and the Transformation of American Politics (2017)
Despite mutual suspicion, unity on the Peace Plank held up generally, and there was hope that the anti-war Democrats could force it on Humphrey. Humphrey knew that he needed to move away from LBJ on Vietnam in order to distance himself to show that he was his “own man”. Humphrey showed LBJ the most recent draft of his position on Vietnam, and LBJ really let Humphrey have it, and the Vice-President left the White House humiliated. Humphrey gave the paper to David Ginsburg to “fix” while telling no one about his conversation with LBJ. The next day LBJ met with Nixon. LBJ believed that Nixon, far more than Humphrey, would continue his policies in Vietnam. LBJ needed to keep Nixon from promising a permanent halt to the bombing; after all, why would North Vietnam negotiate if they could just wait for the next President.
LBJ told Nixon that Humphrey was “under control”, and that information alone made Nixon’s visit to the White House more than worthwhile. The deal LBJ floated was that Nixon wouldn’t push for a bombing halt and would keep from directly criticizing LBJ as long as LBJ didn’t make any moves towards arriving at a resolution in terms of negotiations without informing Nixon. But LBJ kept the deepest secret of all from both Nixon and Humphrey: the President believed that he was on the verge of a breakthrough in negotiations after receiving a secret message from the Soviet Premier, Alexei Kosygin (who in effect shared power with Leonid Brezhnev). Kosygin informed LBJ that if the US stopped the bombing, the USSR would convince North Vietnam to agree to all three of LBJ’s conditions. LBJ believed that the USSR had the necessary leverage to convince North Vietnam to do so in that 80% of its war supplies came from the Soviet Union . . . LBJ dared to think about “Peace With Honor”. But Nixon was keeping a secret of his own about Vietnam, which wouldn’t be fully revealed until long after his death.
In 1968, no other government on the planet had a greater interest in the US Presidential Election than South Vietnam. Nixon wanted South Vietnam to keep him up to to date about any developments concerning the talks in Paris; both Nixon and South Vietnam feared the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam. Nixon didn’t want any progress towards ending the war before the election, since that development would only be to his disadvantage. As far as the government of South Vietnam was concerned, their whole existence depended on US troops remaining in their nation.
While the Democrats debated on the Peace Plank and the platform, Nixon told South Vietnam to hold out on the talks since they would get a better deal with him as President. Nixon had to keep his plan secret since he was breaking a law. Since 1799, the Logan Act prohibited private US citizens from negotiating with a foreign nation on behalf of the US. Nixon was more-than-comfortable committing the “Perfect Crime” to win the Presidency; not only did he know more US soldiers would be killed/wounded by his delaying tactics, but he also knew that LBJ would not blow the whistle on his shenanigans. If LBJ accused Nixon of violating the Logan Act, then LBJ would have to admit how he came about that knowledge, which would lead to admitting that the US had wiretapped embassies.
The Chairman of the Platform Committee was Congressman Hale Boggs (LA), the House Majority Whip and an LBJ man, and Boggs wanted to bury the Peace Plank. On 19 August 1968, the hearings in front of the Platform Committee started, and Boggs told Ginsburg that he wanted the Peace Plank to be what Humphrey wanted. Humphrey asked Senator Edmund Muskie (ME) to represent him at the Platform Committee, and also there were Senators McGovern and Fulbright in order to show a strong presence of the party’s Establishment. About 40 of the 100 members of the Platform Committee were ready to support a Peace Plank, which meant that the least that should happen was that a minority report for the Peace Plank would be presented to the delegates on the floor and a vote would be taken. If the 40 or so on the Platform Committee could get Humphrey to join them, then the Peace Plank would be part of the majority position on the Democratic Party Platform. The next day LBJ called Nixon and coached him on what to say about criticizing the Peace Plank, hoping it would weaken the position of those in support.
The naked aggression of the USSR in Czechoslovakia hit the Peace Plank supporters hard in that most voters now saw them as out of tune idealists at best, or at worst, appeasers. McCarthy’s reaction to the USSR aggression was soft and didn’t help the Peace Plank coalition at all. On 22 August 1968, four days before the convention started, the Platform Committee moved to Chicago. Chairman Boggs continued to throw up roadblocks and the level of confidence eroded among the members of the Peace Plank coalition. The coalition started to fall apart and the hearing in front of the Platform Committee became a fractured free-for-all.
The outcome was a mix of compromises that called for a halt to the unconditional bombing, and a government in South Vietnam that would recognize (and even include) the Viet Cong. Now it came down to whether or not Humphrey would be in support of the patchwork of compromises. After meeting with LBJ, Boggs became convinced that a Peace Plank would cost more US soldiers’ lives, and finally Humphrey realized that LBJ was still in complete control of not only the convention, but also the Democratic Party. The Platform Committee had 65 votes for LBJ’s Vietnam plank at 35 votes for the Peace Plank, which meant both would be brought to the convention floor for a vote by the assembled delegates.