But now the tapes are out, and it’s no longer deniable, even though the Atlantic writer Connor Simpson tries to soft-pedal it: Richard M. Nixon committed treason — and condemned several million Vietnamese and American troops to be maimed and killed over the next six years — just so he could win the 1968 presidential election:
In previously released tapes from Johnson’s Presidency, we had heard about Johnson having substantial body of evidence showing Nixon had schemed to keep the South Vietnamese away from the negotiating table at the 1968 Paris peace talks. Like Nixon, Johnson had recored all of his conversations held inside the White House. Nixon was accused or dispatching Anna Chennault, a senior advisor, to convince the South Vietnamese they would get a better deal if they didn’t agree to a peace deal until after the U.S. Presidential election. Chennault confirmed she spoke with the Vietnamese in her autobiography, The Education of Anna, but nothing more than that. If true, the charge would likely amount to treason.
Why did Johnson not act on the knowledge — publicly, at any rate? (He had already confronted Nixon on it privately.) Because it might have, among other things, damaged the nation’s security:
Johnson also passed along a note to Nixon’s opponent, Democrat Hubert Humphrey. The Democratic campaign found out just days before the election, though, and decided they were close enough in the polls to not release the information. A treason accusation could potentially damage the country’s security, they thought, before Humphrey lost a narrow election. Hindsight is 20/20, others say.
Or, as the BBC’s story — which is far better than the Atlantic’s — states:
The president did let Humphrey know and gave him enough information to sink his opponent. But by then, a few days from the election, Humphrey had been told he had closed the gap with Nixon and would win the presidency. So Humphrey decided it would be too disruptive to the country to accuse the Republicans of treason, if the Democrats were going to win anyway.
While it is indisputable that 1968 was a year of turmoil — the assassinations of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy being large parts thereof — and it is understandable that LBJ and Humphrey would not have wanted to shake up an already-unstable nation, there is a temptation to indulge in hindsight.
For one thing, hindsight tells us that keeping Nixon out of the White House by exposing him as a traitor would have almost certainly stopped, or at the very least seriously hindered, the efforts of Nixon’s Big Business patrons to undo the New Deal. 1968 was barely twenty years after the end of World War II, and there were a number of people still alive who remembered quite well how Republicans and conservative business titans tried to topple President Franklin Delano Roosevelt by coup and later tried to sabotage his actions against Nazi Germany. With Nixon down in flames and taking the GOP with him, the Vietnam War would have ended much sooner than otherwise would have happened (sparing a few million Vietnamese and Americans from maiming and death), and the conservative cause, which would now be associated with repeated instances of treason and sedition, would have been thrown into such deep shade that it would have taken twenty years for it to recover. Reagan would never have become president, much less rolled back both taxes on the rich and the social safety net that Roosevelt and Johnson had created. We would have been far less likely to ever again go to war at Corporate America’s behest.
America, and probably the world, would have been much better off.
Crossposted to Mercury Rising.