The reaction to last week’s piece was mostly positive, but some folks had a problem with my observation that “…no politician stands for anything anymore.” Perhaps, a qualifier should have been added that all they believe in is getting elected and acquiring more power, but this should have been assumed.
If I tend toward sweeping generalizations, I would argue that if they are “only” 90% true, they are valuable—especially in today’s fast-paced world where quick, accurate decisions must be made constantly. But, being put to the test, I will elaborate…
It is seldom easy to draw strict timelines in American history, but I would propose that the first president who did not believe in anything was Lyndon Johnson. Use his case as a template by which you can analyze all politicians.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7:15-20)
Although Johnson inherited the Vietnam War, he was definitely the one who escalated it, even though his administration’s prosecution of the war would give new meaning to the word “incompetent.” Frankly, the word “traitorous” is probably not extreme, knowing what we know now. Bear in mind that the Vietnam War was the last practical laboratory for Communist hegemony—or stopping it.
With a military force hamstrung by absurd rules of engagement, meant to not give too much offense to the very Soviet and Chinese governments that were financing the slaughter of young Americans, it was no surprise that by the summer of 1967, poll numbers on the war showed less than 50% support of Johnson’s handling of the matter. The worst, though, was yet to come.
If the Americans were impatient about the progress of the war, so were the North Vietnamese. That’s why they launched the Tet offensive of January, 1968. Despite poor intelligence, the US and South Vietnamese forces achieved a stunning victory, and more than that, the tactics of the Viet Cong were so over the top, that it lost much crucial civilian support.
Even as administration officials were touting this amazing turnaround, the news coverage, especially by CBS and the New York Times, intentionally conveyed the opposite impression. It was Walter Cronkite himself who treasonously portrayed Tet as a defeat for the US. The mind still boggles at the manifold consequences of this single act of pure evil intent.
To be sure, there were voices in the administration calling for his arrest, or at least public censure, but it never happened. Please remember that there was no alternative media in those days. Moreover, many of the media elite—including Cronkite and Murrow—were ardent Leftists who gained their “patriot” reputation based on their World War II coverage—a war they were only too glad to support since the Soviets were our ally.
The capper was a March 10, 1968 headline in the Times reporting—quite truthfully—that General Westmoreland had requested 206,000 additional troops, in an intent to deliver the knockout blow. This course had also been recommended by the Joint Chiefs. Sadly, because of the media distortions, this news was widely interpreted as confirmation that the U.S. situation in Vietnam must be dire indeed.
Apparently believing the media spin rather than his own intel, new Sec Def Clark Clifford—along with various defeatocrat Dems—not only convinced Johnson to overrule the troop strength increase, they literally snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by pushing toward immediate peace talks. Military morale was destroyed, to say nothing of sealing the fate of millions of Vietnamese. Incredibly, it would still take until March, 1973 for the last combat units to leave the country, and it would be 30 April 1975 when the final evacuations took place.
Ambassador Graham Martin was on the last helicopter carrying civilians out of Saigon at 5 AM on that date, and within about three hours, the last military personnel were to leave, amid constant shelling of the city by the enemy, along with a blatant disregard for those who had surrendered. The embassy marines were under orders to restrain Martin if he wished to evacuate more people, or try to stay beyond the “drop-dead” date.
Conservative estimates record that more than 250,000 government and military officials from South Vietnam were either imprisoned or sent to “re-education” camps where many died of hunger and disease. Thousands more simply disappeared, and nearly 58,000 American soldiers died…for what?
So, I ask you, what did Johnson believe in? He escalates the war, and then prevents an honorable ending in 1968, knowing all the while that we were winning, but succumbs to misinformed public opinion (poisoned by anti-war marches that he knew at the time to be financed by the Ruskies), and cannot even defend his war against traitors like Cronkite. No doubt, plenty more blame can be spread around for how long it took for us to extricate ourselves, as well as the images of defeat on the embassy rooftop that haunted most Americans, even as they energized the America-haters. There is absolutely no question that the mishandling of Vietnam extended the Cold War.
After Johnson’s pathetic performance, which cannot be overcome by any of his domestic social programs, how trivial it seems to compare Carter’s faux populism, the Clintons’ crooked dealings, and GW Bush’s immigration sellouts. Indeed, the cult of Reagan derives from his lack of guile, and that he did actually believe in America in some sort of generic sense, despite his many flaws.
Still, that was far, far better than anything we have today.