tv The Presidency Secret Presidential Recordings CSPAN April 1, 2020 12:36pm-1:46pm EDT
eastern on american history tv and lectures in history is available as a podcast. find it with where you listen to podcasts. next, on the presidency, historians analyze the secret white house tapes of john f. kennedy and lyndon johnson and richard nixon. we look at how presidents conducted day-to-day business and hear candid assessments. the university of miller hosted this event. good afternoon, everyone. i'm mark silverstone. 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 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 the work these days is browser-based. but we publish our work through the university of virginia press and it's 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 millercenter.org and will share many 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 in 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 kerry's guiding hand is evidence in everything that we do. she keeps us honest and makes 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. 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, nicki hemmer, nicole hemmer will be our guiding hand today. nicki'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 nicki for running over here from the session that she had just moderated to help us. thanks. >> thank you, mark. 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 mark 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 -- as you could imagine. and the chairman of the presidential recordings program and the author of the book constructing the monolinl, the united states and great britain and international communism. so why don't you start us off. >> so the united states has been at war on a we're footing for 17 years, 18 years this coming fall. most conspicuously in iraq in afghanistan and in locales 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 they're
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. 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. particularly in the midst of the unpopularity of these wars and with a specific timetable in mind. that honor goes to vietnam. we associate the term vietnam-ization with the process that richard nixon pursued to de-americanize the war, 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 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 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 advisers, but u.s. soldiers out of vietnam by the end of 1965 and in an effort to kick start that process a thousand advisers 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 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 this in conversation, president kennedy, secretary of defense robert mcnamara, national security adviser mcgeorge bundy
. >> so many things that i think this conversation prompts aside from robert mcnamara being the one seemingly pushing this procs the intensely political nature of the withdrawal process that much of this is keyed to the way folks were feeling in congress, to the flexibility of the 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 get a new date. there are a host of other 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 i think that we 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 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. is it really the case that you are going to induce in your local allies the capabilities and the stiffening function that these withdrawals are supposed to provide? >> i think that would be my question mark.
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. these are very smart people engaging 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 your way out of these? what's the lesson to draw? >> i would say that -- it's a question that i've asked, too, is 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 hard before the timetable. they threw it out there for a variety of reasons because the 1964 presidential campaign was coming up and there was a concern that the united states was getting bogged down in asia, as bob mcnamara says.
they're looking for and certainly willing to engage in that. 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 2009 -- and we know about this through a series of well-place 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 that neither did sufficiently. the kennedy 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 military force, which is i think a major matter that we need to engage on the front end of these processes. >> so everybody knows, the vietnam war did not end in 1963 or '64. it led to a real shakeup in u.s. politics. an associate professor at the miller center and author of "the problem of jobs" 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 house recordings that i want to share with you this afternoon. my goal in doing so is to contrast the insur agagen contrast the insur agagecies ofe 1960 to 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 of 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 end a period of decline by this point. he is facing opposition to the war on poverty. 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 turned to the question of how to keep the director of the office of economic opportunity. johnson indicated that he would not increase budget to assuage
>> my second clip leaps ahead to the spring of 1968 and the fight for the presidential democratic nomination which mccarthy and robert kennedy launched campaigns that sought to channel that political energy, the long hairs, that the president referred to, to challenge for the nomination. on march 23, 1968, president johnson spoke with chicago's mayor. this is the establishment, johnson and daley talking politics. they spoke about how they thought that bobby kennedy could be defeated by their network of mayors, governors and members of
>> of course, despite their confident expectation, 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. humphrey would capture of nomination in chicago. the 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. the 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. it is that they were 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. 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 ins insurgent resentment against the political establishment. what that energy actually meant, of course, we can discuss and debate. i would add that sanders, with his long reluctance to join the democratic party, represents a variant of the same thing. 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, elisebee li warren and harris and the cast of many, many, many other con tenor contenders attempt to mobilize.
>> from political insurgencies to political chicanery. ken hughs has been with the program since 2000. he was called by bob woodward's, one of america's experts on the secret presidential recordings. you are going to draw some more parallels between the political which chicanery of the past and today. >> the nixon administration interest comes and goes. when things go well, i don't get many phone calls. when things are not going well, i get very much 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 aids to perjure themselves.
it was particularly interesting to me to see the analysis of trump's attempt to dangle pardons over the heads of aids like paul manafort because it was so different from the way nixon did it. trump did it on twitter andrew dol giuliani 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 they might get a pardon. robert mueller had to say, you
kno know, when nixon was trying to encourage aids 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. 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. 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. he talks about pardoning everybody in his inner circle. >> there's some blue language in this as well.
>> this was an invitation to all of the aides to perjure themselves when they testified in public. they all did. and they, all the ones he mentioned, his former attorney general and campaign chairman, they were all charged with obstruction of justice and perjury in 1974. 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. so they simply named him as an unindicted co-conspirator. they, until nixon got on the held he helicopter, pressed him to pardon them all. right before nixon resigned, his aides told him, the people need to have somebody's head. if you pardon everybody else, they will take your head. nixon didn't fulfill his promise. he wound up being the only person who was pardoned for his crimes in watergate. everybody he promised to pardon went to prison. do we have time to get into vietnam? >> sure. >> 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 has got a plan. it's got three elements. complete american troop withdrawal. cease-fire at 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 a base for terrorist attacks on the united states. as someone who wrote a book about richard nixon's exit from vietnam, i have to tell you that all three elements were involved in nixon's exit strategy from vietnam and nixnixon's strategys 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 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. you can hear nixon on the tape say, it doesn't matter if you get the guarantee, they are never going to withdraw. kissinger says, that's right, but we will get it anyway. right before the election they were able to say, look, we are finally got the north vietnamese to agree to withdraw from the ho chi minh trail.
peace is at hand. the final thing was, as trump is proposing in afghanistan, a cease-fire between the warring parties, north and 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. by that time, they will be gone and the 1972 election will be in their rearview mirror. the american people can't hold them accountable. this tape is -- was made the day before henry kissinger flew to paris to close the deal with north vietnam. he suspects and he is 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
>> kissinger says, our terms will destroy him in private, is the same kissinger who goes out in front of the cameras and says, the north has accepted our terms, we believe peace is at hand. nixon and kissinger were very clever about arranging it so 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. trump can do that. the last time that they
discussed their plans in public, his plans were to bring the last american troops home sometime in the late 2020 if he can come out and say, our troops are coming home, the taliban guarantees that afghanistan will not be the home to terrorism, and look, the tally ba taliban is entering into negotiations, he could fool some of the people at the crucial time for him. when it all falls apart, would be sometime after the election when it would be too late to hold them accountable. keep an eye on that. >> in the midst of this in the 1960s and 1970s, there were shifts in the alignment and organizations going on with the two major parties and their coalitions. ken germany, a professor of history at south carolina and a
research fellow at the miller center is going to tell us about that. >> thank you. when i was a kid, i lived in texas. there was a guy named vern lundquist that hosted sports news. after it was over, he would be on the show called "bowling for dollars." i never understood how he got from the sports desk to the bowling for dollars desk. professor has done a similar thing today. this is the bowling session. nixon, was he the best bowler in the white house? >> according to nixon. >> according to anymore on. for the democratic primary coming up, there are a lot of bowling pins up. there will be one standing. i will try to extinguish that right now. we know that richard nixon quit. we may not know that lbj
actually quit, too. he just didn't make it public. he talked to it, about it to a couple of his closest allies, a couple of his closest, oldest friends and his wife about it. i'm going to talk about what my few minutes are as the most sincere political minute of lbj's life. i've been doing lbj for over 20 years. i boiled it down to this one minute. it's going to take seven to talk about it. nixon quit because of a lot of reasons. johnson quit, i will sum up, because he was a baby. i grew up in texas. they would have said his mama didn't raise him right. we can debate that at another time. i want to focus on august 25, 1964. this is two days into the democratic national convention at atlantic city. it's 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. 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 have defeated the republican candidate by almost 16 million votes, 61% of the electorate voted for him, about 90% of the electoral college sent their votes to lyndon johnson. it would be the high point of american liberalism in the post world war ii period. it would be the beginning of the end of the democratic party's dominance of american politics. on august 25, lyndon johnson awoke in a bad mood, which was not uncommon. he skipped his cal he exercise .
he called his brother at the beach in south carolina. 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, longtime aide walter jenkins. he would talk to his wife. you would find lady bird and linda on the ground under the tree holding hands a little bit and talking. it might be a weird thing to do during the middle of the democratic national convention. what they were talking about among many things was the fact that lbj told lady bird 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. this is the mississippi freedom democratic 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 enough people happy that johnson could move on. he would change his mind from withdrawing. he didn't release his statement. the defense that he would make after he made the decision to stay in is what i think is the most sincere political minute of lyndon johnson's life. before we play that, i want to say a few things about what lady bird said while lying there under the tree. she had left lyndon alone in his room with the shades drawn. he told her he was quitting. he 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. if you know anything about lyndon krjohnson, he could not stand to be alone. he wanted somebody sitting next to the bed, even if che could have them sitting there. she ended with, i love you always. had is this moment of lbj stripped down to the bare essence. peel all the onion away that was lbj, there's just onion at the middle. what was that at the middle? what was the onion there? we will go back to january 1928. i want to preface this with what he said to hubert humphrey about what the democratic party was for. we're for war on poverty. i tell students every time i teach that if you want to go
into politics, read this. if you can convince your voters that you control these words, then you are going to win. we're for war on poverty, economic growth, world peace, security, medicare, human d digni dignity, human rights. this is what we stand for, a government of strength, a government that is solvent and compassionate. it makes these guys look silly. he said, god have pity on the republican party. what do they stand for? if we go from that january back to august 25, they had just come up with this compromise johnson was happy with. lady bird had written him this letter. he was talking to hubert humphrey and a union leader. 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
>> that's johnson a 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. this is what i think his brain just went to. this is what i stand for. this is the party i've been part of since the 1930s, this is what they stand for. when somebody asks me what are you for, that's it. i think johnson nails it down here in this one minute. i have a second clip i want to play, which i'm going to run out of time. maybe we can talk more about it in questions. this comes in negotiations with the voting rights act in 1965. what i want to insert here is that in 1964, there's a rebirth
of the conservative movement. many people look at this moment look at the barry goldwater campaign as transforming the republican party. i will make the suggestion to go back and see the transformation of the republican party that emerges after 2016, go to the george wallace primary in 1964 where he carried over 30% of the voters in a shocking upset, even though he didn't win in wisconsin. the same percentage in indiana. 43% of the white voters in maryland voted for george wallace, segregation forever candidate. that's who lyndon johnson was most afraid of, were those wallace voters. here in 1965, johnson is trying to hammer down the last bits of the voting rights act. martin luther king junior made an anti-war speech. he called the white house to try to feel johnson's pulse. johnson will tell him a little bit about the voting rights act
and how he thinks king needs to use his influence and other civil rights leaders 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 the particular issues. i will just let lyndon johnson predict the future here of american politics.
>> i little let lbj have the last word. >> we're going to open this up for questions from the 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, 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's different from this present moment? is it all just shocking similarities? what's different about the -- >> besides the fact we're living in an opposite world?
it's hard to -- for historians, it's incredibly different to explain the present. >> great question. what wants to answer? >> it's a contrast but also maybe an on ramp to where we are today. the fact that lbj in the oval office had three televisions, one to each of the major networks so he could follow the news in real time. he had the ticker with the news wires as well. think about that. the president of the united states is setting this up. he is the first to do it. you compare that media and news and information environment, the speed it represents, to the world we live in today and particularly the way social med media. incredible contrast but also
this is where the on ramp is. i think that's one of the sta starting points. we can probably point to a number of others. that's a striking one for me. >> i would just refer to a conversation that kent and i had privately yesterday about our experience listening to the tapes. which is a joy. it's an extraordinary day to spend your day with them. their ability to shock is i think wearing off a little bit. we're in a different generation. kent is teaching students on a daily basis now. ten years ago, we were finding the tapes to be startling and r shocking in some respects when you hear nixon and johnson as well. if we played other kennedy tapes, you would hear more obscenities from jfk than you thought he uttered, but he
would. that whole sense of what's public and what's private and what's acceptable anymore. private lives are being played out publically in ways that just would not have been the case before. 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 decrees, when you have pronouncements, when you have potential presidential pardons coming out in public, the difference between public and private and the ability to play out the private lives in public, i think it changes the way we understand the past, 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. >> go ahead. >> go ahead. >> i'm struck by the presidents you hear on the tape versus our
image of them still today. you listen to lbj really miss the major political shift of his e era. he is somebody we think of as a political whiz. he just whiffs on both of the tapes you played for us, to a certain extent. with jfk, just not being able to navigate his way out of this war with the brightest men of his generation around him. do you think that -- which do you think is realer? the men on the tape or the ones the public saw every day? >> nixon was really very self-conscious about crafting a public image that made sense and that fit all the norms of his time. if you listen to richard nixon
doing an interview that was going to be broadcast, everyone would think here is the best informed, most prepared, most statesmanlike person who could fill this office. that person was a kree acreatio nixon you hear in private who is the most brilliant political vat gi strategist and tactician. he knows exactly what he should be saying about race and civil rights in america. he sesz it in public. in private, he is racist. the white south voted for democrats. he makes calculations like, if i do affirmative action, that will
create a5u=+ richer class of b people who might become republicans the way that catholics became republican once the new deal helped them rise. if i do affirmative action, white people in the south will think i'm helping black people, and that will really hurt me. it's this very calculated thing. i think you have to listen to nixon in private to see what he is up to. >> on kennedy and the public/private, his persona, with respect to vietnam, i think kennedy is a skeptic on vietnam. i think he is a skeptic through -- right to the end of his administration. you can hear that skepticism at least in terms of the policy that he is presented with. is this really going to help that much? what's the advantage of doing this? what if the war is not going well? can we pull out? there's enough, i think,
publically 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. that's one of the differences that took place in the transition between jfk and lbj. by the early 1964, the rhetoric changes. there's a sense of sticking with it. you don't get that from jfk that much. on the other hand, on the tapes, on the other hand, there are these moments publically where he will also say, while it is their war to win, we can help them -- we can assist them, he also says, but i think it would be a mistake to withdraw. that's not to mean that he doesn't think that we have to stay there until we win. it's a question of what was his actual posture toward vietnam and obviously where would he have been later on. my personal sense is 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. whether that looked like an oral spy approach, whether it would have involved more sabotage and clandestine work north of the 17th parallel, it's a good chance it would have as well. i think that skepticism about american prospects pushing on to victory, i think that was there throughout. >> for johnson, the public johnson was pretty boring. he thought he should be a statesman and be like he is being graded by a high school speech teacher, which he was. obviously, in private, he was a much different person. many stories of him when his aides were writing his memoirs for him and giving him a draft and he would say that's not
going to be good. they were trying to put lbj into it and he was trying to take lbj out. i think he is not whiffing. he is restructuring the democratic party. he is trying to build a firebreak among moderate white voters. he spends 1964 and 1965 attempting to do that. his paranoia about bobby is one of the things we see coming out. >> i would agree with that. pushing farther, i think we listen to johnson recorded, what you see is a man who understands the political order he has come up in is fracturing permanently. it's not going to continue to exist. what ultimately drives him out of politics in 1968 is the realization that he is not the leader to manage that transition. i don't necessarily think that he is whiffing.
it's not the future of american politics. the republican party is going to win five of the next six presidential elections? it took watergate to secure that sixth. johnson saw all that. did not know what to do about it ultimately. >> we would like to open this up for questions. we have a microphone up here. if anybody would like to ask a question, right there. >> the richness of this material from roosevelt to nixon, i was thinking about ford to trump. do you day dream about finding a box of sd cards of similar material from those people? what would be gained if you did find that box? what's lost because you don't have it? >> very quickly, because i write a lot about the current administration.
there have been enough statements from the current president where he hints that he is recording things that have gotten people salivating a little bit. what would it be like if we had those tapes? the current administration is not really good at keeping its records intact. i think it's unlikely we will find them. think about somebody like ronald reagan who continues to just really baffle biographers in terms of who is the man behind the public image. that's one case where i don't know if tapes would answer that question. 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. 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. to see the president in unguarded moments i think is priceless. when we have had a chance to listen to roosevelt, for instance. roosevelt is as staged as any president we can remember. our image of him, which is, of course, the image he wanted everybody to see, not in a wheelchair, but the audio as well through the fireside chats, we hear roosevelt in conversations with civil rights leaders saying things that are a little surprising today, perhaps not for the time. again, it's an unguarded roosevelt we never get a chance to hear that. >> there's an incredible degree of democratic accountable, transparency to the recordings. because of the associations with watergate, we seem them in a dark light, some of the revelations.
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 maneuvered but what was said in the room. >> i want to put in a plug for the students that have worked on the miller center project doing presidential -- i say to my students, if you want to learn about politics, study these tapes. one of the students from 2004 that bosworked on some of the ts was joe biden's press secretary and his deputy campaign manager. we have another student that worked on this that was an obama speech writer. university of virginia students that have come through and worked on the project have learned an enormous amount. if you know any great students, send them. >> one who i have seen only a
few of the clips might well conclude that neither the leader of the country or closest associates is among the best and brightest. i'm wondering what the impression you have who have read great quantities or listened to great quantities of the tapes? >> i will be quick. if you listen to lyndon johnson hard enough, it's hard not to be amazed by the memory he has, the capacity for detail, to be able to know what's going on, where it's going, the rule for this, for that, who is sleeping with whom, who was a mistress, that knowledge is amazing. that comes out on the tapes and is one of the reasons why they are so rich. >> i will second that. >> a degri agree the presidents their aides are intelligent but there's a demystification of the presidency you get from listening to the tapes.
i think that's a good thing from the standpoint of democratic accountability. 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. though they might have a vast amount of information at their fingertips with regard to, say for example, the vietnam war, including 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. >> i should say that these presidents that we're talking about, with the exception of 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 two presidents have a lot to drop that into the 20% range.
>> the changes in the middle east, the arab/israeli wars, do they appear on the tapes? if so, are they part of the way in which any of these presidents were calibrating their political ba base? well, just taking into -- those into account in terms of domestic politics. >> answer the second half for nixon, nixon was anti-is hanti- semitic. he was surprised when he received a larger share of the jewish vote than he expected. >> it's unfortunate that nixon turns off the tape machine in july of 1973. we don't have the october '73 war.
it would have been interesting to follow nixon through that. >> with lbj you get fascinating insight into that point. you do see some of the very earliest negotiations of american arms sales to israel. real hesitation on lbj's part on which direction the u.s. should go on this issue. this is really a point where the american/israeli relationship that we know today is just at its very starting point. >> thank you all for coming out this afternoon and give a hand to these great panelists. [ applause ] we're featuring american
history tv programs this week as a preview of what's available every weekend on c-span3. this evening, cartoonist pat oliphant and his works are subject of discussion at the university of virginia focusing on presidents johnson through ronald reagan. american history tv, tonight at 8:00 p.m. eastern on c-span3. next, on the presidency, camp david insiders offer recollections of the presidential retreat in the maryland mountains. roosevelt first used the hideaway and set the precedent for hosting dignitaries there when he invited winston churchill there. we hear first from the 43rd president, who shares his own camp david memories.