Sunday, November 06, 2005

LBJ’s Curse on the Second Term

Is the Libby indictment the beginning of the fulfillment of the curse on the second term of the American Presidency? We can only wait and wonder. Particulars of the indictment follow the script of the previous scandals; in that it is about lying and cover up of the actual event: the leaking of a CIA operative’s name. Indictments for the actual offense are yet forthcoming -- if at all.

This is not a curse to be taken lightly. This country has gone for nearly 200 years and had only one presidential impeachment. In the past 30 years, we’ve had one president face impeachment and proceeding begun on the other, and we’ve only had three presidents to serve second terms prior to Bush. The curse caused our only presidential resignation. That’s some curse.

Bush already has Tecumseh’s Curse, having been elected in 2000, hanging over his head -- and that is one bad curse since it involves dying in office, but Reagan as old as he was and even with an attempted assassination beat that curse. JFK was not so lucky. The Kennedy Curse may have reinforced Tecumseh’s Curse. Maybe something happen during Reagan’s administration that forever removed Tecumseh’s Curse from future Presidents’ fates. However, that brings up the question of what he did or said that removed the curse.

I had thought the curse on the second term had come from what happened to Nixon and his downfall because of Watergate. But in a discussion of the Tet Offensive, it occurred to me that the curse may have come from Lyndon Johnson’s administration. Of course, LBJ did not have a second term, but that may be the very reason of the curse. That and the tragedy of the miss call on what the Tet Offensive meant for the future of our involvement in Vietnam.

The Tet Offensive was a major tactical loss for the communist in Vietnam but an eventual strategic victory for them in the U.S. because it led to Johnson’s decision not to run in 1968. He sacrificed it all to seek a peace agreement with the North Vietnamese. He laid down all his cards, the North Vietnamese had to play something. Perhaps since LBJ could not have a second term, no other president will have a successful one either.

There’s the infamous picture of a helmeted Walter Conkrite on location in Vietnam -- smoldering ruins of the Tet Offensive behind him -- saying the war was lost. LBJ is supposed to have said, "If I've lost Walter Cronkite, I've lost Middle America." While LBJ was correct in his assumption, Conkrite was totally wrong in his. The Viet Cong never recovered from the U.S. and South Vietnam counterattack after their Tet Offensive. This was proven true when the end did come seven years later, it came from an invasion from the north. There was no uprising in the south. Because of the blowback from Watergate, President Ford could not muster support for South Vietnam from Congress.

The military response to Tet could have been the beginning of the end of the war, a true peace or cessation of hostilities like in Korea. There truly was a light at the end of the tunnel after Tet, but the battle was lost back in the U.S. A loss from which Johnson knew he could never recover and for which all subsequent administrations have had to deal.

This is the stuff a Shakespearian tragedy. While LBJ did not die, his political persona did. A man who wanted to exercise his domestic agenda so much he refuse to call up the reserves and National Guard because it would send the political message that Vietnam was escalating into a major war -- and you cannot have a Great Society and a great war in the same budget. He almost pulled it off. If only the Tet Offensive had been viewed as the victory it was. LBJ, the consummate politician, was out maneuvered by the grassroots politics of the anti-war movement. He missed that bandwagon and then it ran over him.

A curse be on all second terms. And they shall be undone not by the fact but by the lie.

Anyway, we must wait to see if Plamegate is the fulfillment of LBJ’s Curse on the Second Term. If this or something else ruins Bush’s second term, I expect the LBJ’s Curse on the Second Term to be listed in Wikipedia’s index of curses.

Or it could still be that Chalabi spy chummy with the Neocons and therefore at the highest level of U.S. foreign policy story -- hadn’t heard anything more about that. This prisoner abuse, CIA secret prisons story could certainly fulfill the cures. We can only stay tuned.

Others who have noticed a curse on the second term are Brendan Miniter at the Opinion Journal, and over at Infinite Wisdom and
Alfred J. Zacher at History News Network
has written a book about second terms. He says only six of nineteen presidents went uncursed. He’s talking about the general second term curse that any lame duck president would face. However, two impeachments in the past 30 years seem to indicate something new is afoot.