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Last Of LBJ Presidential Tapes Released

December 4, 2008

It has been a great week for lovers of history as White House recordings from both President Nixon and President Johnson have been released to the public.  For accuracy’s sake I need to add that in the case of the RN tapes, the recordings might have been taped at places other than the White House, such as the Old Executive Building, though they all get titled as the White House Tapes.

The LBJ tapes released today continue to show the frustration over the Vietnam War, and the keen political mind of the former Senate Majority Leader at work.

Forty years before Democrats nominated their first candidate of color, President Lyndon Johnson told 1968 presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey that he should pick a Japanese-American as his running mate.

It was Sen. Daniel Inouye, who was awarded a silver star in World War II, and who lost an arm in battle.

“He answers Vietnam with that empty sleeve. He answers your problems with Nixon with that empty sleeve. He has that brown face,” Johnson said.

Humphrey, though he was one of the Senate’s foremost liberals, balked.

“I guess maybe, it’s just taking me a little too far, too fast,” Humphrey said. “Old, conservative Humphrey.”

The Vietnam War was tearing the country apart. Democrats wanted their convention platform to call for a halt to U.S. bombing.

From his Texas ranch, Johnson – whose son-in-law was serving in Vietnam – told an aide “no way.”

“I’m telling ’em what our position is as Commander-in-Chief that I’m not about to stop this bombing unless they arrest me and take my power away from me,” he said. “Because I’ve got some of my own right there and I’m not gonna shoot ’em in the heart. Not for a bunch of goddamn draft dodgers.”

Johnson got his way, but the convention in Chicago was a disaster. He listened without comment as his attorney general, Ramsey Clark, blamed the police.

“It was a very disgusting moment in my judgment, Mr. President,” Clark said. “I think it was caused by law enforcement.”

But Johnson, who sympathized with Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, was having problems with his attorney general.

“Well, he doesn’t see this as you and I see it,” Johnson said

Daley argued that his police had been provoked.

“What are you gonna do if someone hits you with human manure in the face, are you gonna stand there?” Daley said.

Johnson did halt the bombing just before the election, which was extremely close. The morning after, Humphrey called to apologize for losing.

“I’m sorry I let you down a little,” he said.

Johnson replied: “No you didn’t, no you didn’t, it’s on a lot of other folks but not you. It’s our own people in the party that created all the problems.”

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