The Canard That Will Not Die
RN’s “secret plan” to end the Vietnam war is the Dracula of canards. No matter how many wooden stakes are nailed through its nasty heart, it’s up again at first light, brushing off the dirt and walking the land ready to be cited in yet another book or article.
Two weeks ago it surfaced in Time and, one would have thought, our colleague Jack Pitney more than effectively hammered home a big wooden stake.
But it’s already back again in today’s Wall Street Journal, where the usually dependable Bret Stephens serves up “Obama’s Nixon Reprise” — in which he tries to tie (starting with the first paragraph) RN’s “secret plan” to end the Vietnam war during the 1968 campaign with Senator Obama’s current shape shifting regarding his promises to pull out of Iraq:
Richard Nixon came to office with a rumored secret plan to end the war in Vietnam. Maybe Barack Obama’s plan to end the war in Iraq is going to wind up being a secret, too.
RN never said he had a plan — “secret” or otherwise. His position throughout the campaign —which was both responsible as a citizen and sensible as a candidate— was that, given the peace talks being conducted in Paris, anything specific he said might undercut the administration. The phrase “secret plan” was part of a question asked him at a town meeting in New Hampshire during the primary. A UPI story attributed the phrase to RN and the rest is, well, you know what the rest is.
It is argued that RN never actually disowned the phrase and is, therefore, at least guilty by association with the phrase even if he didn’t say it. But that kind of argument, if seriously intended, is too naive by half. Any such statement would have produced the headline: Nixon Has No Plan To End War.
Even Wikipedia, which is not averse to retailing Nixon criticism, isn’t buying this particular old chestnut anymore:
In the 1968 Presidential campaign, Richard Nixon stated that “new leadership will end the war” in Vietnam. He never used the phrase “secret plan”, which originated with a reporter looking for a lead to a story summarizing the Republican candidate’s (hazy) promise to end the war without losing.
Nuff said. At least until the next time it has to be said again.