and Kissinger were personally involved.

      • Scott Lemieux

        If you think wage controls are comparable to, say, Medicare and the Voting Rights Act…I can see why you might erroneously consider Richard Nixon a liberal.

      • Anonymous

        Campaigning for “Right-to-Work” legislation at the state level in 1958 is apparently liberal now.

      • StevenAttewell

        Nixon hated the EPA and signed it because he didn’t feel he had a choice – see the override of his veto on the Clean Water Act.

        Wage controls – one, not progressive in and of themselves. Two, because he slammed them on before slamming on price controls, they fucked over working people badly. Hence why Nixon Democrats turned against him in 70 and 74.

  • Linnaeus

    I do have to wonder, though, what justified bugging Anna Chennault’s phone.

    • rea

      Simple answer–they didn’t. They bugged the S. Vietnamese ambassador’s phone, and she called him.

      • Linnaeus

        Ah, I misread that.

    • David Hunt

      If you read the Pierce article that Scott linked to, you’ll see it says that that they had bugged the phone of the South Vietnamese ambassador, whom she called.

      • Linnaeus

        I read both the Pierce piece and the piece Pierce linked to. I just misread the part about the bugging.

        • David Hunt

          Yeah, sorry. Ironically, if I’d read your own comment more carefully or thought about it before posting, I’d have realized that you wouldn’t have known her name without reading it and had simply missed the bit about it being the ambassador that was bugged.

          • Linnaeus

            Oh, no worries. I didn’t read anything nasty in your comment anyway.

            • elm

              Wait, two people misreading things then calmly explaining themselves and offering apologies? What sort of blog comment thread is this? I demand more ridiculous posturing and digging in of heals!

              • We need to hold a blogger pancake breakfast ethics panel!

                • rea

                  Call the Malyasians and see if Trevino is available . . .

              • Linnaeus

                It’s scary, I know.

              • efgoldman

                I demand more ridiculous posturing and digging in of heals!

                You may dig into heals with heels. It prtobably hurts like a bitch.
                [/insufferable pedant]

  • LeeEsq

    What I think Scott meant is that if Nixon really was liberal, he wouldn’t have sabotaged peace talks to gain the Presidency. Nixon did what he thought would advance his political career.

  • Mike Furlan

    If anything, pro-Nixon partisans will just like him even better after hearing this.

    The hostage deal, Iran Contra, and the Beriut bombing have done nothing to dim the star of Reagan in the conservative world.

    A few more years of “Iraq, Freedom, Democracy!” and the younger Bush will have been rehabilitated.

    • José Arcadio Buendía

      I’m not a “pro-Nixon partisan” but I’m someone who thinks that the boomer generation, you know the same people who landslided Reagan twice, likes to act like Nixon was some force majeur that came in and stopped their cool hippie universe from fixing everything, and that even though Vietnam was the number one thing on their agenda, LBJ was OK because of some of his other achievements. Also, RFK’s involvement in the very same red-baiting as McCarthy’s counsel gets evaporated in the memory hole in this version of events (so does everything JFK ever did).

      In the standard boomer narrative, if only one of the Kennedys had lived, Vietnam would have never happened and neither would have Nixon. Maybe. It’s all LBJ’s fault, but even he wasn’t as bad as Nixon because of some of his domestic achievements. Well, what’s the difference between him and Nixon then?

      LBJ could have been Watergated for a bunch of things. He just wasn’t. Just like Bush wasn’t, Reagan managed to avoid it, and so on.

      If I am going to write about Civil Rights and Medicare in LBJ’s obituary, I’m going to write about the EPA, recognizing China, and so on in Nixon’s.

      Get over your generational butthurt.

      • Nixon deserves genuine credit for China, because he actively pushed to make that happen, expending political capital and making it a major priority.

        But the same cannot be said of the domestic legislation, like the EPA, that Nixon signed. He expended no political capital to make it happen, and was in no way a driving force for its passage. He went along with what Congress wanted.

        This is quite clearly different from LBJ’s domestic achievements, like the Civil Rights Act and Medicare. Those were bills that LBJ got Congress to enact, not bills that Congress got Nixon to sign.

        • Murc

          Nixon deserves genuine credit for China, because he actively pushed to make that happen, expending political capital and making it a major priority.

          No. He doesn’t.

          The reason Nixon was able to do that is because he spent twenty years screeching at anyone trying to engage with China that they were appeasers, commies, traitors.

          Giving Nixon credit for China is like giving an arsonist credit for putting out fires he himself starts.

          • Malaclypse

            Who could only Nixon have gone to China?

            Because if anybody else went, Nixon would have red-baited them into oblivion.

            • StevenAttewell

              Noice.

          • I think it’s pretty safe to say that, had Richard Nixon never been born, anyone trying to reach out to Mao’s government in the 50s or 60s would have been red-baited anyway.

            Casting Richard Nixon, individually, as all that stood in the way of the establishment of relations is a bit of a stretch.

            • Murc

              This is true, to a point. However, Nixon was still one of the red-baiters. I believe my analogy to an arsonist putting out his own fires stands; the arsonist doesn’t get extra credit on the grounds that if he hadn’t done it, another crazy man would have.

              • Linnaeus

                As a certain ex-president might put it, “it takes some brass to attack a guy for doin’ what you did.”

              • TT

                David Halberstam once wrote that Nixon was the only president who could have gone to China without being red-baited by Nixon. I think his point was that, while not unique in his red-baiting, Nixon was unusually skillful at it in terms of impact and media visibility.

                • Malaclypse

                  I knew I stole that line from somebody.

              • But red-baiting was not “one of his (Nixon’s) fires.” That’s the point.

                If someone who had burned down a few houses puts out a Great Fire – yeah, that’s a big deal.

                • Murc

                  But red-baiting was not “one of his (Nixon’s) fires.” That’s the point.

                  … yes, it bloody well was!

                  Nixon red-baited with the best of them. Nobody MADE him do that. He did it all on his own.

      • TT

        Yes, the hippies and the rest of the antiwar movement just loved them some LBJ. Your history textbook wasn’t approved by the Texas State Board of Education, was it?

        • Woodrowfan

          +1

        • john (not mccain)

          the anti-war movement loved him so much he stopped running for president, so overcome with emotion was lbj.

          • Malaclypse

            I still remember the chants: Hey, hey, LBJ, how many wonderful things did you do today?

        • DrDick

          I loved him so much that it took me decades to come to terms with his administration and acknowledge that the good on balance outweighed the bad.

          • spencer

            My dad still isn’t there. He’s 67. I recently tried to make a lot of these very points about LBJ to him and he was having none of it – mostly because he was there and I wasn’t, y’see.

        • Colin Day

          Not only that, it was stored in the Texas Schoolbook Depository

      • Scott Lemieux

        If I am going to write about Civil Rights and Medicare in LBJ’s obituary, I’m going to write about the EPA, recognizing China, and so on in Nixon’s.

        Fine. Make sure to note that LBJ’s agenda setting and unusual mastery of the legislative process were crucial to getting some of the most progressive policy agenda of any 20th century passed, while also noting that Nixon signed some good policies passed by a Democratic Congress without any particular interest on his part, while he vetoed some others.

        Get over your generational butthurt.

        What generation do you think I’m part of?

        • rickhavoc

          EPA was a canard for Nixon, a bureaucratic punching bag to this day.

      • efgoldman

        Get over your generational butthurt.

        Get over yourself. I was there. I watched LBJ announce that he wouldn’t run again, and I watched Nixon lie about everything he ever touched.
        LBJ was no hero, to be sure, but Nixon sabotaged the talks, and some large number of people died (giving Pierce credit for some hyperbole) that didn’t have to. That’s a fact of our history, as is the same thing about lies and Iraq (hmm… what’s the common thread here?).
        And yes, I truly believe that if RFK had lived, he’d have been nominated, and elected, and gotten us the fuck out of Vietnam some number of years, and deaths, sooner.

        • DrDick

          Yep. I still rate Nixon as the third worst president ever, even if he did (or allowed to happen) some good things.

  • Kal

    The point about Nixon’s various liberal domestic policies is not that Nixon was a secret liberal. It’s more likely that he was secretly Satan incarnate.

    Rather, it’s that the political context, the pressures on a president and the possibilities open to them, matter more in determining national policies than the president’s personal beliefs. Some people use this to argue that very little is Obama’s fault because the Senate. Us lefties like to use it instead to point out that electoral politics aren’t the most important kind.

  • justaguy

    Time to reread HST’s Eulogy for Nixon…

    “Let there be no mistake in the history books about that. Richard Nixon was an evil man — evil in a way that only those who believe in the physical reality of the Devil can understand it. He was utterly without ethics or morals or any bedrock sense of decency. Nobody trusted him — except maybe the Stalinist Chinese, and honest historians will remember him mainly as a rat who kept scrambling to get back on the ship.”

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1994/07/he-was-a-crook/308699/

    But I’m curious as to what is new in all this? Its been a while since I read Nixonland, but it discussed Nixon’s efforts to sabotage the peace talks.

    • scott

      I agree with this. I was reading about the peace talks issue at least 25-30 years ago and don’t know why this is news. Reprehensible, yeah, news no.

    • Malaclypse

      The new part is LBJ’s direct contemporaneous knowledge.

      • John

        Is even that really new? I feel as though I’ve read about that before. At any rate, LBJ’s contemporaneous knowledge (and the fact that he told Humphrey about it) shows more about the fecklessness of the Humphrey campaign than it does about Nixon.

        • Jean-Michel

          You’re not imagining it, you’ve probably read that before. Theodore White wrote about the tapes in The Making of the President 1968. Johnson himself discussed it in The Vantage Point (1971), though not surprisingly he didn’t specify where the info came from. Neither book blames Nixon directly–in fact White absurdly absolves Nixon, apparently based solely on his conviction that Nixon couldn’t be such a terrible man–but later reports (beginning, I believe, with a 1973 Jack Anderson piece) indicated that Johnson was fully convinced Nixon was behind it. (Anderson also says that Nixon promised to dispatch a prominent Republican senator to disavow Chennault’s statements on Nixon’s behalf, which of course he never actually did.) Later investigations made it clear that Johnson’s belief was correct–Anthony Summers’ The Arrogance of Power is particularly good in this respect. Being able to hear from Johnson’s own lips is a valuable historical resource, but then these tapes were released nearly 3 1/2 years ago and prompted a brief flurry of coverage at the time, some of which brought up the T-word. Transcripts (posted in January 2009) can be read here. I really don’t see why the BBC is talking this up as an untold story, though it’s surely much less well-known than it should be.

          • Jean-Michel

            (Just to clarify, the tapes revealed in the Theodore White book were the Chennault tapes, not the LBJ White House tapes.)

          • justaguy

            Call me sentimental, but I’m of the opinion that you don’t really need a special occasion to dwell on how evil Nixon is.

          • John

            Right, that’s what I thought. There’s basically nothing new here, except some new evidence of LBJ being angry about an event everyone’s known about for decades.

    • FMguru

      That HST eulogy just gets more magnificent every year.

  • NBarnes

    As a child growing up in the 80s, I always used to wonder how it was that the GOP survived Nixon as an entity. It seemed to me obvious that supporting such a monster ought to destroy the old power structure and create a new conservative party on the ashes of the old.

    I still wonder about that, actually. How can so many people be in positions of power and respect who are so strongly tied to Nixon? How can Nixon’s politics be so influential?

    • Eric

      How can Nixon’s politics be so influential?

      Maybe because they worked?

    • Anonymous

      Nixon did win his second term in a landslide (61-38), and even with his dirty tricks and a better Democratic challange(r), he probably would have won comfortably, as his approval rating was in the high 50s through most of 1972.

      • DrDick

        Hell, there were still a lot of people who did not think he was guilty of anything when he resigned.

    • DrDick

      The Southern Strategy.

  • Xenos

    If Chennault scuttled the peace talks by telling an ally (S. Vietnam) to pull out, does that really meet the legal definition of treason? I had thought the signals had gone to N. Vietnam, which (I think) would quite clearly have met the definition.

    I am not pushing a point of view here, just askin’.

    • Sheetrock Bobby

      Technically, treason would have been more difficult to demonstrate, but this was all a pretty cut-and-dry violation of the Logan Act, which forbids unauthorized individuals from engaging in diplomatic activities with foreign officials and representatives.

      However, all of this came to light in late ’68, and a new (and as we discovered, less scrupulous) administration took charge of the Justice Department in January ’69, rendering the discussion of the criminal consequences of Anna Chennault and others’ behavior purely academic.

      • rea

        Anna Chenault’s life was one long violaton of the Logan Act–she was essentially an agent of the Nationalist Chinese government.

  • Boy, if Nixon was a liberal because he signed legislation that Democrats passed, whatever do they think of Reagan? He signed budgets that had a total of $16 billion dollars less than he asked for originally. I guess that makes Democrats the real movement conservatives!

  • I wouldn’t say he was a liberal.

    I’d just say that the GOP has gone so far off the deep end that he looks like a liberal in comparison.

    • Linnaeus

      And you could see the shifts beginning to happen (well, not then, but with today’s perspective, you can) – I remember reading National Review editorials when doing research for my MA thesis that called out Nixon for not being conservative enough.

      • Oh, the shifts were there to be seen from the minute LBJ signed civil rights legislation. Even he admitted that he’d lost Dems the south for a generation.

        He underestimated their anger, as Dixiecrats abandoned the Democrats in droves, and really only had one place to go: George Wallace.

        I mean, the GOP…

      • Anonymous

        John Ashbrook made a quixotic challange against Nixon in the 1972 primaries, so the complaints were somewhat more widespread in the movement.

    • DrDick

      I would agree with this. It is also true on some issues of some “centrist” Dems.

  • Eric in Santa Fe

    You realize that Reagan did essentially the same thing a decade later? His people sabotaged Carter’s negotiations to free the Iranian hostages so that Reagan would win in 1980.

    It is a true Conservative SOP: Gain Power at all costs, so long as those costs are borne by the Little People.

    McCarthy, Goldwater, Nixon, Reagan, Bush, Bush, … The legacy lives on today with many more examples.

    • rea

      The difference between what Nixon did and what Regan did was that Nixon worked with our allies to sabotage a diplomatic effort, while Reagan worked wth our enemies.

      • John

        One might add that it’s at least possible to argue in good faith that the 1968 peace deal was a bad idea because it sold out our South Vietnamese allies. I’d assume Chennault herself probably believed this. Even Nixon and Kissinger may have believed this – they finally abandoned the South Vietnamese only after several years of hard experience, so it seems reasonable to think that they may have genuinely hoped that they could secure a better deal for the South Vietnamese than LBJ had done. (If not, why not negotiate a settlement in 1969?)

        I don’t think there’s any good faith argument to be made for why it would have been wrong for the Iranians to release the hostages before the election in 1980. It’s just pure political calculation.

  • Jesse Levine

    He was in the Eisenhower wing of the Republican Party, which, because of the general national consensus of the time made him a moderate. More troubling, his treason foreshadowed that of Reagan and Bush Sr. (Iran/Contra)and Jr.(Iraq,Plame). But if it’s done by a Republican while claiming it’s a matter of National Defense it’s all good.

  • spencer

    The picture that accompanies this post makes me feel all punchy.

  • Data Tutashkhia

    The point of saying that Nixon was the most liberal president since the ’70s is not to praise Nixon, but to emphasize that modern liberals suck.

    • I think we all know that’s the point.

      The point is stupid and false.

      • spencer

        That’s why Data is making it.

      • Data Tutashkhia

        Sounds okay, for a one-liner; I imagine it’s phrased that way for the shock value.

        Anyway, if one choose to consider McCarthy an isolated episode, then saying that the reactionary swing in mainstream politics (the we are witnessing now) started somewhere in the ’70s seems like a reasonable proposition. Not the greatest analysis, but something. And that’s all this phrase means.

      • Murc

        The point is stupid and false.

        Uh… how so?

        During the Nixon administration, the self-described liberals in Congress were willing to pass legislation that imposed sweeping environmental and business regulations, and there were Congressional majorities in favor of universal health care plans that make Obamacare look awful in comparison. Many of these pieces of legislation made it to the desk of a President who signed it with public displays of enthusiasm.

        Today, the self-described liberals in congress roll over if you shout “BOO!” and that and couldn’t cobble together the votes to reform the industry that very nearly destroyed the worlds economy in any meaningful way. They DO suck.

        • Malaclypse

          The point is false because Nixon did not give a flying fuck about the bills passed by veto-proof majorities of liberals, as long as they left him and Kissinger alone to play Diplomacy with the world.

        • Scott Lemieux

          No, it’s that at the time there was some issues (like Civil Rights and environmental regulation) on which the Republican Party was not opposed in lockstep to any possible legislation. The problem isn’t that there are fewer liberals or that liberals don’t have the balls to make Republicans and blue-state Democrats support their agenda, it’s that hostility to the liberal agenda has become much more comprehensive and effective. The PPACA is a far more impressive legislative achievement for liberalism than the EPA was.

          By the way, during this alleged golden age of the Democratic Party, Democrats controlled all three branches of government for 4 years. What came of that?

          • Murc

            Err… everything you say is true, Scott, but I’m curious as to how its pertinent.

            My point was that self-described liberal members of Congress and liberal leaders who were regarded as part of the mainstream during the Nixon administration really were much further to the left than the ones we have today. I’m prepared to be proven wrong on that, but it seems self-evident.

            • Scott Lemieux

              It’s not remotely self-evident to me. A party headed by Harry Byrd and Carl Albert (and then Jimmy Carter) was obviously more liberal than one headed by Pelosi, Reid, and Obama? Not only is that not self-evident, it’s not very plausible.

              It’s amazing how allegedly majorities in Congress and Nixon favored single-payer or something close…and yet nothing ever passed. I will grant that liberals of that era had more “balls,” if you define balls in the Matt Stoller sense of “issuing all-or-nothing ultimatums.” Sure, they almost invariably got nothing after the environmental legislation Republicans of that era didn’t oppose, but they weren’t sellouts!

              Contemporary liberals in Congress, to their great credit, seem to care more about getting the best legislation they can. I mean, I guess if they worked really hard Senate Democrats could have gotten 30 or so votes for a single-payer health care plan, but who gives a fuck? Proving that you’re more progressive than the median votes in Congress doesn’t actually accomplish anything.

              • John

                Harry Byrd? He was dead by the time Nixon became president, and his namesake son was not in any sense a Democratic leader in the Senate. Hell, Harry Byrd himself was always at the far right edge of even the Southern Caucus.

                The Senate Majority Leader under Nixon was Mike Mansfield, who was a pretty solid liberal. Robert Byrd succeeded him when Carter came in, and was, indeed, not very liberal.

                • Scott Lemieux

                  Sorry, yes, Robert of course.

              • Murc

                It’s amazing how allegedly majorities in Congress and Nixon favored single-payer or something close…and yet nothing ever passed.

                Er… how is that amazing?

                Plenty of things that have majority support in Congress don’t pass. You yourself have written extensively on this topic.

                A party headed by Harry Byrd and Carl Albert (and then Jimmy Carter) was obviously more liberal than one headed by Pelosi, Reid, and Obama? Not only is that not self-evident, it’s not very plausible.

                Pelosi, Reid, and Obama are certainly more liberal on social issues. Well and good. Those are important things.

                On economic issues, I don’t think it can be argued that the modern Democratic Party is WELL to the right of the one of the early seventies.

                Contemporary liberals in Congress, to their great credit, seem to care more about getting the best legislation they can.

                … what on Earth has this got to do with how liberal they are? Caring about getting the best legislation you can is an ideologically neutral governing tactic.

                • Scott Lemieux

                  Plenty of things that have majority support in Congress don’t pass. You yourself have written extensively on this topic.

                  Under current norms, yes. Under the norms of the early 70s, much less so. What’s your evidence that Congressional majorities have ever favored single payer? (And note that the PPACA is far better than anything Congress actually passed in the 70s.)

                  what on Earth has this got to do with how liberal they are? Caring about getting the best legislation you can is an ideologically neutral governing tactic.

                  Not when “the best legislation you can get” is defined in terms of progressive goals. It’s not like Reid and Pelosi were trying to get the best Social Security privitization plan they could get.

                  I also don’t know what your basis for saying that the typical Democrats of the 70s were well to the left of Democrats today on economic issues is. What legislation passed during that period was as economically progressive as the massive Medicaid expansion in the PPACA? What compares to the stimulus package?

                • Murc

                  Okay, now I’m even more baffled. You keep equating ideological positions with passed legislation. I don’t get what the two have to do with each other.

              • Data Tutashkhia

                It is very upsetting to see an argument here based on alleged personal qualities of politicians. Yeah, sure, Comrade Stalin was also a very kind man, and Grandpa Lenin even more so.

                They are all scum, get used to it. The only reason you can trust them – which is, paradoxically, also the reason one can never trust them – is that they’ll do anything to preserve their power and celebrity status.

                Lower orders of the population were much better organized and more politically active in the 60s and 70s (ghettos had organized militias, for chrissake), and that’s the reason positive changes happen. The establishment responded with repressions, assassinations, mass-incarceration, bringing drugs to the ghettos. The rest is history.

                • rea

                  Lower orders of the population were much better organized and more politically active in the 60s and 70s (ghettos had organized militias, for chrissake)

                  Well, one can certainly tell that you were not there. No, there were no organized militias in ghettos, and the “lower orders” (thank you for that characterization, your lordship) were not particularly politically active.

                • Data Tutashkhia

                  There were no organized militias in ghettos, in the 70s? Are you serious? They marched to the california assembly with loaded shotguns; what was the last time that happened?

                  The lower orders (or whatever you want to call it) weren’t politically active? Are you kidding me?

                  That doesn’t sound like rea; what did you do to rea?

                • Ooo, the scary scary ghettos meme returns!

                  Scary! With commonsense statistics to back up the fear!

            • djw

              The kernel of truth to this, I think, is that the financial sector did not have their claws in the Democrats to the extent they do today (they did by the late 70’s, but a bit less so during the Nixon years). And this is pretty important. But I don’t think the position is accurate overall. (And while the methods they use have limitations, the congressional ideology measuring political science literature don’t see it; since then they’ve seen a modest shift to the left for the D’s and a huge shift to the right for the R’s).

        • You are looking at the past with rose-colored glasses.

  • Mill Boyers

    I don’t think the argument is that Nixon was a great liberal icon, the argument is that Nixon was (arguably) more liberal than Obama. This incident doesn’t really challenge that.

    Also, I have two questions:
    (1) Why is so much credence given to the tapes LBJ deliberately recorded and saved to favorably influence future opinions of himself? I think that’s the definition of unreliable historical evidence.

    (2) What is the actual evidence that Nixon was involved here? This is LBJ’s (obviously biased) accusation based on the conduct of Chennault.

    • What part of “recorded conversations” is eluding you?

      • Mill Boyers

        Wow! I didn’t realize that! Guess it’s all 100% true then. Yep.

        • No, the tapes were clearly faked by the same people who planted Obama’s birth announcement, and the conversations recorded on them didn’t happen.

          • spencer

            He thinks you mean conversations of LBJ talking about this with people who are not Nixon or Chennault.

            He didn’t read the article, or he didn’t read it closely enough.

            • Mill Boyers

              LBJ thought he found evidence of Chennault interfering in the peace talks. LBJ concluded that this meant Nixon masterminded the whole thing (based on… ?). LBJ told Daley, a close confidant, of his suspicions.

              45 years later internet commenters who are either naive or willfully ignorant cite this as absolute proof that Nixon was involved.

              But no, LBJ was not one of the most scheming and manipulative presidents in American history or anything. If he said it in a phone conversation it is a FACT!

              • rea

                Mrs. Chennault set up a meeting between the ambassador and Nixon

                • Mill Boyers

                  This is the type of evidence I would be interested in seeing. Where did you get this?

                • Mill, did you see the BBC article linked above?

                  [Nixon] set up a clandestine back-channel involving Anna Chennault, a senior campaign adviser.

                  At a July meeting in Nixon’s New York apartment, the South Vietnamese ambassador was told Chennault represented Nixon and spoke for the campaign.

                  [. . .]

                  The FBI had bugged the ambassador’s phone and a transcripts of Anna Chennault’s calls were sent to the White House. In one conversation she tells the ambassador to “just hang on through election”.

                • rea

                  Or, if you don’t want to read the linked article, you could always look up Anna Chennault on Wikipedia . . .

      • spencer

        The part where he didn’t actually read the article, where it says that Chennault herself was caught on tape in these conversations.

        • Mill Boyers

          Yes, Chennault was allegedly caught on the phonetap trying to swing the election for the Republicans. How does that implicate Nixon himself?

          • Richard Nixon would never get personally involved in dirty tricks by his underlings!

            • Mill Boyers

              Anna Chennault was not an “underling” of Nixon. She was another prominent figure in the Republican part. If Karl Rove had gotten caught doing something reprehensible in the last election that does not mean Mitt Romney ordered it.

              In fact, I distinctly recall reading that Nixon personally detested Chennault. I somehow question whether she would be the trusted operative used as a go-between for an act of treason.

              You are displaying your ignorance of history in favor of a pre-determined narative about Nixon.

              • Anna Chennault was not an “underling” of Nixon.

                A foreign policy advisor to a presidential campaign is not an underling of the presidential candidate? You gonna stick with that?

                If Karl Rove had gotten caught doing something reprehensible in the last election that does not mean Mitt Romney ordered it.

                That’s probably because Karl Rove, unlike Anna Chennault, was not part of the presidential campaign. You should really know these things, and get them straight, before you start accusing people trying to bring you up to speed of ignorance.

                In fact, I distinctly recall reading that Nixon personally detested Chennault. I somehow question whether she would be the trusted operative used as a go-between for an act of treason.

                That’s so cute. I hear JFK and LBJ were best buds who used to go fishing together.

                Keep flailing.

    • John

      The LBJ tapes, like the Nixon tapes, are very frequently unflattering to LBJ.

    • wengler

      You really need to listen to the tapes. LBJ isn’t some sort of boisterous hero in them. Rather he is someone that found out his opposition were betraying their country and didn’t know what to do about it.

      1968 was not a calm, stable year in the US. LBJ ended up covering up for the Republicans, just like Obama would do 40 years later. Criminal actions went unpunished in the name of comity.

      It didn’t work then and it’s not working now.

      • brewmn

        LBJ ended up covering up for the Republicans, just like Obama would do 40 years later. Criminal actions went unpunished in the name of comity.

        Not sure I’ve ever seen a more complete analogy failure. Congrats.

        • Murc

          Well, there have probably been more complete ones.

          I don’t think Obama has actively covered up Republican malfeasance. He’s just completely failed to, y’know, do anything about it. Two different things.

    • Scott Lemieux

      I don’t think the argument is that Nixon was a great liberal icon, the argument is that Nixon was (arguably) more liberal than Obama.

      As you can see at the link, 1)I understand this! and 2)it’s a mind-blowingly stupid argument.

      • Anonymous

        Wait, you don’t remember how Obama backed and campaigned for “Right to Work” laws, just like Nixon did in 1958?

      • Mill Boyers

        I think you are abandoning facts in favor of a comfortable political narrative.

        • …says that guy who is astounded that anyone would accuse Richard Nixon of knowing about wrongdoing by the people working for his election campaign.

  • Bitter Scribe

    What surprises me about this revelation is that, IIRC, when Nixon and Kissinger started the Paris Peace Talks with the Vietcong, the South Viets were not invited. They were furious but Nixon basically told them to go fuck themselves.

  • John

    Is there anything actually new here? From what I recall, Chennault’s interference with the South Vietnamese was already known when Teddy White’s book about the 1968 campaign came out in 1969. I’m sure more details have emerged since then, but I don’t see that this newest “revelation” (if it can even be called that) provides any more direct information as to Nixon’s (or Kissinger’s) involvement than we already had.

    This just feels like confirmation of stuff we already knew.

    • wengler

      The BBC just wrote an article on it. Since we can’t rely on our own corporate media to do actual reporting, this was for a lot of people this was the first time they found out about it.

      • A Guild Navigator

        It seems particularly relevant with the revival of “We coulda won Vietnam if it weren’t for the liberal back-stab” rhetoric.

        • Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV

          Ironically, I would have won the Battle of Arrakis, had the Spacing Guild not stabbed me in the back.

  • jim, some guy in iowa

    johnson knew what was going on but kept quiet because of the political implications of the wiretapping

    humphrey was told but didn’t use the information because he thought he was going to win and didn’t want to run the risk of blowing things up at the last moment

    and thanks to those two nixon, a lying sack of shit from the word go, was able to prolong the war another 5 years so *he* could settle on much the same terms johnson could have

    six hands, so much blood

  • Johnny Sack

    I thought this had been known for years. Or maybe I was just extra pissed by my otherwise liberal professors in the early 2000s writing books whitewashing Nixon’s legacy. Why do so many ostensible liberals have such a hard-on for the Nixon-as-liberal trope?

    • Johnny Sack

      The being pissed off leading me to do more research on my own, in case that wasn’t clear.

    • Malaclypse

      Why do so many ostensible liberals have such a hard-on for the Nixon-as-liberal trope?

      The line has one reasonable use: whenever some wingnut goes on about Obama being a socialist, I find it useful to ask them to name five Obama policies that are to the left of Nixon’s. I then spot them gay marriage. Nobody has ever managed to name a second policy.

  • Kurzleg

    Anna Chennault was the wife of Claire Lee Chennault of “Flying Tigers” fame? Man, is it ever a small world.

    • Hogan

      I don’t think I’ve ever known a smaller.

  • God, in his infinite wisdom
    Put Richard Nixon on this earth
    To bring to us his heritage
    One of priceless worth

    A courageous leader
    And a blessed man
    Surely in God’s plan

    His heritage is from Heaven
    And the magic from above
    The rapture of music and melody
    Of culture and of love

    Yes, God, in his infinite wisdom
    Put Richard Nixon on this earth
    To bring to us his heritage
    One of priceless worth

    A leader with endless courage
    A miracle you might say
    And all who have met Nixon love him so
    The genius of his way

    God, in his infinite wisdom
    Put Richard Nixon on this earth
    To bring to us his heritage
    One of priceless worth

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