Lyndon Johnson and Bill Moyers on 13 May 1965


Transcript

Edited by David G. Coleman and Marc J. Selverstone, with Kieran Matthews

On Friday, 13 May, two days prior to a scheduled National Teach-In on the Vietnam War, President Johnson and Bill Moyers discussed the planned appearance of National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy as one of the scheduled debaters. The teach-ins had begun at the University of Michigan in March, and after turning down an invitation to participate in a subsequent event, Bundy accepted the offer to appear at the mid-May event, to be held at the Sheraton Park Hotel in Washington, D.C.

President Johnson

—country, and in every post office and in every message. And we can't do that very subtly ourselves. But we can say … I don't know when we signed the tax bill, but my guess—what was it—the spring?

Bill Moyers

I think it was April.

President Johnson

I would say, "April last year, I signed the 1964 tax bill, which brought—which reduced taxes $14 billion." Now, I think that'd give me a little image.

Moyers

All right, sir. I'll sure go to work on it. I should get Walter [Jenkins] sometime [unclear]

President Johnson

"And we began—we began to put into practice what we'd long known, that taxes do much more than raise revenues," and so on.

Moyers

Right.

President Johnson

But isn't that better than to—just say, "Last April—April a year ago, I signed a tax bill that reduced taxes $14 billion" [Moyers acknowledges], in the first sentence. Now, doesn't that give you an impression that this guy is a pretty prudent fellow, and he's really got us some help here, or do you think it's better to say, "Three years ago, the nation" … The nation ain't running for a goddamn thing.

Moyers

Mm-hmm. That's fine. That's [unclear].

President Johnson

Or do you follow me?

Moyers

Yes, I do.

President Johnson

I—and I think all through it, we've got to shape all of our messages that way and direct them that way, and get these blocs and these groups and … We send up our messages, like our pay message. We've got to make [John] Macy just sit down with all of the goddamn union leaders, and everything else, and get them in on it, and make them have statements ready and so on. A lot of that stuff is propaganda.

Moyers

Right.

President Johnson

Do you have any feeling about our meeting today?

Moyers

Oh, I think that you were right to press ahead, not let any delay, because I think time is running out on us down there. I've been reading each of these CIA reports, and sand is just about through the hourglass, and this seems to me to be the most plausible approach. I just hope it sticks.[note 1] Moyers was presumably referring to the situation in the Dominican Republic.

President Johnson

All right. Have you got any summary of our legislation? Are we doing fairly well, or are we kind of—we got screwed on veterans' hospitals, I know that. What are the guys that got kicked out [unclear], like Ray Roberts, saying?

Moyers

Well, they haven't raised a voice so far, Mr. President. It was very quiet. There was—just on the record yesterday was the speech that [Milton] Young made. He's the one who leaked it, of course.[note 2] Senator Milton R. Young (R-North Dakota), along with Representative Olin "Tiger" Teague (D-Texas), both members of a special presidential advisory committee the White House had convened in response to the controversy over the administration's plan to close a number of veterans' hospitals and other facilities, had leaked the recommendations of the committee to the press. The committee recommended that some of the facilities scheduled for closure be kept open, with preliminary recommendations conveyed to the White House on 11 May. The report was not due to be presented until 1 June. "Change is Urged on V.A. Closings," New York Times, 12 May 1965.

President Johnson

Milton Young?

Moyers

Yes. There may have been some speeches in the record today, but it'll be interesting to—

President Johnson

What did Young say?

Moyers

Oh, he just got up on the floor. What he did was give the advantage to all the Republicans. He was on the commission, and he told the Republicans what the decision we're in, and he went out and just announced it, in effect, that this is what the commission has done, and then let the Republicans, who had hospitals staying open, get the break there, by making that announcement. That he thought the commission had worked hard and long to make these recommendations. He just got there firstest with the mostest.

President Johnson

Well, wasn't [Olin] Tiger [Teague] doing about the same thing?

Moyers

Yeah, I guess so. He's a very slippery fellow, Teague.

President Johnson

Mm-hmm. Gives the impression of being a very forthright fellow, too.

Moyers

Yes, yes. Sometimes those are the most devious.

President Johnson

I think it's awful, Bill, for Mac Bundy to be debating the White House. Is that—doesn't that bother the hell out of you?[note 3] National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy had accepted an invitation to participate in the National Teach-In on Vietnam, which was scheduled to be held that Sunday, 15 May. Bundy had declined an earlier invitation to debate the merits of the war and accepted a subsequent request to appear. He was to appear opposite Cornell professor George McT. Kahin. Ultimately, President Johnson created a scheduling conflict by sending him to observe events in the Dominican Republic. For a report on the teach-in, see "Bundy's Absence A Blow to Crowd," New York Times, 16 May 1965.

Moyers

Yes, sir, it has. I—it has ever since I first heard about it. I just hate for the President's representative to be debating with that bunch of … a lot of [them] will be kooks, a lot of them are just misguided zealots. It just sort of demeans our position. I don't think the White House ever has to debate. I think if—you don't make decisions by debating. You make your decisions, and then history will justify them. You can't get out and debate in favor of support for them.

I'm certain that Mac will control his temper. If he were to lose it once, it would be bad. But he—I've never seen him lose it. Now, they're going to have—there's reports that they're going to be picketed over there, and then Congress will try to get in and raise a little hell, and TV live cameras will be there. Of course, it's gone so far, he can't back out, I don't believe.

President Johnson

I don't know why. I don't know who'd care if he backed out. He's not a debater. He's—we didn't hire him to come down here and debate with a bunch of kooks.

Moyers

I think it's a mistake, but I don't know how he could get out of it.

President Johnson

Has he ever talked to you about it?

Moyers

Not a word.

President Johnson

Hadn't me either. Never has mentioned it.

Moyers

I thought maybe you'd approved it.

President Johnson

No, hell, no. Never heard of it.[note 4] On 1 May, President Johnson and Bundy discussed the latter's acceptance of the invitation to participate in such a teach-in. See Conversation WH6505-01-7506.

Moyers

Hmm. Well, you know, if there were going to be a debate, it ought to be between people like [Walt] Rostow and [Averell] Harriman. Keep it away from the White House. This is your personal representative getting in there defending your policies, and I just think that's bad posture. But if anybody has to debate it, it's a good thing it's him because I think he's probably the best. He's getting—some of these people who are going to be up against him are very shrewd. I've read a good bit of what they've written; I've seen some of them on television: Hans Morgenthau, for example, very shrewd guy.[note 5] Hans Morgenthau was a political scientist at the University of Chicago and noted scholar of the "realist" school of international affairs. What it really does is to—

President Johnson

It accentuates it, and it surfaces it, and brings it all up. They're not paying much attention to [Wayne] Morse now.

Moyers

It gives the other side a real platform.

President Johnson

Leaves the impression in the world that we're divided. I wonder how he got into this; do you know?

Moyers

No, sir, I really don't. I can find out, quietly. But I don't.

President Johnson

What's Dick [Goodwin] reporting?

Moyers

I didn't see him but briefly today. [Coughs.] Excuse me.

President Johnson

What's he working on?

Moyers

Well, he spends his spare time editing these papers of last year, and he's not working on anything. Oh, he's working on the Natural Beauty conference today.[note 6] On 25 May, President Johnson delivered a speech at the White House Conference on Natural Beauty. The conference included around 1,000 participants, and its goal was to discuss environmental issues and elevate the issue in the national debate. Laurance S. Rockefeller was the conference chair. "Remarks to the Delegates to the White House Conference on Natural Beauty," Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965 (Washington, DC: GPO, 1966) 1:576–81; Nan Robertson, "Nation's Beauty is Parley's Goal," New York Times, 21 May 1965. He was going over the agenda with some fellow at the Rockefeller Center in New York when I was at his office just briefly, and he had these State papers all poured out all over the room. That conf—we have that conference set, and we have an education conference set. We're trying to get a health conference set. And we have the International Cooperation Year Conference, [unclear] Peace Conference next September.[note 7] Johnson spoke to the Conference on World Peace Through Law on 16 September 1965. "Remarks to the Delegates to the Conference on World Peace Through Law," Public Papers, Johnson, 1965 , 2:999–1002. We've got four conferences already set. [Unclear] do something. He's working on Natural Beauty. He thought you did well this morning.

President Johnson

I told George [Reedy] tonight, I wrote some memo—I've forgotten what it was. I wanted him to blow something up. It was a budget estimate, and I want you to get on that in the morning as my administrator—that's the title. I'm going to quit calling you special assistant. Now, I want you to do things for me—that'll just blow the living hell out of how much money we need, how much—how many people were raped, how many were murdered, how many were robbed, and put it in my letter—budget letter—make them rewrite it. It's a namby-pamby typical budget letter. And I want you to say last year there were 800 women raped, there were 400 people robbed, their purses were snatched, the people were killed. There were more murdered in the District of Columbia than there were in the Congo, or whatever it is. Something that, by God, sexes it up. And I not only want this many policemen, but I want whatever it takes, and I appeal to the Congress that since we can't have the vote in the District—just be a little demagogy—that we get enough policemen to at least protect our families.

Moyers

Right.

President Johnson

And put that in the letter. Make it pretty strong so that you can get a real news item out of that. Now, I came out and been raising hell with them to get policemen, got [J. Edgar] Hoover stirred up and got [Nicholas] Katzenbach stirred up, and I got ahold of [Charles] Horsky the other day and I said, "Goddamn it! Go tell them to hire all the policemen they need.[note 8] Charles Horsky was adviser to the President on national capital affairs. I don't care how much budget deficit they got." Well, about two days later, Bobby Kennedy got on television. He said [in a mocking voice], "Don't you, Mr. [John] Layton—what about this extra police that's been suggested? Don't you think he ought to get it?"[note 9] John B. Layton was chief of the Metropolitan Police Department. Well, he said, "I would have to admit—" "Oh," he said, "don't have to admit," said, "you ought to be for it." And Layton was a damn fool. But then, the next day I saw in somebody's column that "Bobby Kennedy is telling Johnson [that] he's not going to let crime go on here." Do you follow me?

Moyers

Mm-hmm. I saw that.

President Johnson

He just picked it up.

Moyers

I think that's one reason he went on that committee. Glad I worked on—to get that in shape.[note 10] The newly installed senator was a member of the Senate's Committee on the District of Columbia chaired by Alan Bible (D-Nevada).

President Johnson

I signed the letter that they've got. It said, "Tell George to blow it up in his press conference." But I don't know whether George can blow up much or not. I kind of want to bring somebody in to be associate with him—

Approximately four seconds excised by the National Archives and Records Administration under deed of gift restriction.

And I would rather think that Doug Cater is the best that we've got that's not too occupied. I don't know—I don't believe he'd be regarded as a promoter. And I believe that he's a pretty good, sound man, but he might have enough initiative, enough ideas. What do you think?

Moyers

Yes, sir. I think we ought to try it that way. He seems eager to do it. I talked to him as you suggested yesterday. And he'd like to get his teeth into something like that.

President Johnson

And he can get his name in the paper once in a while and be somebody, you know, do a little planning. We're still not handling our columnists like we ought to. We're not meeting with them like we ought to. I had the AP today and UP, and I wouldn't mind having a group every day of at least ten people, and damn near every night while I'm working. I've been working at it. And I think that we're really not—we're overlooking them. We ought to try to do a better job with them, don't you?

Moyers

Yes, sir. You have to keep at them. I've got a list on my desk that stays there all the time of all the columnists—the people in town. I tried—I'm going to try to get through that list over the course of the month, about 30 of them. But you have to keep after them.

President Johnson

Well, I guess we're going to be judged really on what we do in Vietnam and Dominican Republic. That's where we ought to be spending all of our time, don't you think so?

Moyers

That and the economy. No question.

President Johnson

How'd you like the Cabinet [meeting] today?

Moyers

I thought it was better than the last one, didn't you?

President Johnson

Mmm. I thought [Orville L.] Freeman was very good.

Moyers

He was.

President Johnson

What about the economics report? Was it any good?

Moyers

Yes, sir. It was one of the best reports he's ever done. And I just hope we get good play on it. It was good.

President Johnson

Do you think that they think I'm using television too much?

Moyers

There are some people who do, no doubt.

President Johnson

Well, how can we bar them, then? Should we say to them we're going to have to bar television because we're getting criticisms from them?

Moyers

No, sir. I just wouldn't do anything in the next few days that had a call for a major television appearance. I would read a little bit for the cameras on the excise tax message for Saturday, perhaps, or Monday, at least. Then I'd—I just wouldn't make any speeches in the next five or six days that call for national television unless that there's really something to say.

President Johnson

Well, this didn't call for national television today—

Moyers

No, no.

President Johnson

—but they all jumped in and said they wanted it.

Moyers

Their feelings were—I mean, their consciences were hurting from last time. They did that to redeem themselves, not [unclear]

President Johnson

Did [Frank] Stanton know that?

Moyers

I think so.

President Johnson

Did you let him know it?

Moyers

I kicked him a little bit. [Unclear] I didn't single CBS out. I just said all the networks were sort of going to the priest today, making amends for past sins. He just laughed.

President Johnson

But he called you back afterwards and told you it was all right, or—

Moyers

He said it was excellent. He didn't—he called me right after it was over, said it was excellent. That's when I told him when—I had just watched it on all three networks, and they'd been to church today repenting their past sins.

President Johnson

[Chuckles.] I'll let you [be] aware of one weakness we have, Bill, and it's a real serious one. It's our real gifted, talented writers. That's number one. And number two is research. And I think you ought to get the greatest research professor in the world, and we ought to put him over here in the Executive Office Building, and when I want to call and see what I said or what anybody else said, he ought to be able to get it. Now, I don't know whether we can do that through the budget or Council of Economic Advisers or Buford Ellington or who, but I know this: We don't have enough research.

Moyers

It is a problem, and it can be cured. I used the … the best man in town is Wayne Phillips.

President Johnson

Well, they got a real good job, somebody did, on Walter Lippmann, on—[note 11] Columnist Walter Lippmann had recently criticized U.S. involvement in Vietnam and the Dominican Republic, writing that "we have since the end of the Second World War been committed far beyond our primary vital interests and far beyond our military and political reach. … If it is said that this is isolationism, I would say yes. It is isolationism if the study of our own vital interests and a realization of the limitations of our power is isolationism. It is isolationism as compared with the globalism which became fashionable after the Second World War." Quoted in Henry F. Graff, "Isolationism Again—with a Difference," New York Times, 16 May 1965.

Moyers

That was—I asked Wayne Phillips to do that.

President Johnson

Well, why in the hell didn't he get all the rest of them on the pew?

Moyers

I asked him. He is working on filling it out. He—I asked him for that that morning, and he came over—that came over that afternoon. And he said he would keep on getting more stuff, but he thought that we might want that right away. So he's digging today and tonight. He's just awfully good. We could use him more.

President Johnson

Well, do you reckon you could make him the director of the research and get him an assistant or two?

Moyers

Yes, sir. He—you know, we were—

President Johnson

I would like to have everything that Walter Lippmann's written, and everything the New York Times has written on Cuba and on no dangers in World War II, and all that kind of stuff.

Moyers

Right.

President Johnson

"Asia's no problem." That's what he says, but I'd like to have that. That really helps me with the [unclear] of Christian Science Monitors when they come in here. I need a lot of research with the people I'm talking to.

Well, I'll let you go, and I'll see you.

Moyers

All right. I'll be back later.

Cite as

“Lyndon Johnson and Bill Moyers on 13 May 1965,” Conversation WH6505-11-7659, 7660, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Lyndon B. Johnson: Civil Rights, Vietnam, and the War on Poverty, ed. David G. Coleman, Kent B. Germany, Guian A. McKee, and Marc J. Selverstone] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4001097