Today’s writers have to admit that past investigative journalists (Woodward, Bernstein, and others) who went after President Richard Nixon after the Watergate break-in have a bit of irony to live with today. In a classic law of unintended consequences, since Gerald R. Ford’s Presidency, historians and journalists have been denied the fascination of looking back at an Administration’s legacy by listening to oval office audio tapes. The zealousness of attacking Nixon and forcing his resignation has deprived journalists and authors of pulling back the curtains to see how the White House brokers exercise power.
I write about this because of the current story in the headlines concerning President Lyndon Johnson’s latest audio tape release that shows how Johnson dealt with President Nixon’s perceived interference with the Vietnam peace talks before the 1968 Democratic Convention and Presidential Election. The tapes reveal that Johnson knew that Nixon used a proxy to approach the South Vietnam ambassador to tell him to hold off on accepting peace terms from the Johnson administration because he could get them a better deal. Johnson ultimately decided not to make this public due to security issues but did tell candidate Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who never used the information thinking that he had the election won.
It’s a fascinating bit of history in a long line of Presidential audio tapes. The history of audio tapes recording power broker meetings in the oval offices dates back to 1940. President Franklin Roosevelt got the tape rolling in a word and every President until Nixon used it since that time. The total hours for these audio tapes amounts to just under 5000, recording for history telephone conversations and meetings from both political parties. President John Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon were prolific in their use of the audio recordings. A discussion concerning what is on those tapes is for another day. Look at what the media and learning institutions could have been pouring over with a critical eye if audio recordings would have continued. Journalists and lawyers won the battle but lost the war. They proved a point that politics is a dirty business but at the same time they short-changed history. Because of what happened to Nixon, no President since has wanted to put himself in that kind of situation by having that kind of evidence used against him. And for good reason, since Nixon, gotcha journalism has ruled the headlines in addition to 24/7 television and internet media outlets. There’s an empty space everyday that media professionals have to fill.
If not for Nixon’s poor decisions and paranoia, the media and lawyers working the circumstances, today’s writers, authors and college professors would have been analyzing and listening to meetings and phone conversations detailing a number of historical events. I am not saying that Nixon was without fault, but as a historian it is regrettable that major events are not on tape for others to analyze today. Reading someone’s words is not the same as hearing a President or Chief of Staff or Cabinet member at the moment with the personality that comes with speaking the words. One only has to listen to President Johnson’s tapes to understand that.
These are just of a few events lost to history.
President Ford-The Nixon pardon, the national recovery from Nixon’s resignation, the economic recovery, the Middle East peace process, the 1976 Election.
An argument could be made that if Nixon wasn’t forced to turn over the audio tapes, there never would have been a Ford Administration.
President Reagan-The Grenada Invasion, the Cold War strategy, and disarmament talks, the Berlin Wall Speech, the 1984 Election, The Libyan Bombing, The Economic Recovery, The Space Shuttle Disaster, the 1988 Election.
President Clinton-The 1992 Election, The David Koresh Waco disaster, the ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, The Somalia Conflict, the Haitian support operation, Osama Bin Laden, the first terrorist attack on the twin towers, the 1996 election, the 2000 election.
President George Bush-The 2000 Election, 9/11 Terrorist Attack, the Afghanistan Invasion, The Iraqi Invasion, Osama Bin Laden strategy, the defense build-up and strategy, the 2004 Election, the Financial Crisis, the 2008 Election, Hurricane Katrina.
President Obama-The 2008 Election, the economic crisis, the Osama Bin Laden decision, the gun control issue, the 2012 Election.
Those are just a few events from each President since Nixon. There are several more topics that would have been enlightening if there would have been an audio recorder in the Oval Office. The point is, due to past events, we, the public, have missed out on many behind the scenes decisions. The curtain remains forever closed where the great and powerful work behind.
The Presidents of the United States have been in office during the successful years and the difficult times. There are websites devoted to the men who served in the office and what words they have spoken while occupying the position. The following are the most intriguing quotes from these men and what I think they wanted to say to the American people. This post is a subjective exercise. I am listing the ones that impress me.
He was pointing out that most men have a price. When someone is prepared to give the highest bounty you have asked, few men or women can say “no.” The historical record is littered with people who have compromised their integrity for money, power and influence. Most have paid a price of some kind in either loss of reputations, loss of wealth or loss of freedom and sometimes all three.
2. “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have. “ Gerald Ford
This is perfect quote that demonstrates how government can take on a human dynamic. A government that is big enough to provide you with everything you need or desire can also use power to take those things away and then some. Most communist or socialist governments try to provide their citizens what they need but in exchange the society is forced to relinquish freedoms, like free press, free movement within boundaries, rights to privacy and slanted judgments within the judicial system. 3. “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit. “ Harry S Truman
Every program manager and leader in America should have this hanging on the wall somewhere. If one person decides that their ego is above a certain goal, then accomplishing a goal just got that much more difficult. The tough part is getting a team to “buy in” to that idea. It is fine to deliver kudos and credit afterwards. That is what capitalism is all about. However, if you want to get somewhere fast, then build a team with one thought in mind and that is delivering an excellent product on time and within budget. Today’s congress, state and local governments should take a lesson from this. 4. “As man draws nearer to the stars, why should he not also draw nearer to his neighbors?” Lyndon Johnson
Despite President Johnson’s intentions it seems that technology has pulled us away from each other. He is right. Just because we have all of this technology for our benefit doesn’t mean we as American’s can’t take time to get to know neighbors at home or strangers on the subway. He also might be speaking about getting to know America’s neighbors in the world, as in making an effort to know other countries cultures.
5. “Democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. “ Ronald Reagan
President Reagan nailed it. Democracy in action may have its faults but it is the most effective and successful form of government produced by people. There are many forms of democracy but any shade of it is much more effective than an autocracy, theocracy, monarchy or oligarchy.
6.”The middle of the road is all of the usable surface. The extremes, right and left, are in the gutters.” Dwight D. Eisenhower
This piece of wisdom is perfect for today’s political climate. Extremes are where nothing ever gets done. There has to be some compromise so people can move forward and not let their goals end up stalled in a ditch somewhere. It’s easy to be inflexible. It is much more difficult to find common ground with your ideological opposite.
7. “True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made. “ Franklin D. Roosevelt
If you want capitalism and democracy, you have to make it work. As the late, former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neal used to say “All politics is local.” A politician can deliver and distribute many loft ideas about how government should operate. To most people striving to make a living and take care of their families, the measure of success is: Do I have a JOB? How much am I paying for gas? Can I afford groceries this month? Can I live comfortably and can I retire? If you don’t have these, then you have people willing to change the system to something else, like a dictatorship.
8. “Our problems are man-made; therefore they may be solved by man. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. “ John F. Kennedy
President Kennedy had one trait that makes great leaders, “A can do spirit.” He was saying, what we destroy we can rebuild. What we break, we can fix. What problems we create, we can solve. Everything that is around us was built, engineered, and invented by man. So with this in mind, he states, that man can solve these problems through the continuing ingenuity of man.
9. “People ask the difference in a leader and a boss. The leader leads and the boss drives. “
President Roosevelt states here that real leaders motivate people. A boss drives or “works” his people through fear or intimidation. Leading and motivating people will get you to your goal a lot sooner. This, of course, is a lot more difficult to put into practice. Some people learn it, some just have it, and others never learn the lesson.
What quote do you like? Leave a suggestion and tell me why?
Why the “Top Eight?” Because there are too many “Top Ten” lists published on the web today. If you can’t say what you have on your mind in eight then don’t even try to strain your wrists typing, I say. This is a fast paced, take no prisoners culture we live in. My contribution is to save you some time by eliminating two places on the list. With that stated, I know people have many decisions that need to made throughout the day. Here are my most influential decisions that changed America’s destiny.
The document states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” These are just words until people back it up by putting names to it. I consider this to be the most significant of decisions because it was made by a group of founding fathers that put the country on a course toward separation from England and the monarchy. Fifty six people signed the document including two future presidents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Benjamin Franklin at 70 years was the oldest to sign. John Hancock was the most famous. Several other lesser-known signers had just as much to lose, if not more, by signing the document. Many authors have penned various reasons why this group signed the declaration. Some did it for freedom, others for business and financial incentives, and still others signed it because they were aware they were creating something that would last through the centuries Signing the declaration achieved several purposes. The declaration moved the colonies in the direction towards independence. And as a bonus, it agitated the British even more. If the declaration wasn’t signed, the colonies may have eventually won its freedom from England but it might have taken many more years and the results may not have been as generous.
2.The decision to pass and sign the Civil Rights Act. Most citizens are aware of, and some even remember, the 1964 civil right acts signed by President Lyndon Johnson. President Johnson used some of his trademark Johnson charm to get it passed through the legislature. It continued what Congress started years earlier. Congress passed the original civil rights act in 1866 and it declares that, “all persons shall have the same rights…to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws…” This was followed by the 14th Amendment in 1868 that stated, “”All persons born or naturalized in the US…are citizens…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person…the equal protection of the laws.” This led to the 19th Amendment, passed in 1920, giving people the right to vote regardless of sex.
President Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act that provided more rights. These, among others, are, “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion. Prohibits public access discrimination, leading to school desegregation.” The 1866 Civil Rights Act started America down the righteous path toward true equality..
3. The decision to secede from the union. This is more of a collective decision by several powerful people. The Southern states’ decision to secede from the union produced a chain of events that eventually led to the abolishment of slavery, a stronger Federal Government, General William T. Sherman’s march through the south, and finally, the actual end of the Southern slave holding culture. According to most civil war scholars, at the end of the war, Americans began referring to themselves as being from the “United” States rather than from a particular state such as Virginia or New York. If secession hadn’t happened, it could be argued the South would have negotiated to retain some of their states rights and kept slavery in tact. Instead, southern leaders voted for secession and lost their way of life.
4. The decision to buy the Louisiana Territory. America’s RV enthusiasts wouldn’t get the thrill of driving across the fruited plane today if it hadn’t been for Thomas Jefferson taking advantage of Napoleon’s urge to conquer Europe on a shoestring budget.
At 3 cents an acre, Thomas Jefferson struck a great real estate deal at 15 million dollars for more than 800,000 acres in 1803. The deal covers what is now Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and parts of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico, Texas, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and two Canadian provinces. What is intriguing about the deal is that President Jefferson originally intended for the team of James Monroe and Robert Livingston to just purchase the Port of New Orleans from France for 10 million dollars. However, Napoleon Bonaparte wanted to limit England’s influence in America and he needed money to refill his government coffers after his wars. For these reasons, he offered the Jefferson team the whole territory for 5 million more. Sometimes the stars align and a business deal just falls into place.
5. The decision by President Truman to use the Atom Bomb.
The diplomacy game changed when the United States used the Atomic Bomb to end WWII. It was the first time a weapon of that magnitude and it let the world’s leaders know that the US government would use this type of weapon if needed to end a War. On the negative side, the development and use of the Atomic Bomb began the build up of globally destructive warheads. This was a cloud that future generations had to live under while growing up. President Harry S.Truman wasn’t even given the knowledge that the bomb was being built until he was sworn into the office. That was kept secret from him by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, most likely due to “need to know” security procedures. Before the bomb was used, the Japanese proved to the world they would not surrender easily. The Battle of Okinawa, an island south of the mainland, proved to President Truman and the military that the Japanese military upper hiearchy would fight to the end to save their empire and their culture. The fact that the US had to use two bombs tells us that fact. President Truman didn’t take the decision lightly.He thought about the repurcussions for days. Once he made the decision though, he never second-guessed himself.
6. The decision to serve only two terms by President Washington.
President George Washington set an important precedent by stepping down after two terms as the Chief Executive. Future Presidents followed his decision to leave office after two terms despite nothing being written in the Constitution about the subject.. President Thomas Jefferson served two terms as the third President but chose to step down voluntarily. This verified the tradition. It didn’t become an issue until President Grant thought about serving a third term. Congress denounced the idea because it broke with the tradition set by Washington. He, however, stood ready to be drafted in 1875 and 1880 but the republican convention chose other candidates. President Franklin Roosevelt ultimately broke the tradition by serving a third term in 1940 due to the onset of WWII. He was elected in 1944 but didn’t finish his fourth term. Afterwards, Congress passed the 22nd Amendment limiting the President to two terms with an exemption for the current President Truman. Truman declined to run for a third term. Congress introduced bills to repeal the 22nd Amendment during President Ronald Reagan’s term and while President Bill Clinton was in office but they both failed to pass the legislative branch. President Washington was wary of monarchies and dictatorships so his stepping down after 8 years in 1797 was a product of that thinking. Besides he was tired of the criticism brought on by the office and wanted to retire to Mount Vernon. .
7. The decision to fund the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways bill. The nation’s highways as we know them today began in 1938 with the passing of the Federal Highway Act. It called for a toll based 26,700-mile interregional highway network with three highways running south to north and three more running east to west. In the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944, the Congress acted on these recommendations. The act called for “designation of a National System of Interstate Highways, to include up to 40,000 miles “… so located, as to connect by routes, direct as practical, the principal metropolitan areas, cities, and industrial centers, to serve the National Defense, and to connect at suitable points.” These acts didn’t specifically spell out how the system would be funded so the construction was slow. Here’s where President Eisenhower comes in. He led a team that figured out how to fund the highway system to build highways as the citizens of the United States know them today. The Department of Transportation documents make it clear that The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1952 authorized the first funding specifically for system construction. Under President Eisenhower, the system funding was created so it wouldn’t increase the federal budget much. This is where the vehicle tax and gas tax enter the picture. With the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 it increased the system’s proposed length to 41,000 miles. From there we have several highways running west to east and north to south, with the longest running highway being I-90 at 3020.54 miles from Boston, Mass., to Seattle, Washington. The highway system has aided interstate commerce as well as the tourism industry. It has provided a means for families and individuals to view the landscape of the United States as well as being the catalyst for many a sibling feud in backseats.
8. The decision to Land on the Moon. The decision to explore space and reach to other worlds began with the Eisenhower administration and the Mercury program. The goal became focused when President Kennedy gave a speech on May 25th, 1961 to a special joint session of congress and stated the goal of sending an American safely to moon and return to earth before the end of the decade.
Much of the decision involved cold war politics with the Soviet Union but also healthy dose of American bravado spirit. However, Kennedy consulted with his vice president and the NASA chief and determined that the US had a good chance of beating the Soviets to moon. The space program created many benefits that people use today. The advancement in electronics and computers ushered in solid-state electronics. In addition to these developments, according to NASA’s official government website, insulation technology developed by NASA engineers is used for thermal blankets. These are just some of the many benefits the space program has yielded since its inception. Finally, Americans could boast that we were the first to land on the moon but in the name of “mankind” of course.
These are my top eight decisions. I am sure there are people who disagree. It was tough just to narrow it down to eight. Let me know your top eight. .