Arnold Offner on Hubert Humphrey in Conversation with Kai Bird, Oct 3, 2018, the Graduate Center

Arnold Offner on Hubert Humphrey in Conversation with Kai Bird, Oct 3, 2018, the Graduate Center


– Welcome to the Leon
Levy Center for Biography. My name is Kai Bird. I’m the Executive Director, and this is our eleventh year, funded by Shelby White and
the Leon Levy Foundation. We hand out four fellowships ever year to working biographers at $72,000 a pop. So if any of you are about
to embark on a biography, it’s a very expensive
proposition, as Arnie knows, and you should think about
applying to our fellowship. We also put on 15 or so
events a year like this where we provide a platform
to a hard-working biographer to talk about their new work. So it is with great pleasure
that I welcome Arnold Offner to discuss his new biography
of Hubert Humphrey. Arnold A. Offner is the
Cornelia Hugel Professor of History Emeritus at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. He is the author of “Another Such Victory: “President Truman and the
Cold War, 1945 to 1953”, and “The Origins of the Second World War: “American Foreign Policy and
World Politics 1917-1941”, and “American Appeasement:
U.S. Foreign Policy “and Germany 1933 to 1938.” Professor Offner is a past President of the Society of Historians of
American Foreign Relations, and he served on the editorial board of the Society’s journal,
“Diplomatic History”. So I’m going to sit down with Arnie and have a conversation
for about 30 minutes, and then we’ll open it up to questions. And, we’ll begin. So Arnie, your previous
work as I just mentioned focused on Harry Truman, in large part, and the early Cold War. Why Hubert Humphrey? And I gather that your
wife Ellen, who is here, encouraged you to do the Life, but why Hubert Humphrey? Why did she encourage you? – The simple answer to
why she encouraged me was she said she was sick and tired of reading fat books
about U.S. foreign policy, and she had no particular interest in how many reparations Germany had to pay to the Soviet Union, or who was in charge
of the Turkish Straits, unless, when we were in Turkey, we could stay in a swanky
hotel on the Asian side. And so what she said is,
“Why don’t you write a book “that might sell more than three copies “and would interest people
and they’d like to read it? And even,” she said, “she
might consider reading it.” And biographies seemed to be a vogue. So that was one major reason. The second reason, which might be a little
bit more scholarly, is that I set out to write a general
history of the post-war period. I thought I would do a
book that covered the world from 1945 to roughly the 1970s. But as I started to go through the scholarly work on the period and look at what was done
and what was not done, everything that seemed to be achieved in the form of major liberal legislation, Hubert Humphrey’s finger was on it, his hand was in it. There was nothing that I looked
at that somehow or other, Humphrey hadn’t been
there before it actually became legislation and part
of our national history. And so as I began to
dig deeper and deeper, I found out that Humphrey
was responsible for so much. That there would have been no
Kennedy New Frontier program if it wasn’t really for
what Hubert Humphrey did. There would have been, of course, no major civil rights legislation had Hubert Humphrey not only forced the Democratic Party and the nation to come to terms with what
needed to be done in 1948. But when I say come to terms, I mean that he put it
on the nation’s agenda. He said, “It’s there, you can’t avoid it. “You have to face it and it will be done, “whether it’s today,
tomorrow, or down the road, “it will be done.” When he thought about
atomic energy issues, he was the one who pushed for the Arms Control Disarmament Agency that was effected in 1963. That was the first
agency and the first time the government really began
to think systematically about what do you do with
nuclear weapons and atomic energy and how do you deal with
it in a responsible way. So in a way Humphrey was, he was there, he was ahead of everybody. And in fact I even found, and I develop it a little bit in the book, but when I lecture about Humphrey, I talk about it at greater length. In 1948, his first run for the Senate, he ran on a platform that
said “Healthcare For All”. And not only that, but as
soon as he got to the Senate, he introduced legislation for the most comprehensive
national healthcare. We haven’t come within miles of what he was proposing in 1949. So I finally decided, “Wow. “This guy has really been overlooked,” and I could go into the reasons. The simplest reason is
that he lost in 1968, and in today’s world, either
you get elected President or you don’t, and if
you don’t it’s sayonara. So I decided, he was somebody
who was worth my studying and finding out
– He’s a very colorful dynamic charismatic personality.
– He was colorful, dynamic – He was a brilliant speaker. Too brilliant. – [Kai] Too brilliant. Too talkative. – Yeah, too talkative. I mean, Humphrey’s speeches
went on for hours on end. He came from that old
tradition of barnstorming and people came to town and delivered a two or three hour oration and that was Humphrey’s world
and so that’s what he did. He also had amazing
facility with language. It just rolled out of him. It rolled off his tongue. And he was also extremely
affable, very appealing, and given to reaching out to his audience and letting the people
know that he saw them and he was making eye contact,
body contact, whatever. – I like to ask all my biographers
an indelicate question. How long did it take you
to do this? (both laugh) – I’d say 12 to 13, 14 years, but I was teaching, okay? (both laughing) So I did have other obligations. – Well, recently we had a biographer here who was working more or less
full-time on his biography and it took him only 15 years,
so you’re in good company. – Okay (both laughing) – This is an extraordinarily
revealing book, both about Hubert personally,
his life, his personality, and his politics, and his role in history, but speaking as sort of an
angry young man of the 1960s, you know, I went to college in 1969, came back to this country actually from having lived abroad a bit, and America was engaged in a sort of a cultural civil war and the Vietnam War was
just pulling us apart and I remember being, at one point, McGeorge Bundy came to our
college campus and gave a talk and we students knew Mac
Bundy was a war criminal, that’s how we thought of him, and yet, after this big lecture, he agreed to take questions
in a small seminar room, and I think 30 or 40 of us
packed into this seminar room and I was just blown away by how civil and obviously liberal and intellectual, you know, the former Harvard Dean. How could he have been, he was then president
of the Ford Foundation, he was an architect of this horrible war, and that eventually led
to me, decades later, to deciding to write a biography of Bundy, but it was troubling. How did these smart liberals
get us into this terrible war? That was the question that motivated me, and the same question
arises with Humphrey. You recount, at one point, a dinner and I’d like you to talk about this that he has with Arthur Schlesinger, John Kenneth Galbraith, James Wexler, Clayton Fritchey, Gilbert Harrison, all at the home of Joe
Rauh, his good friend. These are all Seminole
old liberal intellectuals. – This is the Americans for
Democratic Action group. – So tell us what happened at the dinner. – They had a huge blow up because Humphrey was defending the war and speaking on behalf
of Johnson’s policies, and this was late and so these gentleman had already turned against the war and wanted to know why Hubert
hadn’t turned against the war. He was Vice President. – This is April 1967, right? – Yeah, April ’67. The real question is what
happened to Hubert Humphrey and his relationship to the Vietnam War? Originally, Humphrey was opposed to it. In 1964, when he was still U.S. Senator, about to be chosen as Vice President by President Lyndon Johnson, he wrote Johnson a memo in which he said, and he’d been told, “Don’t say anything about foreign policy. “Keep your head down, quiet,
because there are other people “who want that Vice Presidency,” including Gene McCarthy, ironically. Humphrey wrote Johnson
a memo in which he said, “We cannot win this war militarily. “We can win only with
taking minds and hearts. “We must engage in a long-term program “to restructure that society,
but we cannot build,” what he called, and these are his words, “a bastion of anticommunism. “We really need to build
a liberal society.” – He got some of these ideas
from General Ed Lansdale. – Yeah, General Edward
Lansdale, who incidentally, I shouldn’t push somebody else’s book, Max Boot, who’s a very
ardent conservative writer for the Washington, for the
Wall Street Journal, I’m sorry, no, the Washington Post, he
writes for the Washington Post, just wrote a mega biography
of General Van Arsdale. Humphrey was diligent. He studied things and he listened and he put it all into a memo for Johnson. Johnson sent it along to
some of his military people and they said it was okay, it made sense, but when they sent it to
their ambassador out there Max Taylor, who was Kennedy’s appointment as ambassador to South Vietnam,
Taylor just threw it away and said, “Forget it. We’re
gonna follow this course.” The critical time comes in 1965. Johnson is about to announce the heavy bombing of North Vietnam, what came to be called
Operation Rolling Thunder, the B-52s that would continue
to bomb North Vietnam for the next 10 years. Humphrey had been told,
now he was Vice President, he was not to say a peep. Just be quiet. Don’t contradict policy. Johnson had given his
Gulf of Tonkin’s talk in August of ’64, after
the North Vietnamese allegedly had attacked
American destroyers, and this was going to
be retaliation for that, but in fact it was really part
of a long-term brewing plan in the Pentagon, to bomb the
dickens out of North Vietnam on the assumption that they would yield to that pressure pretty quickly. He wrote a long memo to him. It’s the most prescient memo ever written about the Vietnam War, and
he wrote it in February 1965. He was, by the way, the
only senior official, who who at NSC meetings
and in Johnson’s conference just before he announced the bombing, he was the only senior official, except for Under Secretary
of State George Ball, who spoke against
expanding the Vietnam War. He basically said, “The war
is unwinnable militarily. “The public will not
long go along with a war “in which they don’t perceive
a vital national interest,” and then he said, “If you persist, “the major challenge to your policy “is going to come from
the liberals, the clergy, “labor unions, et cetera,” in other words, the
Great Society coalition, and then he urged Johnson
to make a settlement and he said, “You have just won “an overwhelming election
against Barry Goldwater,” they got 60% of the vote,
they won, I forgot, 46 states or something like that, “You are regarded by the public as “the smartest horse trader in
Congress” when you were there. “You can make a deal
now that will be better “than anything you can get
down the road at any time.” Basically, Johnson chucked it. – He was angry with – Yeah, he was angry with Humphrey and when Humphrey spoke
up again at an NSC meeting Johnson banned him from, even though by statute, the
Vice President is a member of the National Security Council, he banned him from NSC meetings. He stopped holding NSC
meetings and instead held, there’s a book about this
called “Tuesday Luncheons” in which all the people who came to the White
House luncheon on Tuesday were the same people who were on the NSC, sans Hubert Humphrey, and Johnson basically put
him in political exile, cut him off from all
sources of information and everybody in Washington knew that. Cabinet offices paid
Humphrey no attention. Every journalist in the city talked about, “Where has Hubert gone?” “What has happened to Hubert Humphrey?” Et cetera, et cetera. He was, if you will, subject to Johnson’s
cruelty and humiliation and that lasted for about a year, until Johnson decided,
because Humphrey was so good and so able to put together an argument, he sent him to Vietnam on
a sort of goodwill mission and then across South Asia, and Humphrey then shortly
engaged in what I call a mind over matter transformation. He began to become a spokesman for the war and as he could do, he made very interesting arguments. The war was a two front war. One, to defeat aggression from the north, whether it North Vietnamese or the Chinese feeding
the North Vietnamese, and two, we’re going to
bring a little Great Society to South Vietnam. We will rebuild that country, et cetera. – This is, to me, Arnie, this is the most painful
part of the whole book. How did Hubert talk himself into becoming the spokesman
for the war, arguing as, the February of ’65 memo
is, as you say, prescient. Within six months he was out there, clearly in response to being shunned by the President and the
administration, he flipped, and by 1966, you quote him at one point he was insisting to his
friends, “I would follow “essentially the same
pattern if I were President, the same policies in Vietnam. Do you think he did this sincerely, he talked himself into it, or was there some
dissonance intellectually? Was he playing a Machiavellian game? I still can’t explain. – Well, I can’t either,
but I can only (sighs) The pressure is enormous. If you are the Vice President and you have a President who
is a large dominant figure, Jeff Flake, Susan Collins, Lisa Makowski, how do you resist him? How do you say no to a man
who not only is powerful but he can can be a mean SOB too. You have your own longings. You yearn to be President, even if it’s to take the
country on a different course, but remember, Johnson
had taken the country on the Great Society course,
which was Humphrey’s course, so he’s tremendously torn
and it’s his ambition. He wants to succeed Lyndon if he can. This is gonna be his
last shot, his only shot. The pressure is just overwhelming
and he gives in to it. Yeah, he basically folded in that way. In 1948, when he was considering
giving that great speech that he gave at the
Democratic National Convention and the Democratic old-timers said, “If you talk about civil
rights, you’re dead, “your career is over.” His father said, “You can’t run away from your conscience, Hubert.” He gave the speech, et cetera. History unfolded in a
very good way for him. He ran away from his conscience,
that’s all I can say. He ran away from it. He was under tremendous pressure. I think if you live in
the world of Washington and if you’ve been a Senator
for 16 years before that, if you’ve seen people
succeed to the Presidency and it’s right there. – But, he was such a good man and you mentioned the ’48 convention, I want to come back to. You also suggest in the book that maybe there are some parallels
between what he was doing 20 years later in ’67
and ’68, in that, in 1948 he was this great liberal
advocating civil rights but he was also in
opposition to the communists, the popular front, the Henry Wallace-ites. He was a loyal democrat and this sort of mirrors some of the arguments he was having with the new left and
the student demonstrators that were confronting in ’67 and ’68. He found culturally, I
think, their radicalness, how undiplomatic they
were, how loud they were, how impolite was their discourse. This was reminiscent to him
of what he had encountered from the left in ’48, and so I don’t know. Does that help to explain? – It helps to explain,
but it is true in four, except it was different. In ’48 Hubert Humphrey was
what I guess we could best call a liberal anticommunist, a liberal who was vehemently anticommunist when he organized the
Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party in Minnesota in 1947, 1948,
bringing the old line democrats from St. Paul and Minneapolis who were politicians like
New York City democrats, and aligning them with
the Farmer-Labor people who were more populist oriented but there were, amongst
them, more radical types, mostly farmers who wanted to
nationalize banks and railroads not because they were really leftists but because banks and
railroads were giving them a very hard time with interest
rates and shipping rates, you know, the William
Jennings Bryan argument from the 1890s. He fought them and IWW types who were up north from the Iron Range, the lumberjacks and so forth, so he fought them vehemently, was furious, he was angry with them. His hero had been Henry Wallace, and I even quote in the book when Roosevelt dies and
Truman becomes President, Humphrey writes Wallace, “Would that it was you
in the White House now,” but he broke with Wallace because he was a firm anticommunist and he thought Wallace was
too soft on the Russians and he went with Truman’s
doctrine, Marshall Plan, et cetera and he moved somewhat more to the center. I think he did find
the people of ’67, ’68, the younger people, not his generation. They could be rude. They could be arrogant. They could, as he said
during the campaign, “They threw eggs and feces at
him and his wife”, et cetera, and he was sort of prim and proper and you didn’t do that
sort of thing, et cetera. I don’t think, and I’ve
said this, he ever really fully identified with the
anguish of that generation because he was now 20
years, 25 years beyond them and so he didn’t really identify
personally with that group. – In his defense, it’s not just the young new lefties who are his critics, but coming back to this
dinner he was having with Arthur Schlesinger,
at one point Schlesinger, they got into an argument, – Yes, a bitter argument – bitter argument, and
Schlesinger at one point says, “Well, Secretary Rusk and
every one associated with him “has to be thrown out,” and Hubert, in response, very angrily, “Arthur, these were your guys. “You were in the White
House when they were chosen. “Don’t blame them on us,” and of course he’s
talking about the Bundys and the whole cast of characters
who are running the war. – It’s Kennedy’s war
– The Kennedy’s people, yeah. – They were all John Kennedy’s people. – That’s very ironic. – It is. It is. I will tell you, I’m not sure I’m supposed
to reveal this but, – Oh, please! – In the summer of 1968 I was teaching at Syracuse
University, ’64, I’m sorry, summer of ’64 I was teaching
at Syracuse University and Lyndon Johnson came to the new Samuel I Newhouse School of
Journalism at the dedication. Newhouse ran all these these
papers in upstate New York and they were sort of
right-wing trashy stuff but he was very wealthy and powerful. Johnson came and gave his
Gulf of Tonkin speech there. The person sitting next to
me was a political scientist who was my closest friend
on the campus there named Oliver Clubb. His father may ring a
bell with some of you. His dad was O. Edmund Clubb. I know Kai will know him. He was an America diplomat
– China hands, right? – He was the Consul General in China. He was the last American
diplomat out of China when Mao Tse-tung and the
communists took over in 1949, but more important, Edmund Clubb was a
brilliant scholar of China, had long been warning the government about the transformation that’s
going to take place in China if we don’t do something about it, and of course, afterwards he
was hauled before Joe McCarthy and the HUAC and he had a difficult time, eventually settled in teaching
at Columbia University. But I was sitting next to Ollie. Johnson gave his speech, and
Ollie Clubb turned to me, in which Johnson said,
“We need to take action “against this unprecedented
attack on American destroyers “in international waters.” Ollie turned to me and he said,
“Arnie, we’re going to war,” and he knew that, and his
specialty was South Asia, and he said, “We’re going to war. “This means war.” He and I then organized a program that became a national
program called Vietnam Summer, teaching about Vietnam, American
relations in Southeast Asia and why the war is coming, only, don’t be a part of it if you can. In 1968, I was leaving Syracuse
but my wife and I organized, we worked with the people who belonged to the Coalition for a Democratic Alternative and we actually won a seat
to the Democratic convention in 1968, as a Gene McCarthy candidate. So, I felt, about Humphrey,
the way you suggest you might have felt other
people might have felt and I was crushed. I was disappointed because
when Johnson chose him four years earlier for Vice President, I thought, “I can’t
believe what I’m hearing.” Here’s this southerner, this Texan, I was always suspicious of him, who has just picked the most liberal man in the United States Senate, if not in all of American
politics, to be Vice President. Hallelujah. I’m dreaming. I was. (both laugh) It had the ending it had. He just could not take the
pressure, the intensity of it, his ambitions, his dreams. He just couldn’t do it. He couldn’t break in a way that he needed to break from Johnson and I want to tell you,
Johnson would have crushed him. He would have crushed, as
we’ll see, he sold him out. – Moving along to the ’68 period, when Johnson decides not to run and Humphrey steps forth and starts, you accuse LBJ of betrayal. – [Arnold] That’s the word I use. – And he methodically undermined. This is just an astonishing, when you read the book you’re blown away by what Johnson does to Humphrey to, really behind his back,
help to elect Nixon, in a way, but let’s go through this. At one point, right after
Bobby Kennedy is shot and he’s still alive. Humphrey gets the news
and he calls the Air Force and gets ahold of a General and orders an Air Force plane
out to send a neurosurgeon – From Boston to Los Angeles.
– From Boston to California. – And johnson, the
President, learns of this and countermands the order. It’s just astonishing. Then, LBJ seriously considers, you say, getting back into the race
as late as the convention? – [Arthur] Second day. – Wow. And then, of course, there’s the back-channel
talks he’s having. He’s talking to Nixon on the phone, – [Arthur] At the ranch. – at the ranch and making promises that
there’ll be no surprises, and then at one point he tells a friend, “I’d rather vote for
Nixon than kill my boys.” He says this by way of explaining why he refuses to have a bombing halt, which, of course, would have helped Humphrey’s campaign, at that point. Anyway, the thing that
really surprises me the most, I guess, is LBJ learns, I guess from intercept intelligence, about the $500,000 contribution from the Greek military
junta to the Nixon campaign but he refuses to pass this information. He doesn’t leak it. He doesn’t give it to the Humphrey. He does nothing. He sits on it. This is like the Russiagate scandal today and it’s just astonishing. Anyway, talk about why
did Johnson do this? – I can give it to you in
one sentence (Kai laughs) but it wouldn’t be printable. (Kai laughs) Look, LBJ was obsessed
with the Vietnam War. LBJ was also not willing to
have anyone give him backtalk, suggest, “you’re not on the right path. “We’ve got to do something else.” He is curiously, insanely
jealous of Humphrey as well which may seem odd because
he has all the power, all the perks of office, he was very wealthy when
Humphrey was broke all the time in the Senate, without money, Everything has broken Johnson’s
way, not Humphrey’s way, but there was a jealousy. There was a jealousy of
his facility with words. There was a jealousy of Humphrey’s manner and that everybody liked him, and Johnson knew nobody liked him, they respected his power
but nobody liked him, even Richard Russell, the Archdeacon of the
conservatives in the Senate when he was meeting with
Humphrey back in the ’50s said to Johnson, “Why am I
getting to like Hubert so much?” He was Johnson’s mentor
and that was an issue. But above all, he was fixated
on the war, having it his way, and Nixon played him,
almost like a maestro. The first thing he did was send the Reverend Billy Graham to see him and promise, Graham made a 15 point memo that he gave Johnson,
laying out all the things that Nixon agreed to vis-a-vis Johnson, that he would never blame him for the war, he would never have recriminations, he would see that in his
post-presidential years he was well treated,
well regraded in history, he would send him on special missions, make him a diplomat of
stature, what have you, a special emissary, and above all, he would see to it that
Johnson was revered for what he had done, and
nobody would say, “You failed. “Your mission was
inappropriate and wrong.” What he really wanted, what
Nixon wanted from Johnson, was what Johnson agreed to, was that there would be
what you called, Kai, is called no surprises. No surprises simply meant no bombing halt. You should not have a bombing
halt during the campaign because if you do, that
will excite people, that maybe the war will
come to an end soon and that will boost Humphrey’s campaign. So Johnson basically agreed he would not have a bombing halt. Eventually he did, but we’ll
see he orchestrated that in a special way. Clark Clifford, who was
Secretary of Defense and by no means a dove on the war, Clark Clifford said, at the time, “It is clear Nixon has
frozen Johnson into position. “He has outmaneuvered him again. “He has frozen him into
a hard line in the war, “and he has frozen out Hubert,” because now Hubert can’t
really call for a bombing halt because the President
doesn’t want a bombing halt. In other words, he isolated
Humphrey from Johnson. – [Kai] This then leads to a question that may seem sort of counterfactual, but actually it was raised at the time. Senator Hughes of Iowa actually suggested that Humphrey should
resign the Vice Presidency and disassociate himself
from LBJs war policy and run, not as a member
of the LBJ administration, but as his own man, back
to his 1964 position. If he had done this, might
not he have defeated Nixon? – It’s counterfactual. We can’t really know. It’s a fair question. His staff pushed him to resign, but, one, rats leaving a sinking ship. It won’t be seen as a
gesture for new policy, but kind of abandoning
ship on a failing policy. You don’t get points for
that, You get demerits. That’s one take on it. Second, to resign the Vice Presidency, it creates a little bit,
not a constitutional crisis but an immense political crisis, and secondly, Johnson would
go at him in every way. “Hubert can’t take the heat. “Hubert won’t follow through. “Hubert’s wishy washy. “How can you rely on this man?” He would have been subject to such hell and his staff was pushing that
very hard and it was hard. Let me just jump back to
one thing that you mentioned about Johnson not pulling out. The Tet Offensive of January
30th, 1968 demonstrated we weren’t winning the war and
victory was nowhere in sight two. the New Hampshire Primary Gene McCarthy had entered that he got 42% of the vote. It was not a victory, but
running against the President where the other side controls
all the state machinery, it was seen as an enormous
upset and a near victory, a moral victory, whatever
you want to call it. On March 31st, a few weeks
later, Johnson announced, “I shall not seek, I shall not accept “my party’s nomination for President. “I shall devote all my
time to working for peace.” He lied. He spent that time and the next months working in secret with Richard Daley, the mayor of Chicago where
the convention would be, to plan an unplanned appearance at the Democratic convention, which Johnson believed
might lead to a spontaneous, the delegates standing up
cheering and a draft nomination. He had until the second
day of the convention, which would be his birthday by the way. He did that also before
whatchamacallit came, saying, “Hello, Lyndon” to
the tune of “Hello, Dolly” and so forth, in ’64. Johnson had a plane at the
ready, at his Texas ranch, to make that flight to Chicago. He called Richard Daley who
was the maestro to do this and asked him, “Can I come?
Will I be safe?” (both laugh) and Daley said to him
in a Daley-esque way, “Well, I can guarantee that
your helicopter can land safely “on the roof of the convention hall. “I can’t tell you what’ll
happen after that,” (both laugh) which meant – [Kai] It was a war zone down there. – It’d be a war zone. Exactly! “No, you can’t come.” Johnson went and had coffee and
cake at his daughter’s house in Texas, in Austin, and that was it. He was always always hoping to do this and Humphrey knew it and that
was always a shadow on him during the campaign
leading to the convention, that Johnson was lurking
in the background, especially after the
assassination of Robert Kennedy. – That’s shocking, but even at
the very end of the campaign, on October 28th, ’68, Johnson gets NSA reports,
intercept intelligence, of Nixon’s messages to the Saigon regime urging them to refuse to
enter into the peace talks, – [Arnie] It stalls, yeah. – And Johnson himself called this treason but he didn’t do anything with it. He didn’t give this
information to Humphrey. He didn’t release it. He didn’t accuse Nixon of interfering in U.S. foreign policy. He did nothing to reveal this
information to the country and this, in effect, helped Nixon again at the very last days of the election. – Yes. The FBI, CIA, NSA had all these wiretaps, they were quote illegal,
but they were wiretaps, on Nixon’s campaign aides,
included Anna Chennault who was the widow of
the World War II General Claire Chennault who led
the Flying Tigers in China and a group of South
Vietnamese ambassador Bùi Diễm in Washington, urging the
South Vietnamese to cool it, don’t go to the talks, don’t give a boost to Humphrey’s campaign by making it seem things would happen and therefore raise spirits
about Humphrey’s people. Johnson sat on that information. He did not release it. He had the tapes. He did not give them to Humphrey. He did tell them late late in the campaign that he had these tapes but he said, “Hubert, I don’t have any hard proof.” Humphrey knew immediately what that meant, “I’m not gonna give you the tapes “so you can’t make the
charges against it.” Just as a side note to all of this, I have a letter which is in
today’s Wall Street Journal, The head of the Nixon
Foundation in Florida reading a review of my book that was in the Wall Street Journal claims that the information
and the allegations about Richard Nixon colluding
with the South Vietnamese is not true. Nixon did no such thing,
et cetera, et cetera, and the Wall Street Journal
today reprinted my refutation and my explanation to
this character in Florida who’s head of the Nixon Foundation that I didn’t make up the information. The information exists on the recordings at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, and among the recordings is Lyndon Baines Johnson
calling Everett Dirksen who is the Republican
Senate Minority leader and the conduit to Nixon, he
called him, I forgot the date, I think October 25th, and said, “Your guys are playing dirty pool. “Tell them to cut it out.” and then he called Dirksen again and knowing Dirksen would
bring that to Nixon, he called him on October 31st and he said, “Ev, this is treason,” and Dirksen’s reply was two words, “I know,” So it was real. It happened. Nixon did it and he interceded
to get a foreign power which is a prosecutable action
under the Logan Act of 1799 and probably other ways too, colluding with a foreign
nation to defeat U.S. policy. So Nixon did collude, Johnson knew it, and Johnson would not give
Humphrey the information so that Humphrey could go public, and Johnson wouldn’t go
public, and the answer, he wanted Nixon to win because he thought Nixon would be tougher on North
Vietnam than Humphrey would. – Arnie, I think it’s time
that we should open it up to questions from the audience. There’s a mic here that
we can pass around. – [Audience member] Arnie,
I’m not up to 1968 yet in the book.
– I’m Sorry? – [Audience Member] I’m not
up to 1968 yet in the book – Oh (laughs) – [Audience Member] I have it here so you may be able to
clarify what I’m saying and it may be something
that I could have read. It seems to me that this has been a very issues oriented
discussion and that’s appropriate but it also seems to me
that starting in 1960 when we heard about
Nixon’s five o’clock shadow and probably before that, even in the Stevenson 1956 or so era image of Presidential
candidates was a big issue and as much as I think
that Hubert Humphrey was on what I would think of
as the right side of the issues it was hard to love him. It was hard to love him. And we were living in
Atlanta at the time, in 1968. I remember going to McCarthy rallies. There was a lot of energy
around Bobby Kennedy’s campaign. There was not a lot of energy
around Humphrey’s campaign, and as you also know and point
out I think fairly early, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, not only didn’t go for Humphrey, they didn’t go for Nixon either, They went for George Wallace. So he had a very hard barrier to surmount to win that election and I’d
love to know what you think about the personality issue. – I think you’re on to something. When Humphrey first made his
move to run for President and it was of course again 1960 and it was against John Kennedy. John Kennedy who had been
in the senate since 1952 had zero record of legislation, nothing. He hadn’t done a bloody thing, and yet, when they campaigned in Wisconsin and Humphrey was known as the
third senator from Wisconsin because he was so attuned
to their agricultural needs and they border one another,
et cetera, et cetera, he lost Wisconsin. Why? Among other things of course, in the easternmost states, very heavy Catholic
population voted for Kennedy, but Kennedy had charisma,
he had staff that had money and professional advertising expertise, he had his plane. When he went down to
West Virginia to campaign where Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a god and Humphrey of course represented
the Roosevelt tradition, Kennedy won heavily overwhelmingly
protestant West Virginia. Why? Because he had a plane,
a Hollywood entourage, a beautiful wife, loads of
money, campaign advertising, and lots of what they call,
down in West Virginia, walking-around money, which
is they gave the people who ran the elections and handed out what was considered the
official Democratic ballot, Kennedy’s people, you
know, thousands of dollars. At one point a Humphrey guy goes in to see these so-called Precinct Captains and he says, “We’ve got $500 for you,” and the guy says, “Oh, the
Kennedy people were here “and they just gave us 20,000.” And his father said,
“I’ll spend a few million “but I won’t break the
bank to get you elected.” He didn’t have that kind of
persona that we’re talking about but Nixon didn’t either. Think of Tricky Dick who
ran as the new Nixon in 1968 but he didn’t have a great image either. It hurt Humphrey, more in his contrast to Democratic contenders
for the nomination than it did vis-a-vis Nixon but he didn’t strike that towering Clark Gable figure that you might want. – [Audience Member] Thanks Arnie! So just two quick questions
if I could ask them. One is, what did you
make or what do you make of Humphrey’s return
to the Senate in 1971, and if you could speak
about, in particular, his support of Full
Employment in ’77 and ’78 with Humphrey-Hawkins Act, and by this time he
seemed to be too liberal as opposed to 1968 and ’69 he’s seen as a reactionary
conservative figure, but toward the later end of his life he was seen as quite liberal again and the second question is, what do you make of Humphrey’s legacy for the Democratic party today, particularly given, It’s a short question
with a long answer but, – Short question (laughing) but thank you for asking
that question about 1970 because whenever I give
a lecture, post 1970, whenever I give a lecture about this, I talk about that at great length. In some ways, that period
when he returned to the Senate which he called “My resurrection,” Gene McCarthy dropped out in 1970. Humphrey ran for that
seat, won it overwhelmingly and won it again in 1976. He made major contributions to the Senate and I’ll give you just three. One was what you touched on,
the Humphrey-Hawkins bill, the Full Employment and
Balanced Growth bill in which jobs, jobs, jobs was
the issue then, as it is now. Humphrey introduced legislation in 1974 that was eventually passed
just after he died in 1978 which provided that the Federal
Government was responsible for promoting full employment
and balanced growth and preventing inflation. Originally, that legislation said that a job is a civil right and that one has the
right to sue for a job if you are an able bodied
citizen seeking work and cannot get it, and it is
the government’s obligation to budget for that by
massive public works program and so forth. That legislation was watered down so that what was to be a right became, not a mandate, but a goal. It’s the government’s goal
to create full employment, the government’s goal
to hold back inflation but the Full Employment
Balanced Growth Act was really recognition of
Humphrey’s expansive view of civil rights. Civil rights meant, not
just the right to vote, but it meant the right
to a safe neighborhood, a good education, a job,
and a job at a fair wage. That was his view of civil rights and he combined with Hawkins, the founder of the Black
Congressional Caucus, representative from California to push that legislation through. They watered it down and Jimmy, Kai Bird is writing a
biography of Jimmy Carter so I don’t want to spoil
his book (Kai laughs) but Jimmy Carter really didn’t
want to spend the money. He didn’t want the government
to be in hock for that, so he saw to it that the
bill was watered down, but I understand. The other thing, he was dying
of cancer in ’77 into ’78. Two things that he did. He died January 13th 1978. The first week of 1978,
Jimmy Carter called him up and he said to him, “My Panama Canal treaty
isn’t gonna make it. “Goldwater’s young hawks
are ripping the bill “and they won’t pass the treaty. “Hubert, you’ve got to get
Goldwater to call off his hawks.” He’s dying. He’s got like five days to live. He’s dying. He calls Goldwater and tells him to get his hawks to back off,
and Goldwater’s response was, “For you Hubert. Only for you,” and they got that treaty through. The second thing, and this was literally
two days before he died, Carter calls him again when he’s out at his home
in Waverly, Minnesota and he said, “Menachem Begin
is giving me all kinds of fits. “I’m trying to get the Begin-Sadat talks, “the Egyptian-Israeli talks, “it’d be the first ones in history, “I’m trying to get them
to come to the U.S. “and I’ll take them to Camp
David and we’ll do something. “You’ve got to tell
Begin to give in and come “and stop throwing up so many,” He pens a letter that they
delivered to Begin, dying. I think it got to him the
day before he died, a letter, “Menachem, you gotta do it. “Please back off.” He did. There’s a man literally dying and he still is doing the
work for his President that he thinks needs to be done. He’s tremendously courageous and decent. – Arnie, I can’t resist
interrupting, but of course, two weeks before this,
three weeks before this, Jimmy Carter invites Hubert
Humphrey to Camp David and it’s extraordinary actually, because Hubert’s never been to Camp David – Johnson never had him.
– Johnson never allowed it. – Never had him. – But Jimmy Carter decided. He heard that Humphrey had
a desire to see Camp David and they spent a weekend up
there and the had long chats and Carter actually really
deeply admired Humphrey going back decades, but anyway. Rusty. [Rusty] Congratulations (Arnold laughs) on this great project. – This is Rusty Eisenberg, who’s a colleague of
mine in the profession and the Society for
Historians of American Foreign and who wrote some withering critiques of some of the chapters I sent her, but it’s okay, Rusty, and who, when my friends at Yukon when I wrote a book on Truman, they imported Rusty to tear it apart in front of a large audience.
– That’s not true. – Go ahead Rusty,
– But actually, – [Rusty] Thank you for
this big introduction and here’s a fact you don’t know, which was that in junior
high school, in 1960, we pretended we were
choosing the President, and I was Hubert Humphrey
(everyone laughs) and amazingly, I lost to John Obsavis who lost to John Kennedy but before we get too enthusiastic
about Hubert Humphrey, I actually have a question which
is, and I’m really not sure that what I’m asking about is correct, but my impression, because
I’m writing about Nixon, is that during those Nixon years, that Humphrey really
goes way out of his way to contact Kissinger and
others in the Nixon White House to make it clear that
he wants to help them with their Vietnam problem, and again I’ve seen over you sprinkle through the records so I don’t feel like it’s the last word on that at all but that
really is my impression that it’s not just that Johnson was sitting on him or anything else, but in these years when
he had every ability to do something different, he went out of his way to
let the Nixon people feel he would help them. – He did, and I think
you have to understand, and it may be hard because I’m not sure, I like to think I’m fairly
goodhearted but Humphrey, he was so willing to extend himself and be forgiving of others
and as far as he was, I mean Kissinger was, I don’t want to get
started on Henry Kissinger because if anybody was filled of duplicity and betrayed no one, Henry Kissenger, the massive bombing of
Vietnam, war crimes, but he really wanted Nixon
to be able to end the war, and of course Kissinger had
been negotiating with Johnson, negotiating with Nixon, Humphrey even thought he was so smart he might make him his
National Security Advisor and he wanted to reach out. He wanted the war to come to an end. He dearly wanted it, and if that meant working
with Nixon to get it done or working with Nixon through
Kissinger to get it done, so be it, he would do it. It may be a goodheartedness
that some of us, I couldn’t share, but that was Humphrey. He was a bleeding heart in some ways, I hate to use the term
like that, but he was and that explains his
willingness, his goodness. When Nixon got impeached
and everybody was saying, “It was terrible that Ford pardoned him,” and they were having these arguments, “The guy should go to
jail, not be pardoned,” et cetera, et cetera, Humphrey said, “Losing the
Presidency is punishment enough. “What greater punishment
could you inflict on anyone “but taking the Presidency from,” That’s the way he was. He was too goodhearted in some ways and he didn’t protect himself
enough because of that, which isn’t to say he wasn’t
ambitious et cetera, et cetera, but there was too much
goodheartedness there in a world that isn’t that goodhearted. – [Audience Member] You mentioned that when Nixon was getting involved
with talking with Vietnam and Johnson really didn’t
pursue the Logan Act although it seemed like
Nixon was violating that, how do you compare that
to today with John Kerry getting involved, seemingly, with Iran, going behind and over and above? – It’s always very questionable, Oh god, I wish I hadn’t
mentioned the Logan Act. Look, it was passed in 1799. It had to do with the war in
Europe and American involvement choosing between Britain and France and the Logan act basically
says that it’s illegal for anyone to engage in
foreign policy actions which conflict with the policy
of the federal government. People do it all the time and
nobody invokes the Logan Act, so John Kerry’s doing what he’s doing. Everybody does that all the time. – [Audience Member] So
it’s not prosecutable by… – It would be very hard. I mean, I’m not a lawyer, happily, but,
(other member speaks off mic) I’m sorry? (other member speaks off mic) but it doesn’t matter. If you’re a civilian and
do it, it’s the same thing. (other member speaks off mic) Very little probably. (other member speaks off mic) Well, yes, as a presidential nominee you’re really in a different position. – [Audience member] But let’s not forget that Kerry was Secretary
of State, so he has some – One could bring the charge. I don’t know that anybody
would be prosecuted for it in a serious way. – [Audience member] I’m
wondering if Senator Humphrey, Vice President Humphrey,
ever had a feeling that as a bleeding heart, a man trying to stop war, and so on, and we’ve had so many of
them, including Obama, – Bleeding hearts, or wars, or both? – [Audience member] People
trying to end the permanent war. Did Humphrey ever have a feeling we’d have a permanent war party? – Did he ever? – [Audience member] Did
he sense that America had a permanent war party that’s going on? And second, probably a
little less important, does he know where Jimmy Hoffa is buried? (everyone laughs) – He might. I don’t know. You’d have to ask one of the
Daley boys where Jimmy Hoffa is but, no, Humphrey was a Cold War liberal, believed we did all the right
things in Korea and et cetera, took a hard line versus the Soviet Union with the Marshall Plan
and the Truman Doctrine, so he had no qualms about that at all. Please. – [Audience member] – Yes,
could you comment a little bit about Humphrey’s relationship
with Eugene McCarthy, they overlapped in the
senate, I think for 12 years, and how they got along personally and the political divide between them. Also, Humphrey’s relationship
with Robert Kennedy through the Kennedy administration and up until the campaign, and finally, you haven’t talked about the ’72 and ’76 campaign,
because he ran in ’72 of course. I’d like to just hear your take on that. – He shouldn’t have (laughs) – [Audience member] He shouldn’t have, Yeah, that’s what I
wanted to ask you about. And in ’76 he almost entered the race, I think in April or so,
and then he declined. – Let me just deal with the question of Humphrey and McCarthy. Gene McCarthy was a
protege of Hubert Humphrey, in fact, one of the things about Humphrey, aside from his long record of legislation, if you think about the proteges, the people who he nurtured politically. Gene McCarthy, Orville Freeman, Representative Donald Fraser. They were all his people who grew, and Walter Mondale, thank you. Of course, Walter Mondale. These were all people, well,
Fraser came from Wisconsin, these were all people who came up largely through the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party and they all worked for Humphrey in his first campaign for senate in 1948. His relationship with Gene McCarthy, like Gene McCarthy’s relationship with the rest of the
world, was ambivalent. McCarthy was an incredibly proud, ambitious in a funny way, he didn’t want to do the work but he wanted what comes out
of the ambition to come to him and he was distant and aloof and as we all know, he
liked poetry and so forth as much or more than politics. In 1964, Humphrey’s primary rival for the nomination for Vice
President was Gene McCarthy. Gene McCarthy’s wife Abigail was the best friend of Lady Bird Johnson, and as Lady Bird told Abigail, “Gene is my first choice
for Vice President “and Lyndon knows that,” and Gene McCarthy wanted
that Vice Presidency badly. In fact, Lyndon Johnson, cruel SOB, insisted that Gene McCarthy
fly his entire family to the convention in ’64, and he said he wanted both
men, Humphrey and McCarthy, up on the stage when he
announced his decision. Of course, McCarthy didn’t
get it, and he wrote, “That bastard! I’m going to get even.” Some people suggest he got even in ’68. I’m not sure it was quite that simple but McCarthy wanted the Vice Presidency. He was ambitious. He would have taken it. I don’t know what would
have happened historically if that had worked out. Maybe Humphrey would
have challenged Johnson in the primary in ’68. I don’t know, but it was an ambivalent relationship. It was ambivalent. They were close but distant and McCarthy had no
interest in legislation. None! There are no McCarthy bills. He just didn’t, and he voted with the
Southern conservatives to preserve the oil depletion allowance and they wanted Lyndon to pick him in ’64, so he was indifferent to a lot of things and a lot of people. (audience member speaking off microphone) – Robert Kennedy. Obviously they were
strong political rivals, but Humphrey believed,
and I think he was right, that much as he an Bobby really fought, and fought bitterly during ’68 when Bobby was not quite running and then when Bobby was running, they differed bitterly
over Vietnam in early ’68. It was a respectful but
bitterly rivalrous relationship. They respected one another as people who stood for something,
worked for something, and took a position devil take the hindmost, and Humphrey always believed,
I don’t know if he’s right, but he always believed
that if Bobby had lived, and he said, “We had an agreement. “Whoever wins in Chicago in ’68, this is obviously before Bobby is killed on June 6th in California, “whoever wins is going to
work for the other one.” And he said that, and he said “If Bobby had lived, he
would have worked for me, “he would have brought his people over. “I could have won.” And of course Humphrey did seek to bring Ted Kennedy onto the ticket. Twice he pleaded with him. He made two secret trips out
to his house and asked him to be his Vice Presidential
running mate in ’68, and the Democratic internal polling showed that if it was a Humphrey
Teddy Kennedy ticket, they would beat Nixon and Agnew. If he didn’t have Teddy on the ticket, it was gonna be exactly
what it turned out to be. A horse race to the very end. (audience member speaking off microphone) – He shouldn’t have run in ’72 but he did. He should not have run. (audience member speaking off microphone) Well, it was why not run,
but the party had moved on. It’s a little bit like
the Democratic party now. The younger people had taken over. They stood for different things. They weren’t as social welfare oriented. They were budget cutters in a lot of ways. But it was a younger, more vibrant group, and Humphrey was seen as
part of the older gaud, and he should not have entered
the race in ’72 When he did. His debates in California
were not good and he really, it was not right. He should not have
entered that race in ’72 and he considered it in ’76 and he backed out at the very last minute, just before the deadline for
the last primary in New Jersey, where if anybody was gonna stop Carter, it had to be in the New Jersey primary, and I forgot the date, it was April that the deadline came up and everybody was pushing him
to run against Jimmy Carter and Humphrey said, “I can’t. “It’s ridiculous. “I can’t do it. “I’m not going to do it. “The last thing I need
at this stage of my life “is to look ridiculous,” and so he dropped out and didn’t. And Carter made quite a few
nasty comments about Hubert. I think he said something
like, “I’ll whip his ass,” or something like that, “if he comes in.” But, you know, that’s politics and you have to take
it for what it’s worth and move on from there, but he definitely should
not have run in ’72 or tried to run in ’72. – [Audience Member] Arnie,
given that it’s politics, – I’m sorry? – [Audience Member]
Given that it’s politics, and given that Humphrey
was a very nice person sort of underneath, but given that Lyndon
Johnson ruined his life, did he ever forgive Johnson? – I don’t think he ever hated Lyndon or held it against him that much. He knew what Johnson had
done but he did not express any especial anger or venom for what LBJ had done, and when he spoke at the dedication of the Lyndon Johnson Library,
he did what you might expect. He talked about the Great
Society and the programs that Johnson had helped
to pass through Congress, et cetera, et cetera. So, he had no particular bitterness. If he did, I don’t know, he hid it inside. He buried a lot of stuff. He buried it, I think. There was no venom in him. Maybe he needed some
but there was no venom. No, he didn’t hate Johnson. Maybe he should have. I would have (everyone laughs)
but that’s another issue. – One more question? Well, on that note. – Just let me add one word. There’s one thing that
Hubert Humphrey said that, at least for me, stands out. It was in 1957 when he had
nothing but hard knocks and rocks from all the Southerners over civil rights and his bills that always
were being beaten back. He faced the Congress in ’57, the Democratic controlled Congress right after the ’56 election and Humphrey said, “I am
a liberal without apology “and I’m only sorry that
I’m not more liberal.” I think in some ways
that summarizes his life. It’s the way I think about it. I wanted the title of the book to be “Liberal Without Apology,” but they said, “No, no. Not today. “Wrong time. (everyone laughs) “Not today.” But, I think that’s where he stood and I salute him for that. With all his faults,
I salute him for that. Kai, I’m done. – [Kai] Thank you! (audience applauds)

One thought on “Arnold Offner on Hubert Humphrey in Conversation with Kai Bird, Oct 3, 2018, the Graduate Center

  1. I took several courses with Prof. Offner while at BU in 1975-1976. He was always simply mesmerizing, and attracted many non-history majors to his classes. It's so heartwarming to see and hear him again. He hasn't missed a step!

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