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The Sage Of Topeka
April 1970 | Volume 21, Issue 3
“I never did lose my interest in foreign affairs,” he says. When Harry S. Truman went to the support of the South Koreans in 1950, Landon in a speech at Colgate University supported the President. “At Colgate I said that Truman had probably acted unconstitutionally, but he warn’t the first President to do so. Theodore Roosevelt had acted unconstitutionally in Panama.” In the fall of 1961, at the National Press Club, he spoke out in support of the European Common Market. The White House, which had advance notice of his speech, was delighted, he recalls. “I spoke on December 8, and President Kennedy on the sixth in New York, before the Motional Association of Manufacturers’ national convention. If you care to go to the trouble, you’ll find a great deal of similarity between my speech—a copy of which reached New York a couple of days before the President spoke—and the President ‘s speech. ” And he has been urging the admission of Red China to the U.N. since 1948.
In addition to his interest in foreign affairs, Landon has also remained a keen observer of the political scene, and he talks freely—and independently—about the men, Democrats as well as Republicans, who have held the office he vainly sought in 1936.
Truman made a damn sight better President than I expected, just as Nixon is making a better President than I expected. There was no hint in Truman’s record to match Roosevelt’s, and I didn’t see anything in Johnson’s record that fitted Kennedy’s—certainly not enough to be named Vice President on the ticket with Kennedy. In both cases it was a marriage of convenience.
Early in Truman’s administration I said he’d probably go down in history as a great President. He didn’t pull any punches. He laid things on the table family style. He didn’t wait for anyone to break the ice for him.
I don’t think Truman used federal projects the way Johnson did to get senators’ support—highways, dams, post offices. Johnson got his measures through by trading for them. Truman got his through by fighting for them.
I felt sorry for Dewey when Truman beat him. I sure thought Dewey was going to win in ’48. I don’t know anybody who didn’t. And I had a lot of respect for Dewey, but it was his own fault—losing that ’48 election. He didn’t do anything to win it.
Dewey never had a sense of humor, and neither did Hoover. I remember telling Dewey, “Tom, it’s better to lose big. If you get only Maine and Vermont you don’t wake up in the middle of the night and think if you did this or did that, things would have been different.” Dewey never cracked a smile.
Mr. Landon quickly turned his attention to the Republican who returned his party to the White House in the election of 1952.
I wasn’t for Elsenhower because I didn’t think a general has the training to be a President. He’s been trained in just one thing: how much that hill over there’s worth in terms of casualties to take or defend. After eight years of Eisenhower I saw no reason to change that view. Some people might say he was a do-nothing President, and I wouldn’t argue with them.
After ’64, Ray Bliss, who was chairman of the Republican Party, organized a meeting of Eisenhower, Dewey, and myself, plus the Republican leaders of the House and Senate. I didn’t go, because I considered it an exercise in futility. But I sent a proposal on conflict of interest, a proposal that covers gifts to an ex-President as well as one in power, like valuable blooded cattle, like having his buildings remodelled free by firms that do business with the government, like accepting expensive equipment for his farm. My proposal even covered the case of people whose brothers are President, and senators and congressmen who continue in law firms representing big corporations.
I didn’t have a choice in November ’64. I voted for Goldwater with about as much enthusiasm as Jim Parley voting for Roosevelt for a third term.
When Johnson won, he tried to accomplish too much at one time. His social program, welfare state, Great Society—he tried to do it so fast that he didn’t have the experienced men qualified to handle the new bureaus, and it got into the hands of politicians and graft.
And then came Vietnam. I said in ’64, get in or get out. In October ’64 Johnson was going to keep us out, and then, in February ’65, came as complete a reversal as I’ve ever known a President to make.
I wasn’t for Nixon’s nomination in ’60, but there was nothing I could do about it. As to Agnew, when ’68 came, he was from Maryland and hadn’t finished his second term. I didn’t see anything in his record that really answered the question whether he would be qualified if called on to be President, and I didn’t think it was a very good choice. I didn’t think it strengthened the ticket.
I had a little feeling of sympathy and understanding for Humphrey. He was in something of the situation I was in in ’36, when the Republicans were more interested in fighting Republicans than Democrats. Humphrey was tied so closely to the Johnson administration’s policy on Vietnam that he couldn’t fight it.
Once Nixon became President and announced his partial troop withdrawals, I thought it was a much more reasonable approach than [Clark] Clifford’s—which didn’t leave the Saigon government much time to adjust to it. How efficient the South Vietnamese army will be when we leave, only time will tell. I think maybe we ought to wait and give Nixon a little more time.