Is history repeating itself?
Historian A. J. P. Taylor once remarked that there comes a day when students learn from books what is within the living memory of the instructor. I am no instructor, but I vividly recall when the United States was embroiled overseas in the midst of a foreign nation's civil strife - where American troops could not tell the "good guys" from the "bad guys" because the enemy could simply melt into the environment.
I recall how that war had been popular and that the President had won a second term in his own right because he would be better at handling threats to the United Sates than could his opponent.
And yet, it wasn't long before the American people rejected the war policies of administration, but someone had to stand up to the President, and even if by proxy, people had to have the mechanism by which to have a quasi-referendum on the war, and that turned out to be the 1968 Presidential Primary in New Hampshire.
LBJ was challenged by Senator Eugene McCarthy. McCarthy went neck and neck with Johnson and soon the entire nation knew that being against the Vietnam War was not unpatriotic nor were those who opposed it alone.
We read in The Union Leader 1968: McCarthy stuns the President.
On November 30, 1967, Senator McCarthy announced for the Democratic nomination for President, stating, "My decision to challenge the President's position, and the administration's position, has been strengthened by recent announcements out of the administration â€” the evident intention to intensify the war in Vietnam and, on the other hand, the absence of any positive indications or suggestions for a compromise or for a negotiated settlement. I am concerned that the administration seems to have set no limits to the price that it is willing to pay for a military victory."
The rhetoric of Iraq is different. Our Defense Secretary isn't calling for winning "the hearts and minds," or the "Iraqification" of struggle, but it seems events in Connecticut and the defeat of Joe Lieberman by Ned Lamont.
Like LBJ, Bush has squandered much of his political capital for little, but the way this has played out so far is a bit different. Lieberman has decided to go it alone. It may not be fair that the race turned into a referendum on the war, but voters do find a way to register their resentments. Alas, Lieberman was caught in the crossfire.
What LBJ realized in 1968 was that he had spent his political capital foolishly and no longer had the popular support. Instead he gave speeches on military bases where the audience was more or less vetted. But it is said that this deeply wounded a man who was used to having popular support. And so, in March 31, 1968 ... barely four months after McCarthy announced he would run, Johnson made an announcement which stunned many of us,
I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.
And in that four months, America had turned a corner.
We are about to turn a corner like that again, and we shall see if Lieberman is as wise as Johnson was.