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  1. #1 Evaluating JFK, LBJ and Nixon 
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    This year, we have several big anniversaries for three of the most important Presidents in recent history:

    This November, it will have been 50 years since John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

    This January 22nd marked 40 years since the death of his Vice President (1961-1963) and successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, the 36th President of the United States, died of a massive heart attack in Texas.

    Lastly, January 9th of this year marked the 100th year of the birth of President Richard M. Nixon, the 37th President of the United States, and Vice President from 1953-1961

    JFK played a pivotal role in the Cold War, with the events of the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis and embarked on the first peaceful measures with the Soviet Union, including the first Test Ban treaty in October 1963, and he began (unofficially) the policy of what would later be called Detente with the Soviet Union, hoping to coexist so that the threat of a new, nuclear World War would be lessened. Lyndon Johnson shaped and transformed America's domestic policy permanently with the Great Society, and controversially enlarged our existing commitment to aiding Vietnam. Richard Nixon ended the Vietnam War, instituted Detente as formal policy with the Soviet, went to China, and ended the Draft.

    Like them or hate them, both LBJ and Nixon were also among the most qualified men who were ever President, in that they both had over 20 years of experience in both the legislative and executive branches before becoming President. Both men served in the House, the Senate, the Vice Presidency, and later the Presidency.

    Of these three transformative Presidents, how do you evaluate them now, with the benefit of hindsight? How did you evaluate them then?

    Just a question for CU users. I'd be especially interested to hear the views on Nixon given his status as one of the most successful, yet disgraced, Presidents in our history. Only Nixon and Reagan managed to secure all but one state in their massive landslides in '72 and '84. Both were massively popular in their time (Nixon was actually incredibly popular before Watergate)
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    Senior Member DumbAss Tanker's Avatar
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    JFK was the last quality Democrat President, often mistaken on the facts (Like the 'Bomber gap' and 'Missile gap') but mostly unafraid to forge ahead and stand up to the consequences when he thought he was doing the right thing. His runaway sexual derelictions would have got him counted out as Presidential material today, but it was a much different world then, not just the press (Which of course never talked about any such indiscretions in public, though no doubt the nearly-all-hetero-male reporters of the time were probably green with envy) but also the public acceptance of being a 'Man of the world' in simpler times.

    LBJ was probably the closest to a psychotic as we've ever had in the Oval Office, really a nutter in many ways. Also, as memoirs which turned up after his death showed, a fake hero who politicked his way to a valor award in WW2 for the sake of his political career in a truly shameful episode demonstrating actual cowardice and the value of powerful friends wearing stars. Truly a vile man, though again thanks to the press and values of the time, few knew the true story of what a wack-job he was, and thanks to the afterglow of Camelot nobody had the stomach to bring it up publicly. The extent to which his social programs were based on sincerity vs. being merely an opportunistic way to secure large numbers of Democrat voters remains unclear, but since he was a crazy rat-bastard in most other ways, you'll have to pardon me if I see more opportunism than sincerity in them. He and McNamara did an incredibly thorough job of destroying the U.S. Army and crippling public confidence in the armed forces generally, though that supposedly was not their actual objective.

    Nixon had a brilliant record up until Watergate, when he pretty much went down for the grave political error of not throwing everyone else under the bus to save his own ass. Being as how he wasn't implicated in the actual burglary, but just the cover-up, he might have gotten away with it even then, except for some damned reason he thought it would be a good idea to tape everything. Go figure, stupidity is its own reward, I guess.
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    PORCUS MAXIMUS Rockntractor's Avatar
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    All three too liberal. next
    The difference between pigs and people is that when they tell you you're cured it isn't a good thing.
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    Quote Originally Posted by DumbAss Tanker View Post
    Nixon had a brilliant record up until Watergate, when he pretty much went down for the grave political error of not throwing everyone else under the bus to save his own ass. Being as how he wasn't implicated in the actual burglary, but just the cover-up, he might have gotten away with it even then, except for some damned reason he thought it would be a good idea to tape everything. Go figure, stupidity is its own reward, I guess.
    He taped everything due to the paranoia of the times--he wanted his side of the story out, mostly for historical purposes. Little did he know it'd bite him on the ass--Every President starting with FDR had taped their conversations (including Truman, Ike, Kennedy and LBJ) and it had been considered executive privilege for such conversations to remain private--though in most cases (JFK and LBJ), very few knew the recordings even were happening.
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    Power CUer noonwitch's Avatar
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    If Nixon had not been so paranoid, he may have been one of our greatest presidents. His paranoia brought him down in Watergate, but it also played a role in his disconnect from the youth of the time. He spent a great deal of time and energy into trying to deport John Lennon, for example, a person who was never the threat he thought he was.


    Yet Nixon ended the Vietnam War and the draft, he began serious diplomatic relationships with the USSR and with China, he presided over a stable economy and he started the negotiations that eventually led to the Camp David accords that Carter gets credit for (both men and Ford deserve credit). Nixon had the intelligence to pick Kissenger for his SOS, probably the best SOS in modern times.
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    Senior Member DumbAss Tanker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ASquareDealer View Post
    He taped everything due to the paranoia of the times--he wanted his side of the story out, mostly for historical purposes. Little did he know it'd bite him on the ass--Every President starting with FDR had taped their conversations (including Truman, Ike, Kennedy and LBJ) and it had been considered executive privilege for such conversations to remain private--though in most cases (JFK and LBJ), very few knew the recordings even were happening.
    I knew that. I just think it's stupid to turn something on that you can't turn off. I'm pretty sure that his predecessors were cagey enough to stop recording while plotting their own political and personal (As opposed to Executive policy) fun and games.
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    Quote Originally Posted by DumbAss Tanker View Post
    I knew that. I just think it's stupid to turn something on that you can't turn off. I'm pretty sure that his predecessors were cagey enough to stop recording while plotting their own political and personal (As opposed to Executive policy) fun and games.
    Yes, Nixon's system was the only one which was voice activated. The other guys taped at their discretion, although LBJ taped everything with little discretion (but unlike Nixon, he had control over his system) because it helped him remember things--He'd make notes from the conversations and use the notes when dealing with Congressmen etc.

    The only ones who used total discretion with their taping were FDR, Truman and Ike. Very few recordings from them exist because they only recorded when they felt it was necessary.

    I do think it's an interesting to listen to, though. Hearing Presidents talk about both policy and regular stuff. It reminds me that at the end of the day they are just regular people like the rest of us.
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    LTC Member Odysseus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by noonwitch View Post
    He spent a great deal of time and energy into trying to deport John Lennon, for example, a person who was never the threat he thought he was.
    The real threat was Yoko.

    JFK was the last Democrat who understood that America wasn't the problem in the world. He was inexperienced, and this cost him in dealings with the Soviets, but he had the right instincts, and ultimately was a patriot. His economic program of tax cuts was far more effective at getting the economy off the ground than FDR's New Deal or Obama's stimulus. His sexual conduct was reckless to the point that he seriously compromised his office (sharing a mistress with mobster Sam Giancana, for example), and his health was far worse than he let on, resulting in experiments with painkilling drugs that also called his judgment into question.

    LBJ was a conniving bastard who could get pretty much anything through congress, and used this ability to undermine American democracy and puff himself up. DAT calls it correctly when he says that Johnson was a sociopath. His Great Society was meant to create a permanent underclass that would see itself dependent on Democrats (his exact comment was “I’ll have those ******s voting Democratic for the next 200 years.”), and his micro-management of the Vietnam War was disastrously incompetent. He was combined the worst attributes of JFK and Nixon, and had none of their better qualities. Johnson claimed to be more of a womanizer than Kennedy, and he was far more dishonest than Nixon. He was a bigot, who often used crude racial insults in private (but not in public, where he presented himself as a liberal on civil rights). An odious man, utterly without any moral scruples.

    Nixon was a fascinating set of contradictions. On the one hand, he was paranoid as hell, but on the other, he was genuinely patriotic and tried to put forward what he thought was best for the country. He was not well-versed in economics, and his policies (Wage and Price Controls, for example) exaccerbated the economic problems that he faced, especially the beginnings of OPEC. OTOH, he was a staunch supporter of integration of public schools (unlike Johnson, who merely paid public lip service to it), and was deeply committed to civil rights. When Nixon took office, 68 percent of African American children in the South still attended all-black schools. By the fall of 1970, that figure had declined to 18.5 percent. This was directly because of Nixon, who used biracial councils made up of prominent local political and business leaders to implement his plan, thus eliminating the sense that integration was something being imposed on the south from outside. His then-Secretary of Labor, George Schultz, described how Nixon did this in a NY Times OPED, How a Republican Desegregated the South's Schools. It's worth reading. His technique also used persuasion in lieu of force, unlike other presidents. Finally, Nixon actually had a sense of honor that was lacking in many politicians. He had credible evidence of voter fraud in two critical states, Illinois and Texas, which put JFK over the top, not just in the popular vote, but electorially. He had grounds to contest the vote, but refused to undermine the legitimacy of the process and the office. Compare that with Al Gore's attempts to win in court what he had lost at the ballot, and Nixon's honor becomes even more obvious.
    --Odysseus
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