We left off last time with LBJ. There is so much more to write about each of them but I am trying to limit myself to those impressions that lasted with me and struck me at the time they were happening. There are numerous biographies on all of them and I encourage reading any of your choosing. Now we come to 1968.
Nixon–This was his rebirth after having written off politics supposedly in the earlier ’60’s after he lost the Governer’s race for California. He was a disappointmet but not for the reason you probably suspect. With regard to Watergate I strongly urge you to read the Watergate tapes for yourself. You should not rely on the reports of historians and certainly not journalists about those events and his involvement in them. I remind you that there never was one iota of evidence at all that he had anything to do with the break-in but he was active in trying to figure out the damage control. When you read the tapes for yourself you will see that it was lots of meetings to discuss options and “what ifs” to try and contain the political damage from the bone head break-in. That was done by some overeager yahoos trying to upgrade traditional dirty tricks to a new level. His real letdown to me was the wage and price controls he put in place. They didn’t work naturally. Such artificial constraints on the economy never do. They inevitably lead to a black market and manipulation and prevent the market from setting the true price for goods and services. The free market can do that better than any other method. He thought it would contain inflation but it didn’t happen.
He and Kissinger made a great team when it came to international and geopolitical politics. They were both very shrewd and had a wonderful grasps of the possible and the motivations of friend and foe alike. He opened China. That was a daring move but now with a few decades behind us I wonder whether we are better off having China as one of our major trading partners. What do you think? They have cost us millions of jobs and do they really make things we need that bad. The US used to be the world’s leading maker of shoes even though you might find that hard to believe.
He was one the the brightest of our Presidents but he squandered that talent in his second term. He was the master politician. There is ample proof of that. He could craft a compromise with seeming opposition and did on numerous occasions. When it comes to pure political savvy he has had no peer except for FDR and then Clinton.
His bright and shining moment was that he did have a plan to extract us out of Viet Nam and he did. He was criticised during the campaign for not giving exact details of how he would do it and he steadfastly refused. That facts speak for themselves. When he was sworn in we had almost a half million men in Viet Nam and the casualities were hundreds each month. When he left office we had only 35,000 or so troops left and they were mostly support and garrison troops. Just look at the Viet Nam Memorial and watch the steady decline in casualities from ’69 to ’74. He did what he promised there.
On balance his was a wasted talent that allowed personal vainity to override his good judgment.
Ford–He took office in troubled times for sure but handled the situation with grace and courage I thought. He was not brillant but had a firm hand on the tiller and was likeable and you felt like you could trust him. His fight against the inflation that had been plaguing us since LBJ was a flop. Too much show and not enough substance to it. You remember the WIN buttons? Whip Inflation Now.
Ford did do one thing very well. Our ship was high jacked by Cambodia with all hands. I believe that name was the Marquez. He didn’t hesitate to send in the military even though the anti-war groups were still opposed to any military efforts at all at that time right after Viet Nam. They actually believed you could negotiate with the Khmer Rouge. You do recall the Killing Fields. They were savages. The operation was a success and American prestige was immediately restored around the world not only because of the military success but because he was decisive and confident. For me personally, I liked it that he did not abandon the men. It was quite a contrast to the way that LBJ had handled the Pueblo affair a few years earlier with N. Korea when our ship and men were taken and held captive for more than a year.
Again I have gone on too long. We will finish this up I promise with dispatch.
Thomas Jefferson was religious. You so often read a casual statement indicating that he was not. Read the biographies of him. I recommend Dumas, it is 4 volumes and gives true insight to the man. He was not an evangelical for sure, but he attended church and did his own parallel translation of the new testiment in three languages. His writings often refer to the Divine, see the Declaration of Independence as an example.