Wednesday, July 01, 2015

The president's left hand

In response to those who paint Richard Nixon as a master of liberal domestic policy, Elizabeth Drew cites his approach to formation of the Environmental Protection Agency:
He’s given credit for signing into law several bills to improve the environment, including establishing the Environmental Protection Agency. But in fact, Nixon wasn’t very interested in the subject and he fobbed it off on his aides to handle, saying at one point: “Just keep me out of trouble on environmental issues.” He privately called the then-rising environmental movement “crap” for “clowns.” 
That jogged a memory.  according to Nick Kotz in Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Laws that Changed America, shortly after the Kennedy assassination, LBJ met with U.S. ambassador to Vietnam Henry Cabot Lodge and told him, "I am not going to lose Vietnam."  Afterward,

Johnson revealed his underlying motives in a conversation with aide Bill Moyers. “I told [Lodge] to go back and tell those generals in Saigon that Lyndon Johnson intends to stand by our word, but by God I want something for our money. I want ’em to get off their butts and get out in those jungles and whip hell out of some Communists. And then I want them to leave me alone, because I got some bigger things to do right here at home.” From the outset, Johnson drew a connection between success in Vietnam and achieving his goals for overarching social reform at home. If he were going to equal or exceed Roosevelt’s New Deal, Johnson believed, he had to satisfy conservatives in Congress by bringing Vietnam to a successful conclusion (Kindle locations 600-605).
For sure every president has to left-hand some issues. Presumably today, presidents and would-be presidents are more careful about casually voicing cynicism or political calculation.  But as Robert Gates' memoir reminded us, they're likely to be caught out (or framed up) anyway. Do they all think as crudely as LBJ and Nixon? Discuss...

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