President Harry Truman, the first Cold War President, had a sign on his desk saying “The Buck Stops Here.” The Webliography contains a link to the photo and story. Indecisive people can pass on their responsibilities and “pass the buck,” and advisory people can propose their concepts and lobby for acceptance, but the President can ultimately turn to nobody else. Presidents must make the hard decisions. It is a heavy mantle to bear on those presidential shoulders. It is lonely at the top.
President Johnson’s “wise men” possessed depth in their areas of expertise beyond that of the President, who was a master mover of legislation to accomplish domestic social programs but very much out of his league in military matters and international relations.
To begin, evaluate this question: To what extent was the March 1968 reevaluation of the Vietnam War, as a function of Cold War ideology, accomplished to satisfy domestic concerns rather than international concerns? In a time of mixed obligations, how can we differentiate what is domestic from what is international in American politics?
Most countries separate the roles of Leader of State from Leader of Politics; thus there will be a President or King who is the Head of State and a Prime Minister who is Head of Government and how that works in any of the parliamentary democracies or constitutional monarchies – Great Britain is a fine example. Parliamentary countries always separate the role of the Head of State (President or King) from the Head of Government (Prime Minister).
And then there is the United States of America where the President is both Head of State and Head of Government. Who can bear up to that load?
For the purposes of this discussion, we have this very unusual situation in which our international affairs and our domestic politics intertwine. With the arrival of Clark Clifford as Secretary of Defense came the ability to measure the situation with clear eyes and clean hands.
Let’s begin with the realization that the political situation of 1968 appeared confusion – perhaps the metaphors of blurred vision and dirty hands will help us move it along. How do you see that situation of 1968 when all of American politics seemed to be undifferentiated and intertwined?
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