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Interview with Raymond K. (Raymond Kissam) Price, 1982

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Summary
Raymond K. Price, Jr. was an assistant to and speechwriter for President Nixon. He speaks about the 1968 campaign, focusing primarily on Hubert Humphrey and the role that Vietnam played in Nixon’s victory. He details Nixon’s reaction to the demonstrations and the administration’s strategy for dealing with public opinion while taking a hard line approach to North Vietnam. Mr. Price concludes with commentary about the abolishment of the draft system and the effects of the Watergate scandal on the outcomes of the Vietnam War.
Topics
Presidents--Press coverage, United States--Foreign relations--Asia, Presidents--Election, Campaign speeches, United States--History--1945-, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Public opinion, Democracy, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Protest movements--United States, Political cartoons, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Personal narratives, American, Presidents--Messages, Demonstrations--United States, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Cambodia, Higher education and state--United States, Intellectuals--United States, Vice-Presidents--United States, Draft, Watergate Affair, 1972-1974, Vietnam Moratorium, 1969, United States--Politics and government, Republican Party (U.S. : 1854- )
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Transcript

The 1968 presidential race

RAY PRICE
INTERVIEW
This will be Take eight. Deane. That's the gentleman's name.
Beep. Eight.
Interviewer:
We’ll start off with um the approach to the war issue in the 1968 campaign and uh Nixon not talking much about it during that time. Could you describe that?
Price:
In 1968 ah everybody knew that the war was going to be the big issue. We didn't know how it was going to cut or how it was going to play. It was one that we didn't think was going to be particularly helpful to us especially at first, ah, but ah and something you couldn't prepare for. What Nixon tried to do essentially was to suggest ah without being too specific to suggest that ah he would be able to handle the war better than Johnson could at first, and ah later when Johnson dropped out of the race than Humphrey could.
He also at the same time, as he did later in his presidency, he tried to put the war in a broader perspective. He started this back in 1967 with a later celebrated ah article for Foreign Affairs "Asia After Vietnam" in which he looked at all of Asia and all of the world generally and tried to to ah tried to make people look, not just at Vietnam, but beyond Vietnam. And during the campaign he tried to do that as well. Ah. The ahm Tet, of course, changed the politics ah of of the war as as an issue. Tet which was a military victory for the US but a political relations disaster for the US ah also created a a a sort of defeatist attitude and made it made the war much more difficult to handle.
Interviewer:
How did the Nixon camp, not as president but candidate, assess public attitudes towards the war during the campaign?
Price:
Ah. As the campaign of 1968 began, a a a the ah the war was getting more and more unpopular. It had never been a popular war but ah the ah the ah disaffection for the war had not yet jelled to the extent that it later had. Most Americans then ah still wanted us to win. They wanted us to get out but they they saw getting out being winning and getting out.
Interviewer:
What was the so called Nixon plan for Vietnam ah and ah how was it formulated?
Price:
One of the ah one of the pur... of the ah pu...
Interviewer:
Start over again.
Price:
One of the long live myths of ah the 1968 campaign was that Nixon announced at one point that he had a quote secret plan to end the war. Now, Nixon never said this. Ah. Rockefeller claimed that he had and made a lot of political hay with it. A lot of news newspapers, news reporters claimed that he had. Cartoons suggested that that he had. What happened on that was once during the 19... ah during the ah New Hampshire primary in early 1968 he was giving his standard stump speech which included a line that a new administration would end the war and win the peace in Vietnam. It happened that day there was a wire service reporter with us who had not been there before and was hearing the stump speech for the first time.
He fastened on this and imagined that Nixon was ah was suggesting that he had a secret plan and he wrote a story Nixon has a has a plan. Ah. As soon as we saw this on the wire we saw that it was trouble and we tried to knock it down. We said that he did not have a plan, that he had never claimed that he had a plan. He insisted that he never claimed that he had a plan but all this was a case where the denial never caught up with the full story in the first place, and he was tagged ever after with ah with having claimed to have had a secret plan. He said that if ah by that not only that he didn't but if he had one he'd tell Lyndon Johnson.
Interviewer:
What did he have?
Interviewer:
Hang on. Let me talk to him just a minute. Ah. I want to check first of all how did, I'm hearing this this high-pitched thing coming through...
This is the tone.
Interviewer:
First a short take on the... assessment of public attitudes...
Beep. That was nine. Go ahead.
Price:
Ah. In 1968 I think everybody on all sides knew or felt that ah the Vietnam War would be, if not the key at least a key issue in the campaign. We couldn't forecast what it would be but it was there. It had people upset. Ah. While I don't recall what any poll data might have been, I think we all had, at least in our camp had a strong feeling that all the public, while they might not like being in a war, ah did not want the US to lose a war and they would like to see us out but they wanted to be sure that we got out honorably. I do often think back to the New Hampshire primary and when ah, a poll of the people who had voted for Gene McCarthy indicated that more than half of those thought that McCarthy was a hawk, and ah while there was a lot of ah antiwar sentiment probably probably more of it at that point was antiwar hawks than at antiwar doves.
Interviewer:
What was Nixon's reaction to the Democratic Convention in Chicago?
Price:
The Democratic Convention in Chicago was good theater, a disaster for the Democratic Party and ah sort of as citizens we had to deplore it-- as political animals we had to ah all be I should I hate to say glad that it happened but ah at least encouraged ah about our chances as a result of its happening. It tore the party apart. It ah got Humphrey' s campaign off to the worst possible start with a divided party and a and a shattered morale.
Interviewer:
How did you all view Humphrey as as an opponent and like you to get in a little bit to this notion of his relationship, your perception of his relationship with Johnson. Was Johnson a liability to Humphrey?
Price:
Hubert Humphrey was a formidable political opponent. He was a powerful campaigner. Very sharp, very shrewd, tough. Ah. He ah ah a bubbling evanescent personality whom everybody liked. Nixon liked Humphrey personally very much, and ah ah he also respected him as a politician and as a campaigner. Now, we knew that he was gonna be a formidable opponent. He ah he was very popular with organized labor. He had a terrible problem at the start of the campaign with the left wing of the Democratic Party with the peace movement and so forth. Ah.
And, this was a problem partly because he was tied so closely to Johnson and Johnson wasn't going to let him get out from under his wing ah and so ah Humphrey had to carry the baggage of the Johnson unpopularity on the war and on other things but principally on the war. Ah. He finally changed that with the Salt Lake City speech.
Interviewer:
A... Again could you talk well first of all like that we saw his association with Johnson as a liability to him rather than a more general analysis?
Interviewer:
Let me just add another point. Before you get to Salt Lake City. Did you fear that Humphrey might disassociate himself? Be the political analyst...
Price:
Uh huh. Want me to go back to the beginning on that.
Interviewer:
Not the bit about the campaigner. Just ah...
Price:
About the Johnson.
Interviewer:
Connection, ya.
Try to keep your eyes...
Price:
Ya. As Vice President Humphrey had advantages and disadvantages. Now from where, Nixon had himself had been a Vice-President and he understood this well. Ah. He had been vice president for a very popular president, Eisenhower. Humphrey was a vice president under a president who had become so unpopular that he dropped out of the race, Johnson. And, looking at his situation there we knew that his association with Johnson was one of our advantages and we ah we wondered when, and if, he would be able to break loose from that.
We knew that as soon as he did ah his campaign would probably depending on how he did it and how Johnson reacted would probably get quite a boost. We also ah on our side the pre... the candidate Nixon was very concerned about what Johnson might do with the powers with the powers of an incumbent president to ah to help Humphrey in the critical last days of the campaign.
Interviewer:
Let's go on to Salt Lake City speech.
Interviewer:
That was LBJ. Flying in.
Interviewer:
And, your your recollection of this speech...
Interviewer:
I like the albatross imagery.
Price:
Ah. When ah when Humphrey gave his Salt Lake City speech he threw an albatross off his neck. Ah. The albatross of Johnson and his and his tie to Johnson ah on the war issue. Ah. It by giving that speech in which he didn't actually and substantly distance himself that much. Ah.
The tone of it was such that ah not the words but the music ah carried. And, it made it possible for disaffected elements of the Democratic Party ah who did not want to be for Nixon or to help Nixon it ga... it made it possible for them, it gave them an excuse to come back to Humphrey, ah, in the in the closing days of the campaign.
Interviewer:
Why was the election such a close race. I mean what's you might mention that ah that perhaps even if Humphrey had given that speech a little earlier he might have beat Nixon. Ah. Was the war a factor in its narrowness?
Price:
Ah. The war was very much a factor in the in the close close ah conclusion of the race. Another huge factor, of course, was George Wallace. It was a three man race, and ah our estimate was that Wallace's votes came roughly two to one from us rather than from Humphrey. With him out of the race it would have been a decisive Nixon victory. Ah.
But, the war was a major was a major factor. Humphrey's success in separating himself from Johnson with the Salt Lake City speech and also Johnson's big ploy on November first ah just four days before the election of ah making a surprise announcement of a bombing halt gave a huge lift to the Humphrey ah to the Humphrey ah ah campaign and we felt that ah if the election had been two days earlier we probably would have lost. If it had been two days later we probably would have won by a substantially wider mar, margin.

The Vietnam Moratorium and the voice of the silent majority

Interviewer:
Let's go on into the Nixon Administration. Now, we're up to late '69. What kind of debate was going on in the White House over ways to respond to the moratorium and ah why did Nixon rebuff the protest rather than try to conciliate?
Price:
Well, the first big moratorium was October 15, 1969. This was one that had been prepared for some time ah in which I think about 200 thousand people eventually came ah or a quarter of a million eventually came to Washington to protest the war and to try to force us into abandoning the war and and into abandoning South Vietnam. Now, what they did not know, and most people did not know...
Interviewer:
Take up the topic again. Very good.
This will be Roll number 550. Beep.
Ten.
Interviewer:
Okay. Let’s do this in two separate things. First that you protest in a democracy and you know why he thought he had to rebuff [incomprehensible] is the political [incomprehensible] and then talk about the diplomatic methods separately. Is that all right, Stan?
Price:
Okay. I'd be more comfortable... cause I think I think the key one here is the diplomatic.
Interviewer:
All right. Then do it together. Link them.
Price:
Uh huh.
Interviewer:
Okay. Go ahead.
Price:
What the protestors did not know, could not know, and what most others did not know, was that for months Nixon had been privately warning Hanoi that November 1 was their deadline. That is, the first anniversary of the Johnson bombing halt which had produced nothing from North Vietnam, that unless they were ready to negotiate seriously and showed us that they were by November 1, they would ah bear some very heavy unstated consequences with the ah implication that these would be military.
Now, Hanoi was a diligent reader of US public opinion and of US demonstrations. Ah. Nixon was very worried that the October 15th Moratorium just two weeks before this deadline that he had privately given Hanoi would be seen by them as evidence that he could not deliver and they did not have to worry about his ah his threat ah or his ultimatum. And, in fact, the premier of North Viet—North Vietnam did publicly ah ah congratulate the organizers of the ah October 15th Moratorium and welcomed them to their fall offensive and so forth, and ah one of the reasons that he was ah took such a firm line on the October 15th Moratorium was to send a message to Hanoi that he would not be intimidated and they should not be they should not draw the conclusion that they would probably be tempted to from the fact that so many people marched in protest.
Now, there was another reason too. That was the diplomatic reason. There was another ah reason he felt very strongly about which related to the democratic process itself, and that is, basically that in a representative democracy ah policy is to be made through the institutions of democracy and not by mobs in the streets and whether you like the people or not ah these crowds in the streets whether you call them protestors or mobs or whatever, they are trying to impose their minority will on an unwilling electorate basically. They are trying to circumvent the democratic process. They're trying to thwart the will of Congress and of the Administration and saying that because there are 200 thousand of them there in Washington the other 200 million people can go fly a kite, and he was not going to let policy be determined that way and he was going to make it very clear to the country that he was not going to let policy be determined that way.
Interviewer:
Hang on just a minute. I want to check. Stop the camera.
Eleven. Rolling.
Interviewer:
Say when boys.
Eleven. Seep. When.
Interviewer:
By the way when you do that could you just start by saying where the phrase come from. You just [inaudible]…
Price:
Okay. Ah. Now the ah The October 15 moratorium was a was a was a huge event. Ah. He made a, he had determined some time earlier that he was going to make ah that he was going to make a significant address on Vietnam at about the ah the first anniversary of the ah of the Johnson bombing halt. And, ah he made a point of announcing this before the October 15th Moratorium so that it would not be seen or it would be less likely to be seen as a response to that. Ah.
I think he announced it about October 12 or so, and he picked ah he picked the date of November 3 to give it and ah because of the moratorium a lot of people assumed that he was going to be caving on something or he was going to be making conciliatory gestures or announcing huge pullbacks or a cease-fire or something like that. The the air was full of predictions like this but he was going quietly about his own predetermined way. Ah. Or at least his own his own self determined way. Ah. Preparing to try to summon the country to stay the course whatever that might whatever that might be.
Interviewer:
Can we... Excuse me Ray can we start again. Say President Nixon. You 'e saying he. It would just make it easier in editing. Just say President Nixon ah... Let's start with the idea that he ah wanted to, he announced the speech long before the moratorium and go from there...
Price:
Why don't I just go back to the beginning.
Interviewer:
All right.
Price:
Ah. Now, one of the ah one of the turning points as far as American public opinion went was what came to be called the silent majority speech which President Nixon gave on November 3, 1969. He had planned for some time to make a speech at about the first anniversary of the bombing halt, the November 1st, 1968 bombing halt, and ah he picked November third as the date for it. He made a point of announcing this before the October 15th Moratorium so it would not be seen as a hasty response to the moratorium, and then he let mystery develop about what he was going to say.
He counseled with practically no one. He wrote the speech himself in seclusion at the White House and Camp David and ah the air was filled with a frenzy of speculation about what he was going to say. Practically all of it was speculation that he would announce huge troop withdrawals or cease fire or some sor—sor—sort of gesture ah to the opposition at home and in Hanoi. He let this build, at, he let the drama build and the speculation fed the drama and built the audience. And, ah, probably added substantially to the impact which was enormous. He finally went on the air on November 3 and he laid out the reasons why he felt however painful it was America must stay the course, must see the war through to a satisfactory conclusion.
Now, he had hoped that he and he had thought that he would be able to end the war in his first year. He found out he couldn't. Ah. And, in the course of preparing the silent majority speech he had what turned out to be a very important conversation with Sir Robert Thompson, ah, the British antiwar, anti-insurgency ah ah specialist who ah ah told him that he thought that if he could get two years ah and make it primarily a Vietnamese rather than American war that he would that he probably could succeed. This was a key factor in his thinking. Anyway he ah he gave nothing in the speech to the ah to the opposition except reasons for staying and reasons for for accepting the pain and ah and seeing it through because of its importance not just to Vietnam but to the world and ah ah and then in the course of it he called on what he called the great silent majority of Americans ah to stand up and be counted.
They had seen the demonstrators from the other side and he asked what he called this great solid majority to make their own voices heard ah so that the majority as well as the minority would have a voice. Ah. The ah the response was overwhelming. It was staggering. The White House got more letters and telegrams than any any presidential speech in history had ever provoked. Ah. The ah the ah Gallup poll on ah presidential approval taken shortly after that speech in mid November showed his approval rating at 68 percent, the highest at any time during his first year in office which I think itself pretty conclusively gave the lie to those who said that there was not a silent majority. What he tried to do, and what he successfully did with that speech was to make the silent majority a no longer silent majority. Ah. And, he was able to translate that into running room with the Congress in order to get backing for ah a longer time for the policies that he felt were necessary to ah to ah see the war through to to a satisfactory end.
Interviewer:
How serious did the White House take the protests? Were the demonstrators viewed as a real threat, communist agents, communist dupes, ah. North Vietnamese ah financing or coercion with North Vietnam, the Soviet Union or what? Can you describe that?
Price:
The White House took the demonstrations and the demonstrations very seriously. Now, the question is always raised were they dupes, were they, did we see them as communists or whatever. Ah. We didn't see them as communists. We saw them mostly as ah people who had very strong, very strong feelings. Ah. We suspected that there probably was some effort by the Communists to to ah make use of them. It would be ridiculous to suppose that they wouldn't try, if they could. It was very much in their interests. But ah we didn't see them as mani... as simply tools of the Communists or or anything like that. And, if they had, then it would have been irrelevant.
I don't think we would have dealt with them any differently because ah we were trying to treat within with them as a force that we had to contend with and the why was less important than the what ah in that case. And, what we were most concerned about, what we were really concerned with two things. One, ah, their impact on opinion at home and therefore on our political ability ah to our clout with Congress and so forth our our ability to to get what we needed to ah to conduct the war, ah, including the measure of support which you had to have for an unpopular action and the wars and wars are unpopular. Ah. And, two, very concerned with the message that Hanoi was getting because Hanoi did follow these very closely and they did clearly hope to win ah on the American domestic front what they could not win militarily on the ah on the Vietnam battlefront.

Reaction of the Nixon Administration to the protests

Interviewer:
What if there wasn’t that great concern about communist infiltration and financial support why were there references during the Nixon Administration to the threats to national security on the part of certain protest movements uh antiwar movements?
Price:
Ah. That's a difficult one to answer without referring to the question. You’d have to pose the question I think.
Beep. beep. Take twelve. Beep.
Interviewer:
You already Boyd, Vic?
Yeah.
Price:
President Nixon felt very strongly about ah about America's role in the war and very strongly and very personally about his need as...
Interviewer:
Hold on we have a problem.
Price:
Okay.
Interviewer:
Let's change Bill's standing. Open the doors. Ventilation system.
Many beeps. End of Tape 1, Side 2. SR 2525.
VIETNAM
HOME FRONT
SR 2526
ch
This is 1l/5/82. WGBH Vietnam Home Front. Sound Roll 2526. Camera Roll 551. Mr. Price at 125 Western Avenue. You want it out there. Okay. This seven and a half ips sixty hertz. Neopilot crystal minus adb reference.
This will be take number thirteen.
Beep. Thirteen.
This will be fourteen. Beep. Fourteen.
Price:
I don't know where we were.
Interviewer:
Nixon's personal reaction. Overreaction. His dark side...
Price:
Like most people who ah...
Interviewer:
Here. All right.
Beep. Okay.
Interviewer:
Didn't we agree this would be a more general question about...
Interviewer:
Yes it is. We're talking about Nixon a tendency to over react. Not to specific...
Interviewer:
Okay. The darker side.
Interviewer:
The darker side.
Price:
Ah. Like ah like most people who get to the top in poli... political leadership both here and abroad, President Nixon was a very complex personality. Ah. More so than most, I think. And, ah some of us have spoken of his dark side and his light side and he had he had many other sides. Ah. He ah was a person also, he is a person of very strong feelings about many things, ah, many of which were involved in the debate over Vietnam.
Not only the war itself, but America's larger role in the world and ah, the ah the process by which this country is governed, and also in another sense ah involved in the debate over Vietnam very much was the whole tussle for power among kind of the old elite and the forces that he represented ah in the United States. And, oh, all these I think fed into some of his some of his some of his reactions oh to the events surrounding the war. Ah. He probably overreacted at some times. Sometimes I think purposefully and sometimes just ah in anger. Ah.
He usually controlled controlled his anger pretty well sometimes he used it, and there were times ah when he deliberately wanted to keep ah the North Vietnamese a little off balance too, and ah wanted to create the impression in Hanoi that he might be a little bit irrational and they'd, therefore, better be a little oh a little more cautious about what they did so as not to provoke him. This was ah one way of using ah ah ah using anger and and using the knowledge that he had it. Ah. There were other times, for example, on the October 15th Moratorium ah he he deliberately made a point of letting it be known that he had watched tele... watched football on television during that demonstration. Ah. This ah provoked anger among the demonstrators but it also drove home to the country and to Hanoi oh more dramatically than he perhaps otherwise could have the fact that ah he was not going to the be swayed by the demonstrators.
Interviewer:
Do you think that he sometimes contributed to aggravating tensions by overreacting?
Price:
Ah. There were times when ah ah his the way he reacted to a situation or the way he presented it ah certainly had the effect of ah of exacerbating tensions, and I think probably the classic case on that is the time of the Cambodia incursion when he announced on April 30, 1970 he announced ah the move into Cambodia. It was a time of high tension, high emotion. Ah.
The announcement itself was a dramatic one and the speech in which he ah made it while when I re read it now it strikes me as a fairly calm one, at the time when he talked of the country as being a pitiful, helpless giant unless we used our power and saw the war through, it had an inflammatory effect. I don't think he meant it to have an inflammatory effect, but it did, and it sent the country into a spasm of hysteria which then was greatly exacerbated a few days later when four ah students were killed at Kent State and within days the entire nation and certainly the entire academic portion thereof was ah was up in arms.
Interviewer:
Was there a strategy in the White House for coping with the antiwar movement? Did you actually sit down and say this is the way we are going to deal with it and were certain people assigned certain roles and particularly Agnew?
Price:
Ah…I think it might be a little too ah too much to say that we had a strategy as such. It might give us too much credit to say that we had a strategy for ah for dealing with the ah with the war with the war protest ah...
Interviewer:
Start over again.
Price:
Ya. It might give us a little too much credit to say that we had quote a strategy end quote ah for dealing with the antiwar movement and with the protests. At various times we had various strategies or portions thereof and we sort of muddled through and we often were confused and contradictory in the way we attempted to deal with it. I think most people don't realize the extent to which an administration any administration is involved with the process of reacting as opposed to acting, and reacting very often on a day to day or week to week basis to situations that you confront. This really is most of what you do is react.
And, we were reacting ah to the situation as it was and as it changed. Ah. We had people in the Administration who carried a hard line and others who made conciliatory moves and and some who did both. We, in fact, were trying to do both. We were trying to ah ah be very sort of to to stiff arm the demonstrators in one sense in ah in showing that ah they could not move the Administration but we at the same time were trying to show them that we did care about them and we did hear them. Just, we didn't agree with them. And, we didn't want them to feel outsiders, but we also wanted them to recognize that ah the political process ah the institutional political process would prevail.

Agnew's antagonism

Interviewer:
Let's let's focus a little bit on Agnew who seemed to be an antagonizing rather than conciliating and all the phrases of ah effete intellectuals and all that sort of stuff. How did he act ah how did he get that role?
Price:
Ah. Vice president Agnew played a rather prominent role in the in the battles of the the domestic battles we had during this period. He was an effective speaker. He developed a very strong constituency of his own and became quite a force in his own right. Ah. He said things that the president couldn't say many of which the president believed and might have liked to say, including some of the things he had to say about the news media. Ah. The president ah would like to have been able to say some of those. Ah. But, ah, and he took on the ah he was especially effective in taking on the intellectual elite, the ah ah the the leaders of fashion, of intellectual fashion and so forth.
In the media, in the academic community and elsewhere, ah, because in a sense he was their antithesis. Ah. He represented middle America. He visibly did so. He did so with strength and with a rather articulate ah way even a little overly so at times. Ah. And, he became a personality. He became a star, and in any sort of public battle like that you need somebody who has to, who has or can acquire star quality to get attention and to carry a message. He was able to do that. He was effective. He also ah antagonized a lot of people. Ah. They were people, I don't know how many he antagonized who were not antagonized already. But, he certainly deepened the antagonism of a lot ah who took personal offense at a lot of the things he said.
Interviewer:
Just to refine just slightly. Did, was he operating on his own or were his speeches cleared with... Did the president know what he was saying? Was he a loose cannon, or was he a lightning rod, I mean how...?
Price:
Agnew could at times be something of a loose cannon. Ah. He was a lightning rod. He also was used by the president ah very often to go out and take on this issue or that that group. Ah. His speeches by and large were not ah they they were not cleared. Ah. There was some White House involvement in some of them. He had his own writers, and during the 1970 political campaign a couple of the president's writers I think traveled with him and and worked with him then. Ah. In general, he ah he was on a fairly loose leash. Ah. He was operating on his own. He did not clear speeches, did not ah get okays, but he ah he operated on most things within a I think a general area of understanding. Sometimes we winced. Sometimes we applauded.

The elites and rebels versus Middle America

Interviewer:
Let's get into this, just get your comment on the sense of contradiction of Nixon campaigning, having said that he wants to bring the country together ah during its travail over Vietnam and at the same time ah reactions ah that tended to divide people over the war rather than to bring it to unify the country?
Price:
Ah. President Nixon in his campaign and ah in his ah as he took office he was very concerned with bringing the country together. Ah. His, his victor ah victory statement after winning in ah in November, 1968 he referred to ah ah a little sign that he had seen in "bring us together" by a little girl and this became the, this became the theme of the inauguration "bring us together". And, he wanted very much to do this partly coming in as a minority ah president with ah Congress against him. Both houses, the first time in a hundred and twenty years that a newly elected president took office with both houses of Congress controlled by the opposition party.
This was the political climate ah in which he took office. Quite apart from all the ah the baggage over the last twenty years or thirty years of people who had who had grown up believing you had to hate Richard Nixon. Ah. He wanted to ah to try to bring these disparate groups of the country together. He knew that the country, you know, the 1960's this country had been tearing itself apart and one of the first ah necessities for any president taking office in 1969 would have been to try to bring the country back together again, to heal its wounds, its divisions. Ah. This was very important to him. Now, a lot of people say why did he then do so many divisive things. From our perspective it was not we doing the doing the divisive things, it was the people who were out there bombing libraries and burning down our ROTC buildings and rioting in the streets and smashing automobiles and killing people who were doing the divisive things.
Interviewer:
Do you want cut Stan whil...
Interviewer:
I just want... if we could follow because there's something we that you really very, very...
Interviewer:
Stop.
Interviewer:
One thing you were very articulate on…
Carry on.
Beep. Beep. Begins roll 552. This will be sixteen First take. Roll 552.
Beep. Okay.
Interviewer:
Ah. Let's go on. This sort of perception of who who you were you as a group versus the perception of who the protestors, the media, the campuses, the professors, the kids and so forth.
Price:
One of the ah, one of the things that President Nixon came in office determined to do was to ah restore to what he called the quiet majority, later the silent majority ah the the ordinary American the same kind of respect or rather the kind of respect ah that he felt ah they deserved. Ah. His was deliberately going to be an administration that gave as much respect to main street as to the main line. And, this set up a terribly wrenching ah basically a a a contest for power among the old elite who had held power, the media, the academic complex, the the fashionable northeast and the rest of the country. Ah.
In a sense he was a product of the rest of the country even though he was elected from New York and even though he'd been vice president and so forth. Ah. The ah for a long time the ah the sort of the fashionable elites had sort of assumed it was their divine right to rule and he challenged that. They recognized this as a challenge and it became a fight to the death, and they, of course, they eventually won. But, ah, but this fueled, I think a lot of the ah a lot of the it it added a lot of fuel to the fire. There would have been a fire anyway. Ah.
There would have been protests without a war. Ah. There had been before there was a war basically. Ah. The the campus the organized campus protest movement remember it began at Berkeley in 1964 and climaxed at Columbia in 1968. Ah. And, then, of course, the campuses erupted after Cambodia in 1970 and so on. But, that organized ah movement in which you followed the pattern of creating an issue and getting the ah the Administration to overreact and then getting more people and and ah event... eventually exploding the college. That began in 1964 at Berkeley. Ah. Ah.
And, most of the college protests had not been centered on the war. They were centered on anything that would get the kids stirred up. The 1960's were a time when revolution was romanticized and this continued into the early 1970's. The early 1970's were an extension of the of the 1960's which I have often called the second most disastrous decade in our in our century. The only worse one being the 1860's when the country was actually at war with itself. It was virtually at war with itself in the 1960's including the early 70's over a variety of things of which the war was only one. Ah. And, ah, ah Nixon represented kind of the old value systems.
The old traditional value systems. A lot of the 1960's revolution was a revolution against these old value systems. And, ah, Nixon believed in them and he appealed to a, he he he was believed in and was supported by a lot of people who held to those and who did not like violent protest, for example, among other things. They might or might not have liked liked the war but they did not like violent protest. Ah. They did not like to see ah university buildings being burned and bombed, and they didn't like to see mobs in the streets. Ah.
They didn't like to he laughed at and hooted at and disparaged by people who considered themselves superior. Ah. Nixon sided with them. He sided with the hard hats. He sided with the with the George Meany's and they sided with him. Ah. Not on other things but on such things as the war, and a lot of his support came from this. Ah. A lot of the ah a lot of the anti antiwar movement ah had less to do with the war than it did with these traditional values which his represented in a sense, his administration in a sense represented.
Interviewer:
Could you describe what has been... Excuse me lust a second. Stop for a second.
Beep. Seventeen. Okay.
Price:
Ah. I was distracted. Let me, let me.
Interviewer:
The Nixon camp versus...
Price:
Ya. Just give me a second to start.
Interviewer:
Okay.
Price:
Ah. President Nixon took office in effect leading a Nixon revolution. Leading a Nixon revolution against ah old elites and against the values ah that the new revolutionary ah generation ah were ah were supporting. The 1960's had been a a terribly divisive time. Ah. One of the most divisive in our country's history. Ah. The country was tearing itself apart. Ah.
Old values of all kinds were under heavy attack. Ah. And, strangely perhaps ah the ahm the the young revolutionaries, the campus activists and so forth, were being ah helped in this by a lot of the old elites, the ones who were accustomed to running the country, including the academic and the media establishments. They eh they glorified ah rebellion basically. It was glamorous ah and they gave it a caché of glamour. Nixon represented a reaction against that. Middle America didn't like that and Middle America, Nixon in a sense was middle America's candidate. Ah.
And, he was trying to help middle America ah retain it's regain it's respect. Ah. He was determined to give as much respect to main line to Main Street as to the main line, and ah ah to ah his ah if he were to succeed a lot of the old elites would ah would lose their divine right to rule. This would hurt them and ah if he succeeded he probably would have would have set ah American politics on a new direction as fundamentally as FDR did ah in his time in office.
Interviewer:
What, describe what has been called the bunker mentality in the White House?
Price:
Some people refer to a bunker mentality and at times we perhaps had this. We certainly had it during Watergate, and ah, I think at times during the war we may have developed it too. Ah. When we felt...
Interviewer:
…And say it at times we may have had a bunker mentality in the White House.
Price:
Okay. But again I'm okay cause I'm not sure we did. I've, I've really I I I kind of kind of kind of doubt...
This will be take eighteen. Beep. Okay.
Price:
There often were times when we when...
Interviewer:
Go ahead.
Price:
There often were times when we did feel very beleaguered in the White House. Certainly, when you have two hundred thousand people in the streets demonstrating against you it creates a certain feeling of beleagurement, and ah, we may at times have gotten a little paranoid. Ah. Ah. But, I think Bill Safire once captured the spirit of this very well when he commented that ah ah just as even hypochondriacs get sick even paranoids sometimes have enemies and ah ah we did have a lot of people out there who were trying to do us in. Some using the war and some because of the war. Ah.
This was a constant problem. We were again ah politically ah we represented a minority party, we had opposition control, control of the Congress. We had a lot of people in the country, in the news media and academic community and ah in the Congress ah and other influential positions ah who were fighting very hard to be sure that our programs domestically and internationally did not go through, who also had a radically different view than Nixon did about what the role of America should be in the world. Vietnam was a part of this but only a part. Ah.
He felt very strongly that only if America could and would credibly play the role of a major power as a major power traditionally played that role would the world be safe, that if we did not do that nothing effective would stand in the path of Soviet ambition. Ah. He felt we could only do that if we handled the Vietnam War in a satisfactory way. In a way that would contribute to that rather than rather than undermine it. And, he did not want to let anything uh prevent us from playing that kind of a role which he saw as absolutely necessary to the future of the world. Now, ah, ah, the demonstrations and all that they represented, the media attacks and all that it represented, this was probably more of a problem to us than the demonstrations. Ah.
The ahm ah the tele... the television networks, particularly many of the influential print media additionally who were just reflexively antiwar, reflexively anti the US position, reflexively anti the use of power. These posed a tremendous constraint, political constraint on us. They made it very difficult for the US in Vietnam or anywhere in the world to play the kind of a role that he felt it was absolutely essential to the world that we play. And, until he came along no president had ever dared to criticize the media because it was an absolute rule of politics that they had the last word and if you say a word against them you'll be destroyed. It's as simple as that. As brutal as that. Ah. Agnew carrying the ball for us broke that tradition. I think it's had a healthy effect. Ah. There still is a long way to go in working this out and there are many battles to be fought, but ah we tried very deliberately ah to break the monopoly that they had on on that last word.
Interviewer:
I think we can skip the Cambodian...
Interviewer:
Yes we’ve done that already. Let's cut. That's excellent.

Nixon's management of the draft

Beep. Beep. This will be nineteen.
Interviewer:
Going to cover us for the bombing halt on November 1, or October 31.
This will be take sixteen.
Interviewer:
Fine, but, but, but if you very much specifically Johnson's speech.
Price:
The anniversary of the November 1 bombing halt. But, I might, but I might have had something in earlier ah... back when we were talking about Humphrey.
Interviewer:
Oh, sure. Ah. Let me lust check my notes here. I think unless you wanted to return to that.
We will not be doing the pick up line.
Price:
Between ah...
Nineteen.
Beep. Okay. Okay.
Interviewer:
The you know, the perception of the draft, the inequities.
Price:
One thing that, of course, spurred a lot of ah a lot of student ah unrest particularly was was the draft. Now, Nixon did not like the draft. In 1968 as a candidate he pledged to seek an all volunteer army and ah and he thought this was a better way in peace time ah to maintain the armed forces. In fact, as it always had been done up until up until ah WWII. Ah.
As soon as be took o... took office he moved immediately on another front and that was while waiting for an all volunteer army to become possible ah move to ah reform the existing draft, and to try to take some of the inequities out of it and make it more predictable for the people who faced it. Ah. One of the inequities, of course, was the deferments and so forth. He tried to cut those back. And, one of the problems with the deferments was that ah those who could afford to stay indefinitely in school had ah you know were were able to stay indefinitely in school and the people who couldn't afford it would have to fight the war. Ah.
He tried to ah to ah to ah we we moved to to out out cut back those deferments but at the same time as I recall it to let those ah who were in a in a genuinely in the process to finish the academic years or whatever, but more importantly to institute a lottery ah so that the person when he became eligible would draw a number and would at least know whether he was or was not likely to be called and he could plan his life accordingly and so a lot of the uncertainty ah that hung over everybody whether he was eventually going to be called up or not could be eliminated. Ah. Now, we did notice and I've often found this kind of amusing or at least interesting that ah when we finally were able to move to an all volunteer army and ah and the draft was no longer hanging over people's heads that a lot of the steam seemed to go out of the antiwar movement, and I do suspect that a lot of those who ah that that a lot of idealism had a certain amount of self interest in it.

Watergate's impact on the fall of South Vietnam

Interviewer:
Let's just go on to one final retrospective question which is, to what extent was Watergate ah caused, if you want, by Viet, by Vietnam, and to what extent was…Vietnam lost, if you want to put it that way, as a result of Watergate?
Price:
I wouldn't say exactly that Watergate was caused by Vietnam but ah in the Watergate battle and in the battle over the war...essentially we were up against the same the same kind of forces, and in some ways much the same kind of a, much the same kind of a struggle. Ah. I wouldn't ah put it a cause and effect merely that ah Nixon was embattled basically from the moment he became president until he resigned ah in August 1974 over one thing or another. Ah.
With a great deal of it with the old elites that ah he was leading a Nixon revolution against, and who eventually won with his resignation, although ah ah he prevailed... essentially he prevailed on the war in that he was able to bring it to what at the time appeared to be a not an ideal but a satisfactory solution in which our people were out and and South Vietnam had a real solid chance to survive as a nation. Now, unfortunately, ah in the course of the Watergate battle the president, his, his personal authority ah was shattered and the authority of the president, any president, himself or his successor, ah to maintain the peace in Vietnam was demolished. Ah.
The ah the president was left without any power to retaliate against violations of the truce by North Vietnam. Ah. They did violate the truce repeatedly and gruesomely. Ah. And, Congress slashed aid to South Vietnam in half in 1974 and by another third in 1975 leaving president Thieu of South Vietnam without bullets for his troops’ guns, without ah ah gasoline for his trucks and without bombs for his airplanes. Ah.
The prem... the field commander of North Vietnam afterwards referred to Thieu as having had to fight quote a poor man's war end quote as a result of the ah slashes in US aid. That he just didn't have the wherewithal to maintain his country's freedom. Meanwhile, the Soviets were pouring wholesale arms and ammunition in violation of the treaty into North Vietnam, and North Vietnam finally just overwhelmed the South ah after we had pulled the rug out from under them.
Interviewer:
Just, one of these what might have been type questions. If there had not been...
Beep. Beep.
Twenty.
Interviewer:
If there had not been a Watergate? If Nixon had not been... how long could he have gone on giving aid to Vietnam ah supporting the South Vietnamese Army with air power?
Price:
I think if there had not been a Watergate that Nixon with the power of his 1972 re election mandate when he was re elected by the largest popular vote ever ah within one tenth of one percent of of the proportion of the vote that Johnson rather that FDR got when he swamped, Landon in 1936 ah with gains in the House and Senate ah think with ah with oh his full authority intact ah that he would have had the clout (a) to ah at least to keep the aid flow going from the US which would have been enough I think to ah to enable Thieu to ah to hold South Vietnam together, and (b) he would probably have been even with some of the things that Congress put through ah he would have at least have had some clout with the North Vietnamese and probably without Watergate at least the worst of those those Congressional restrictions might well not have happened.
Ah. I doubt that they could have gotten through if he had not been so weakened as he was by 1973 by the Watergate battle and my guess is that without Watergate you would have an independent South Vietnam today. You would not have had genocide in Cambodia and you would not have had the boat people that we have seen.
Interviewer:
Cut.
Interviewer:
Thank you. That’s good.
Beep.
Interviewer:
Hang on just a second. I want to go through.
This is one thousand room tone. Ray Price interview.
Thank you.
Many beeps.
End of SR 2526
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