I have two items for my blog post today on Stephen Ambrose's Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972. The setting is the 1968 Presidential election. The main candidates in this race were Republican Richard Nixon, Democrat Hubert Humphrey, and American Independent George Wallace.
1. There were no
presidential election debates in 1968. Why not? On page 192, Ambrose
says that Nixon refused Humphrey's challenge to debate because Nixon had
problems with Wallace's participation. Nixon believed that
Humphrey wanted the Southern Governor Wallace to get more exposure
through a debate on the assumption that this would take away Southern
votes from Nixon (even though, as Ambrose argues, Wallace was probably
taking away votes from Humphrey, as well). For Nixon, a debate
that included Wallace would undermine the two-party system. And, until
Congress got rid of a rule requiring that presidential debates include
all presidential candidates, a debate between Humphrey and Nixon alone
was out of the question. (Whether Ambrose is conceptualizing that rule
accurately, I do not know. I have a hard time envisioning a rule that a
presidential debate would have to include, say, the Socialist Party
candidate.) But Nixon resented Humphrey calling him "Richard the
Silent" and "Richard the Chicken-hearted" (which, according to Ambrose,
were rare incidents of Humphrey's wit), saying that he was not afraid.
himself addresses the topic of why he refused to debate Humphrey in
volume 1 of his memoirs, on page 395. Nixon essentially says that he
thought that Humphrey would benefit from a debate because Humphrey was
way behind Nixon in the polls, and that Nixon also did not want to
"elevate Wallace", who was already taking from Nixon "a substantial
number of votes." Nixon says: "It was not fear but self-interest that determined my decision on the debates."
At least Nixon is candid here: he didn't debate because he thought that
would hurt him politically! There's no grand talk here about how great
the two-party system is!
And, by the way, I don't see what's so
great about the two-party system. I wish that the U.S. had viable
alternative parties so that my choice wouldn't be limited to the
Republicans and the Democrats.
2. Did candidate Richard
Nixon in 1968 sabotage the Paris Peace Talks on Vietnam by sending Anna
Chan Chennault to General Thieu of South Vietnam so she could tell Thieu
that he could get a better deal from Nixon than from Johnson, thereby
discouraging Thieu from participating in the Paris talks? Did this
result in the prolongment of the Vietnam War, meaning the loss of more
American and Indochinese lives? There have been articles about this topic recently. See here and here.
I know posted one of these articles, and a commenter said that this is
not new information, for progressive Thom Hartmann has been talking
about this topic. But, actually, this topic has
been discussed for quite some time. Ambrose talks about it in this book,
whose copyright is 1989. And, according to Ambrose, a number of
reporters in 1968 suspected that Nixon had sabotaged the Paris Peace
Talks, but they did not have hard evidence. Lyndon Johnson
apparently had evidence that Nixon adviser John Mitchell, claiming to
speak for Nixon, had asked Chennault to try to persuade Thieu to back
out of the Paris Peace Talks. But Johnson did not want to go public
with this evidence because it was obtained through wiretapping.
story to Johnson was that Chennault was acting of her own accord and
did not represent Nixon. And, according to Ambrose, Theodore
White----the author of books on the 1960, the 1964, the 1968, and the
1972 presidential elections----actually defended the Nixon camp on this
issue, saying that Nixon's aides were "appalled" (White's word) when
they learned of what Chennault had done. Ambrose quotes White
as saying: "The fury and dismay at Nixon's headquarters when his aides
discovered the [Chennault] report were so intense that they could not
have been feigned simply for the benefit of this reporter" (White,
quoted on page 214). But here's a possibility: Maybe Nixon told
Mitchell to call Chennault without informing his aides!
view on this topic is on page 215: "Insofar as the charges imply that
Nixon prevented peace in 1968, they are false. Not that Nixon did not
want to, or try to, but he did not have to." The reason was that Thieu
did not need Nixon's encouragement to avoid the Paris Peace Talks, for
Thieu liked having the Americans in Vietnam, since they protected South
Vietnam and its government and were also significant in terms of
contributing to the South Vietnamese economy. I tend to agree
with Ambrose here, for Nixon in his very own memoirs portrays Thieu as
rather obstinate when President Nixon himself (through Henry Kissinger)
was attempting to forge an agreement to end the Vietnam War. See my posts here and here.
in volume 1 of his memoirs, as far as I could see, did not address the
question of Chennault talking with General Thieu. Nixon just says on
"Thieu's reaction [in choosing not to participate in the peace talks] was totally predictable. He watched
American politics no less carefully than did the leaders in Hanoi.
Given his disapproval of any bombing halt, and the fact that Humphrey
was now talking like a dove, it was scarcely in Thieu's interest to
acquiesce in a bad bargain. By holding back his support, Thieu fostered
the impression that Johnson's plan had been too quickly conceived and
too shakily executed." Maybe Nixon thought that Thieu would get a better deal under him than Thieu got under Johnson, or would get under a President Humphrey.
does not present Nixon as flawless, but he also seems to argue that
President Johnson was less-than-candid with the American people about
the progress of the talks----that not as much progress had been made as
Johnson was implying.