Tuesday, October 1, 1968 - 10:31am
Lyndon Johnson, Everett Dirksen

Editorial Note: The State Department Office of the Historian transcribed this conversation and published an excerpt of the transcript in: FRUS, 1964-68, 7: Document 42. The version published here has been revised and updated by the Presidential Recordings Program.

President Johnson: Hello?

Everett Dirksen: Yeah. Are you at liberty to make some comment on Hubert's [Humphrey] speech last night?1

President Johnson: Except in the greatest confidence—

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: I would just say that it depends a lot on your interpretation of it.

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: [with Dirksen acknowledging] He did not discuss it with our people, [Dean] Rusk or [Walt] Rostow, or anybody that we're aware of. The first I knew about it was when the press called me and pointed up that it was on the ticker. So it was prepared without our knowledge or without our advice. It . . . interpreted, I think--a literal interpretation would show there's no great difference in it and our present policy. I think his intention is to try to do that without . . . and still leave the impression that there is. Do you get what I mean?

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: [with Dirksen acknowledging] Well, here is our present policy: we're ready, anxious, willing, eager to stop the bombing just as we are eager to stop the war. But we just can't stop one side of it. The other side's got to stop something too. We found that when we stop and they don't stop, it kills more men. So we have said to them, "If we did stop the bombing, what would you do?" They're now considering that. They have not given us a firm answer.

Now, one of the things we've said to them, "If we stop the bombing, would you de-militarize, would you reinstitute the DMZ [Demilitarized Zone]?" Up to now they've said, "No." Now, Hubert's speech, the way I read it--and I emphasize "I"--the way I read it says that before taking any action, he would have to have direct or indirect—[by] deed or word—that they were re-instituting the DMZ. Now if that is a fact, that's all right, that's important.

Now, the second thing that we feel we ought to have--we think that we can't go to this--make a peace for that area like [Adolph] Hitler and [Neville] Chamberlain did without Czechoslovakia being present--we don't think you can make peace for that area [aside, Johnson tells someone to "come on in"] without the elected government having its voices heard, anyway.2 We don't object to their bringing whoever they want to--NLF, anybody. We've always said their voice could be heard. But they refuse to have anything to do with this government that's elected and has a million-man army that's doing a lot of the fighting. We don't ever report it and don't give them credit for it, but they're losing more everyday than we lose, and they are just 14 million and we're 200 [million].3

So that is a second consideration. They must talk to the GVN [Government of (South) Vietnam]. Now, if they don't, and this group walked out from under us, we'd really be left--we'd stand to lose a lot. And the thing that both [Ellsworth] Bunker and [Creighton] Abrams, the two best men we have, are more concerned about than anything else is something that would make them wobbly and make them distrust us and make them think we'd sell them out. Now that's GVN.

Now, Hubert's speech says that they'd have to negotiate "in good faith." Now, if he means by "good faith" talking to the GVN, which he could, that's what we think ought to be done. He doesn't say that, though, spell it out. He just says they'd have to negotiate "in good faith."

The third thing: if I stop the bombing, and they shelled Saigon tomorrow and Danang tomorrow and kill thousands as they did during Tet, everybody in this country and all the soldiers there would certainly demand that I do something about it. So, I would have to reinstitute the bombing. Now, if you're going to reinstitute it, there's no use stopping it. So we ought to know that they wouldn't shell the cities. Now, the only way he would know it is to have some understanding with them that they "act in good faith," that's the phrase that's used.

Now, both [former UN Ambassador George] Ball and [former UN Ambassador Arthur] Goldberg think that you ought to stop the bombing, just quit bombing. [Clark] Clifford thinks you've got to have conditions to it. Bunker and Abrams think you've got to have conditions to it. All the Joint Chiefs think you've got to have conditions to it. Now, Bunker is a liberal, progressive fellow and a hell of a good diplomat, the best in the service. But he's an old Republican businessman before he ever got in the service, although he's progressive. And he just says, "You'll lose everything if you don't have this government present." Rusk feels very strongly about it. And needless to say, I do. Now, up to now, the Vice President has pretty generally agreed with us. I can't interpret his speeches any more than I can interpret [Richard] Nixon's. But if he means by his statement that "direct or indirect" that they have to give him before he takes action assurance on the DMZ, well, that would be very appealing. But, of course, Rusk thinks that Hanoi will knock it down today. They've never been able to tell us that. We don't know why they'd tell him that next January. Do you follow me there?

Dirksen: I do.

President Johnson: So, I would think that Nixon's position that he would take would be that these conferences are going on, that he doesn't have all the information, that he's not in touch with them, that he's not responsible, that he doesn't want to do anything that would appear divided in this country, and therefore it's the Democrats' responsibility, period. And not get into the war thing any more than he has to. I would think that would be the best thing for Hubert, but apparently he was trying to get the [Eugene] McCarthy vote.4 Now, the way I see the thing, there are 43 percent of the people for Nixon, there are 28 for Hubert, and there are 21 for [George] Wallace. So when you take 43 and 21, Wallace and Nixon, there's 64 percent. Now, there are only 8 percent undecided. Now, let's assume all of those are McCarthy people. That doesn't do him any good. If he puts 8 percent with his 28, he's just got 36. So he's got to do something to get some of the Nixon people back or some of the Wallace people back. And I wouldn't think that this kind of a speech would get either of them. I may be wrong. I believe he's been losing because they have been doubtful on Vietnam, and a lot of the Democrats, particularly in our section of the country, have been going to Wallace. That's my judgment.

Dirksen: Yeah. Well, that's the way I size it up.

President Johnson: So, I have said all along, and Nixon has said all along, that's how . . . we've just got one government and we've got to stop [politics] at the water's edge, and we can't play politics with the war.

Dirksen: No.

President Johnson: And we just cannot ignore Bunker and ignore Abrams, our commander in the field; we cannot ignore all of our Joint Chiefs--there are four of them; we can't ignore our secretary [of defense]; we can't ignore the secretary of state; and we can't ignore the President, who have all the information involved. So that's the way we see it.

Dirksen: Yeah. Well, thanks much.

President Johnson: Now, what do you know?

Dirksen: I don't know a damn thing.


President Johnson: I see the folks . . . well, I'll talk to you after you get through, today or tomorrow. I've--I was--I had a note here on this fellow Kidd, who is the man you suggested that--

Dirksen: [Unclear.]

President Johnson: Yeah, they've got some problems. He's a very young fellow out there, and they don't think he'd be a very good commissioner.

Dirksen: Oh, I see.

President Johnson: So we ought to look at that.

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: There's a Republican vacancy on the [Office of] Economic Opportunity. I want to recommend these folks, and I want who you-all want.

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: The best one we have found is a negro--

Dirksen: You mentioned that [unclear].

President Johnson: —in Philadelphia. Well, there's here too. But there's one now in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia organization objected to him because he's a Republican in Philadelphia. But you might talk to Scott about him if you get a chance. He was a former law partner, a fellow named [A. Leon] Higginbotham [Jr.]. I forget his name, but I'll get it up to you today.

Dirksen: OK.

President Johnson: And if I can get--if I can override the organization we ought to send him up, because I think he'd be good for you, and we need a man on that place.

Now, are you going to cause any trouble on [James Russell] Wiggins [for] the United Nations?

Dirksen: No, sir.

President Johnson: I understood [Karl] Mundt was fussing around about "captive nations."

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: [with Dirksen acknowledging] Wiggins retired from the post, and he was up in Maine. I called him. Rusk is going to be up there most of the time. I'm going to rely on Rusk. But I just thought it was the best way. But I saw Fulbright was fussing a little yesterday, because he says Wiggins had supported us on Vietnam. I had never thought the Washington Post had been too strong for me, but he seemed to think they'd been a great champion of mine and that I was paying him off. He's never been in my office but once since I've been President, and then came to talk of District of Columbia council. But--

Dirksen: I mentioned him around and I got no particular flak on him.

President Johnson: All right. 

Now, I gather you're not going to get your votes--you're not going to cut off cloture.

Dirksen: No.

President Johnson: All right. Then what we going to do?

Dirksen: Well, I don't know. [chuckles] Then it's up to Mike [Mansfield].

President Johnson: Well, I mean, though, what--can you--do you think it ought go on over there until January?

Dirksen: Yeah, I don't think you've got a show now. So the [unclear] will just be a stalemate.

President Johnson: Well, suppose [Earle] Warren doesn't serve. Suppose you just send another name up?

Dirksen: Well, then you've got that problem.

President Johnson: Well, if you got a good man you wouldn't have a problem, would you?

Dirksen: Oh, I wouldn't think so.

President Johnson: Let me ask you this. Now, I don't want you to mention this to another human. Can I talk to you that way about it?

Dirksen: Yes, sir.

President Johnson: What if we sent Tom Clark up there to act, as Chief Justice?

Dirksen: Well, he's served before. There was no heat on him at any time, as far as I know. And the very fact that he's off doesn't make any difference; he just goes right back on.

President Johnson: What I thought was, you see--I don't know if this would ever work out, but if the Republicans--he wouldn't serve too long, you see.

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: But I think it would unify the country and wouldn't look like you-all are playing politics trying to get a justice. You're going to get [Hugo] Black--he's 84--and he can't go on, and nobody on the court really wants him to act because they don't know the stability there; they've got a problem.

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: You've got [William] Douglas, who's got bad heart. You've got [John Marshall] Harlan, who's got eye trouble. So you got three right there.

Dirksen: That's right.

President Johnson: But a lot of folks feel that the [Robert] Griffin effort [against Abe Fortas] was a pure political effort, particularly in the light of what you said. And he said nobody should serve--that lame ducks shouldn't appoint anybody.

Dirksen: Yeah, right.

President Johnson: Now, if we took Clark, who just retired on account of his son and sent him up there as Chief [Justice] instead of letting [Earl] Warren go on acting . . . The Southerners all urge me to name Clark as Chief because of his crime record and so on and so forth. [John] McClelland and [James] Eastland and them thought that he would be good.

Dirksen: Yeah.

Preisdent Johnson: I would have to get me a new attorney general.

Dirksen: Well, I think [James?] Sewell.

President Johnson: But I could do that for a month, two months.

Dirksen: Right.

President Johnson: But I would not want Clark to get butchered, and . . . but he served with great distinction, and I think all the conservatives like him. It'd be pretty hard for a Democrat to be against him--

Dirksen: Definitely.

President Johnson: —because he's really on the court now; he just stepped aside on account of his son.

Dirksen: That's right. Yeah. [Unclear.]

President Johnson: Could you support Clark?

Dirksen: I could.

President Johnson: Don't say that to a human.

Dirksen: I won't.

President Johnson: I haven't talked to Mansfield. But I'll talk to you later about it.

Dirksen: All right.

President Johnson: And I'd think that that would be better than us messing around here and letting them think we're playing politics with the [Supreme] Court.

Dirksen: Yeah.

President Johnson: OK.

Dirksen: It's under the hat.

President Johnson: Right. OK.

  • 1. Humphrey had announced that, if elected, he would halt the bombing of North Vietnam as a peace initiative. "I would place key importance on evidence--direct or indirect--by deed or word--of Communist willingness to restore the demilitarized zone between North and South Vietnam." R.W. Apple Jr., "Humphrey Vows Halt in Bombing if Hanoi Reacts, A 'Risk for Peace,' Aides Hopeful Doves Will View Speech as Rift With Johnson, New York Times, 1 October 1968.
  • 2. Johnson is referring to the region known as Sudetenland in what was western Czechoslovakia. In a September 1939 meeting in Munich, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain agreed to accept Nazi Germany's annexation of the region in an episode that became synonomous with appeasement.
  • 3. Johnson was comparing the populations of North Vietnam and the United States.
  • 4. McCarthy had run in the Democratic presidential primaries as a peace candidate.

Original tape courtesy of LBJ Library. This transcript is a working draft. Please let us know if you find important errors.