Lyndon Johnson and Everett Dirksen on 1 October 1968


Transcript

Edited by Ken Hughes, with Kieran K. Matthews and Marc J. Selverstone

The highest elected Republican official in the land, Senate Minority Leader Everett M. Dirksen of Illinois, probes the President about his reaction to Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey’s nationally televised speech promising that, if elected, he would halt American bombing of North Vietnam as a peace initiative.

President Johnson

Hello?

Everett M. Dirksen

Yeah. Are you at liberty to make some comment on Hubert [H. Humphrey]'s speech last night?

President Johnson

Except in the greatest confidence, [Dirksen acknowledges throughout] I would just say that it depends a lot on your interpretation of it. He did not discuss it with our people—[Dean] Rusk, or [Walt W.] Rostow, or anybody that we’re aware of.[note 1] Dean Rusk was secretary of state from January 1961 to January 1969. Walt W. Rostow was national security adviser from April 1966 to January 1969. It was—the first I knew about it is when the press called me and pointed up that it was on the ticker. So it was prepared without our knowledge or without our advice. It . . . interpreted—I think, a literal inte rpretation would show there’s no great difference in it and our present policy. I think his intention is to try to do that without—and still leave the impression that there is. [note 2] In background briefings to reporters, Humphrey advisers told reporters that the Vice President had parted from Johnson’s position. “Any hint that Hanoi would pull its troops out of the DMZ, stop shooting across it and stop using it as a staging area for attacks would meet Humphrey’s criteria, it was suggested.” R.W. Apple, “Humphrey Vows Halt in Bombing if Hanoi Reacts, A ‘Risk for Peace,’ Aides Hopeful Doves Will View Speech as Rift With Johnson.’” New York Times, 1 October 1968, http://www.proquest.com (accessed 27 September 2010). Do you get what I mean?

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

So, here is our present policy: we’re ready, anxious, willing, eager to stop the bombing just as we are eager to stop the war. [Dirksen acknowledges throughout.] But we just can't stop one side of it. The other side’s got to stop something, too. We found out that when we stop and they don't stop, it kills more men. So we have said to them, “If we did stop the bombing, what would you do?” They’re now considering that. They have not given us a firm answer.

Now, one of the things we’ve said to them . . . “If we stop the bombing, would you demilitarize, would you reinstitute the DMZ?” [Dirksen acknowledges throughout.] Up to now, they’ve said no. Now, Hubert's speech, the way I read it—and I emphasize I—the way I read it says that before taking any action, you would have to have direct or indirect deed or word that they were re-instituting the DMZ.[note 3] In the broadcast speech, Humphrey said, “I would place key importance on evidence—direct or indirect—by deed or word—of Communist willingness to restore the demilitarized zone between North and South Vietnam.” Ibid. Now, if that is a fact, that's all right. That's important.

Now, the second thing that we feel [we] ought to have—we think that we can't go to this—make a peace for that area like [Adolf] Hitler and [Neville] Chamberlain did without Czechoslovakia being present. We don't think you can make peace for that area [To someone off the line the President says to “come on in.” ] without the elected government having its voices heard anyway. [Dirksen acknowledges throughout.] We don't object to their bringing whoever they want to—NLF, anybody. We’ve always said their voice could be heard. But they refuse to have anything to do with this government that's elected and has a million-man army that's doing a lot of the fighting. We don't ever report it and don’t give them credit for it, but they're losing more every day than we lose, and they are just 14 million and we’re 200. So that is a second consideration, that they must talk to the GVN.

Now, if they don't and this group walked out from under us, we’d really be left. We stand to lose a lot. And the thing that both [Ellsworth F.] Bunker and [Creighton W.] Abrams, the two best man we have, are more concerned about than anything else is something that would make them wobbly, and make them distrust us, and make them think we'd sell them out.[note 4] Ellsworth F. Bunker was U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam from April 1967 to May 1973. General Creighton W. Abrams served as vice chief of staff of the Army from 1964 to 1967; deputy commander, U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, from June 1967 to July 1968; commander of MACV from July 1968 to June 1972; and Army chief of staff from October 1972 to September 1974. [Dirksen acknowledges throughout.] Now, that[’s] GVN.

Now, Hubert's speech says that they’d have to negotiate in good faith. Now, if he means by “good faith” talking to the GVN, which he could, that's what we think ought to be done. He doesn't say that, though, spell it out. He just says they’d have to negotiate in good faith.

The third thing, if I stop the bombing and they shelled Saigon tomorrow, and Danang tomorrow, and killed thousands as they did during Tet, [Dirksen acknowledges throughout] everybody in this country and all the soldiers there, would certainly demand that I do something about it. So I would have to re-institute the bombing. Now, if you're going to re-institute it, there’s no use stopping it. So we ought to know that they wouldn't shell the cities. Now, the only way he would know it is to have some understanding with them that they act in “good faith.” That's the phrase that's used.

Now, both [George W.] Ball and [Arthur J.] Goldberg think that you ought to stop the bombing, just quit bombing.[note 5] George W. Ball was under secretary of state from January 1961 to September 1966 and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in May and June of 1968. Arthur J. Goldberg was general counsel to the Congress of Industrial Organizations and United Steelworkers of America from 1948 to 1961; secretary of labor from January 1961 to September 1963; U.S. Supreme Court associate justice from October 1962 to July 1965; and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from July 1965 to June 1968. [Dirksen acknowledges throughout.] [Clark M.] Clifford thinks you've got to have condition[s] to it.[note 6] Clark M. Clifford was a Washington lawyer; adviser to Presidents Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson; and chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board since 1963. Clifford served as secretary of defense from March 1968 to January 1969. Bunker and Abrams think you've got to have conditions to it. All the joint chiefs think you've got to have conditions to it. Bunker’s a liberal, progressive fellow, and a hell of a good diplomat, the best in the service. But he’s an old Republican businessman before he ever got in the service, although he's progressive, and he just says you'll lose everything if you don't have this government present. Rusk feels very strongly about it and needless to say, I do.

Now, up to now, the Vice President has pretty generally agreed with us. [Dirksen acknowledges throughout.] I can't interpret his speeches any more than I can interpret [Richard M.] Nixon’s.[note 7] Richard M. Nixon was vice president of the United States from January 1953 to January 1961, and president of the United States from January 1969 to August 1974. But if he means by his statement, that “direct or indirect,” that they have to give him before he takes action, assurance on the DMZ, well, that would be very appealing. But, of course, Rusk thinks that Hanoi will knock it down today. They’ve never been able to tell us that. We don't know why they’d tell him that next January. Do you follow me there?

Dirksen

I do.

President Johnson

So, I would think that Nixon's position that he would take would be that these conferences are going on, that he doesn't have all the information, that he’s not in touch with them, that he’s not responsible, that he doesn't want to do anything that would appear that divided this country, and therefore it’s the Democrats’ responsibility. [Dirksen acknowledges throughout.] Period. And not get into the war thing any more than he has to. I would think that would be the best thing for Hubert, but apparently he was trying to get the [Eugene J.] McCarthy vote.[note 8] Eugene J. McCarthy was a U.S. congressman [D-Minnesota] from January 1949 to January 1959, and a U.S. senator from January 1959 to January 1971.

Now, the way I see the thing, there are 43 percent of the people for Nixon. There are 28 for Hubert; there are 21 for [George C.] Wallace.[note 9] George C. Wallace was governor of Alabama from January 1963 to January 1967, January 1971 to January 1979, and January 1983 to January 1987. So when you take 43 and 21, Wallace and Nixon, there’s 64 percent. Now, there are only 8 percent undecided. Now, let’s assume all of those are McCarthy people. That doesn’t do him any good. If he puts 8 percent with his 28, he’s just got 36. So he’s got to do something to get some of the Nixon people back or some of the Wallace people back. And I wouldn’t think that this kind of a speech would get either of them. I may be wrong, but I believe he’s been losing because they have been doubtful on Vietnam and a lot of the Democrats, particularly in our section of the country, have been going to Wallace. That’s my judgment.

Dirksen

Yeah. Well, that’s the way I size it up.

President Johnson

So I have said all along, and Nixon has said all along, that’s our . . . we’ve just got one government and we’ve got to stop [politics at] the water’s edge and we can’t play politics with the war.

Dirksen

No.

President Johnson

And we just cannot ignore Bunker and ignore Abrams, our commander in the field, we cannot ignore all of our joint chiefs—there are four of them. [Dirksen acknowledges.] We can’t ignore our secretary—we can’t ignore the secretary of state and we can’t ignore the president, who have all of the . . . all the information involved. So that’s the way we see it.

Dirksen

Yeah. Well, thanks much.

President Johnson

Now, what do you know?

Dirksen

I don't know a damn thing.

[Pause.]

President Johnson

I see the folks . . . well, I'll talk to you after you get through today or tomorrow. I was—I had a note here on this fellow Kidd, who is a . . . man you suggested.[note 10] Kidd is not further identified.

Dirksen

Oh, that fellow from [unclear].

President Johnson

Yeah, they've got some problems. He's a very young fellow out there [Dirksen acknowledges] and they don't think he'd be a very good commissioner.

Dirksen

Oh, I see.

President Johnson

So we ought to look at that. [Dirksen acknowledges throughout.] There's a Republican vacancy on the Economic [Employment] Opportunity [Commission]. I want to recommend these folks and I want who y’all want. The best one we have found is a Negro—

Dirksen

You mentioned that from [unclear].

President Johnson

—in Philadelphia. Well, [unclear] here, too, but there's one down in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia organization objected to him because he's a Republican [Dirksen acknowledges throughout.] from Philadelphia. But you might talk to [Hugh D.] Scott about him if you get a chance.[note 11] Hugh D. Scott was a U.S. senator [R-Pennsylvania] from January 1959 to January 1977, and served as Senate minority leader from September 1969 to January 1977. He was a former law partner of a fellow named [A. Leon] Higginbotham. I forget his name, but I’ll get it up to you today.[note 12] Johnson would appoint William H. Brown III, a former partner in Philadelphia’s first African American-owned law firm, Norris Schmidt Green Harris Higginbotham & Brown, chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Dirksen

OK.

President Johnson

And if I can get—if I can override the organization, we ought to send him up, because I think he'd be good for you and we need a man on that place. Now, are you going to cause any trouble on [James Russell] Wiggins at the United Nations?[note 13] Johnson nominated Washington Post editor and executive vice president James Russell Wiggins to succeed George W. Ball as U.N. ambassador.

Dirksen

No, sir.

President Johnson

Mm-hmm. I understood [Karl E.] Mundt was fussing around about captive nations.[note 14] Karl E. Mundt was a U.S. senator [R-South Dakota] from December 1948 to January 1973. [Dirksen acknowledges throughout.] Wiggins retired from the Post and he was up in Maine. I called him. Rusk is going to be up there most of the time. I'm going to rely on Rusk, but I just thought it was the best way. But I see [J. William] Fulbright was fussing a little yesterday, because he says that Wiggins had supported us on Vietnam.[note 15] J. William Fulbright was a U.S. senator [D-Arkansas] from January 1945 to December 1974, and served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from January 1959 to December 1974. I hadn’t been—I hadn’t ever thought the Washington Post had been too strong for me. But he seemed to think they’ve been a great champion of mine and that I was paying him off. He'd never been in my office but once since I've been President and then he came to talk on the District of Columbia Council, but—

Dirksen

I mentioned him around and I got no particular flack on him.

President Johnson

All right. Now, I gather you’re not going to get your votes, you're not going to cut off cloture?[note 16] The President is referring to the filibuster against his nominee for Chief Justice, Abe Fortas.

Dirksen

No.

President Johnson

All right then, what are we going to do?

Dirksen

Well, I don't know. [Chuckles.] Then it’s up to Mike [Mansfield].[note 17] Michael J. “Mike” Mansfield was a U.S. senator [D-Montana] from January 1953 to January 1977, and Senate majority leader from January 1961 to January 1977.

President Johnson

Well, I mean, though, what can you—you think it ought to go on over then till January?

Dirksen

Yeah. I don't think you‘ve got a show now. [Pause.] This other matter will just be a stalemate.

President Johnson

Well, suppose [Earl] Warren doesn't serve?[note 18] Earl Warren was chief justice of the United States Supreme Court from October 1953 to June 1969. Suppose you just send another name up?

Dirksen

Well, [chuckling] then you’ve got that problem.

President Johnson

Well, if you got a good man you wouldn't have a problem would you?

Dirksen

Why, I wouldn't think so.

President Johnson

[Pause.] Let me ask you this—now, I don't want you to mention this to another human . . . can I talk to you that way about it?

Dirksen

Yes, sir.

President Johnson

What if we sent Tom Clark up there to act as Chief Justice?[note 19] Associate Justice Thomas C. Clark had retired from the Supreme Court to avoid a conflict of interest when Johnson appointed his son, Ramsey Clark, as attorney general in 1967.

Dirksen

Well, he’s served before. There was no heat on him at any time, as far as I know. And the very fact that he's off doesn’t make any difference. He just goes right back on.

President Johnson

What I thought was, you see, I don't know if this would ever work out, but if the Republicans—he wouldn't serve too long, you see [Dirksen acknowledges throughout], but I think it would unify the country and it wouldn't look like you all are playing politics trying to get a justice. You're going to get [Hugo L.] Black; he's 84 and he can't go on and nobody on the court really wants him to act, because they don’t know the stability there.[note 20] Hugo L. Black was an associate justice of the Supreme Court from 1937 to 1971. They've got a problem. You've got [William O.] Douglas, who's got a bad heart.[note 21] William O. Douglas was an associate justice of the Supreme Court from April 1939 to November 1975. You've got [John Marshall] Harlan [II], who's got eye trouble.[note 22] John Marshall Harlan II was an associate justice of the Supreme Court from March 1955 to September 1971. So you've got three right there.

Dirksen

That's right.

President Johnson

But a lot of the folks feel that the [Robert] Griffin effort was a pure political effort, particularly in the light of what you said, and he said that nobody should serve. The lame duck shouldn't appoint anybody. [Dirksen acknowledges throughout.] Now, if we took Clark, who just retired on account of his son and sent him up there as Chief instead of letting Warren go on acting, the southerners all urge me to name Clark as Chief because of his crime record and so on and so forth. [John L.] McClellan and [James O.] Eastland and them thought that he would be good.[note 23] John L. McClellan was a U.S. senator [D-Arkansas] from January 1943 to November 1977. James O. Eastland was a U.S. senator [D-Mississippi] June to September of 1941 and from January 1943 to December 1978. He also served as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1954 to 1978. I would have to get me a new attorney general.

Dirksen

Well, I think so.

President Johnson

But I could do that for a month, two months. [Dirksen acknowledges throughout.] But I would not want Clark to get butchered, and—but he served with great distinction, and I think all the conservatives like him and it'd be pretty hard for Democrats to be against him, because he's really on the court now. He just stepped aside on account of his son.

Dirksen

That’s right, yeah. [Unclear.]

President Johnson

Could you support Clark?

Dirksen

I could.

President Johnson

Don't say that to a human.

Dirksen

I won’t.

President Johnson

I haven’t talked to Mansfield, but I’ll talk to you later about it, [Dirksen acknowledges] and I’d think that that would be better than us messing around here and letting them think we’re playing politics with the court.

Dirksen

Yeah.

President Johnson

OK.

Dirksen

It’s under the hat.

President Johnson

All right. OK.

Cite as

“Lyndon Johnson and Everett Dirksen on 1 October 1968,” Conversation WH6810-01-13501, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Chasing Shadows, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4006060