The Price of Political Purity

Special Report: Some activists on the Left are rejecting President Obama and the Democrats even if that means electoral victories for Mitt Romney, the neocons and the Tea Party. But Sam Brown, a veteran of a similar debate in 1968, cautions against the allure of political purity, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

In 1968, Sam Brown, like many of his youthful contemporaries, was disgusted by the Vietnam War which had already claimed more than 30,000 American lives and killed countless Vietnamese. So, he poured his energy into Eugene McCarthy’s anti-war campaign for the Democratic nomination, serving as McCarthy’s Youth Coordinator.

Then, after McCarthy lost to Hubert Humphrey at the tumultuous Chicago convention, the 25-year-old Brown faced a tough choice: whether to sit out the general election in protest of Humphrey’s support for President Lyndon Johnson’s war policies or accept Humphrey as superior to his Republican rival, Richard Nixon.

Vice President Hubert Humphrey, President Lyndon Johnson and General Creighton Abrams in a Cabinet Room meeting on March 27, 1968. (Photo credit: National Archive)

I contacted Brown about that old dilemma in the context of my recent reporting about Johnson’s desperate bid to negotiate an end to the Vietnam War in 1968 and the now-declassified evidence that Nixon’s campaign sabotaged those efforts through back-channel contacts, encouraging the South Vietnamese government to boycott Johnson’s peace talks.

Of course, in 1968, Brown was unaware of what Johnson privately called Nixon’s “treason,” in part, because Johnson chose to keep the evidence secret, rather than risk releasing it before the election only to have Nixon still win and start off with a deeply marred presidency.

Brown’s 1968 dilemma also has recurred periodically for Democrats as some on the Left prefer to cast votes for third parties or simply not vote to protest some shortcoming of the Democratic nominee even if the Republican alternative is likely to pursue more warlike policies and roll back programs aimed at helping the poor and the middle class.

In 1980, many on the Left abandoned Jimmy Carter because of his tacking to the political center, thus clearing the way for Ronald Reagan. In 2000, nearly three million voters cast ballots for Ralph Nader (who dubbed Al Gore “Tweedle-Dum” to George W. Bush’s “Tweedle-Dee”), thus helping Bush get close enough in Florida to steal the White House (with further help from five Republican partisans on the U.S. Supreme Court). Today, some on the Left are turning their backs on Barack Obama because he has disappointed them on health-care reform, the Afghan War and other policies.

It seems that on the Left even more than on the Right there is this quadrennial debate over whether one should withhold support from the Democratic nominee out of a sense of moral purity or hold one’s nose and accept the “lesser evil,” i.e. the major-party candidate who will inflict the least damage on Americans and the world.

Yet, as intensely as some on the Left disdain President Obama’s actions and inaction today, the cause for anger in 1968 was much greater. After running as the “peace” candidate in 1964, President Johnson had sharply escalated the U.S. involvement in Vietnam with Vice President Humphrey loyally at his side.

Then, in 1968, the bloody Tet offensive shattered U.S. assurances of impending victory; Johnson confronted a surprisingly strong challenge from Sen. Eugene McCarthy and decided not to seek reelection; Sen. Robert F. Kennedy entered the race, but was assassinated (as was civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.); and the Democratic convention in Chicago descended into chaos as police clashed with anti-war protesters on the streets.

Appeal to the McCarthy Youth

It was in that maelstrom of tragedy and anger that Sam Brown, like other McCarthy (and Kennedy) supporters had to decide whether to line up behind Humphrey, who was admired for his support for social and economic justice (even if he was condemned for his loyalty to Johnson), or to stay on the sidelines (and risk Nixon’s victory).

In a recent interview, Brown told me that he was on the fence about which way to go, saying his decision depended on Humphrey making a clean break with Johnson on the war. There was a widely held view at the time that Johnson was so psychologically “owned by the war” — and his responsibility for the terrible bloodshed — that he couldn’t take the necessary steps to make peace, Brown said.

Humphrey did not want to betray Johnson but understood that his campaign depended on his reuniting the shattered Democratic Party. So, Humphrey sent emissaries to approach Brown and other anti-war activists.

“The campaign in a formal way reached out to those who had supported McCarthy,” Brown recalled. The campaign’s emissary to about a dozen activists was Vermont Gov. Philip Hoff, who had “cred” because he was an early opponent of the Vietnam War, Brown said.

But Hoff faced a hard sell. “We were so bitter about Johnson that we weren’t going to listen to Humphrey,” Brown said about himself and some of the other activists. “It can’t be just, ‘he’s a good guy, trust us.’ You had to give us something to believe in. There needed to be some lifeline thrown.”

The anti-war activists also thought they might be able to use Humphrey’s outreach to pry him away from his pro-war position. “We had a little leverage now to move Humphrey,” Brown said. “It’s sounds pretentious. I had just turned 25 years old” but simply endorsing him “would have given up all the leverage we had to move Humphrey on the war.”

Brown was one of the McCarthy people who ultimately withheld support for Humphrey as the Vice President continued to balk at repudiating the war. So, as Nixon built up an imposing lead in the presidential race, Brown returned to his home state of Iowa to work for anti-war Senate candidate Harold Hughes.

Humphrey waited until Sept. 30 before he gave a speech in Salt Lake City, Utah, calling for a unilateral U.S. bombing halt. “Humphrey didn’t break with the President until way too late,” Brown said. “It was just too late to turn that ship around.”

However, Humphrey’s speech helped close the gap against Nixon. There also was more happening on a possible peace deal behind the scenes. In October 1968, the North Vietnamese began to show flexibility toward Johnson’s peace overtures and Johnson started pressing the South Vietnamese government to come onboard and join peace talks in Paris.

Johnson kept the leading presidential candidates informed of the progress. Even though few Americans knew how close Johnson was to ending the war, Nixon was told and grew alarmed that a breakthrough on peace would put Humphrey over the top, another heartbreaking loss for Nixon.

Nixon’s Back-Channels

Yet, while Nixon was in the know on the Paris peace talks also getting tips from Henry Kissinger, an informal adviser to the negotiations Johnson was largely in the dark about Nixon’s own channels to the South Vietnamese leadership.

Nixon’s early outreach to Saigon included a private meeting with South Vietnam’s Ambassador Bui Diem at the Hotel Pierre in New York City on July 12, 1968, attended by Nixon’s campaign manager John Mitchell and one of his top fundraisers, China Lobby figure Anna Chennault.

At the end of the meeting, “Nixon thanked me for my visit and added that his staff would be in touch with me through John Mitchell and Anna Chennault,” Bui Diem wrote, in his 1987 memoir, In the Jaws of History.

According to Chennault’s account of the same meeting, Nixon also told Bui Diem that as president he would make Vietnam his top priority and “see that Vietnam gets better treatment from me than under the Democrats.” [See The Palace File by Nguyen Tien Hung and Jerrold L. Schecter.]

After the meeting with Nixon, Bui Diem said he grew more alienated from President Johnson and the Democrats as they pressed for peace talks to end the war.

“As the Democrats steered with all due haste away from the Indochinese involvement they had engineered, I was increasingly attracted to the Republican side,” Bui Diem wrote. “By October [1968] I was back in touch with Anna, who was now co-chairman of Nixon’s fundraising committee, and Senator John Tower, chairman of the Republican Key Issues Committee. I also got together with George [H.W.] Bush and other Republicans from whom I was trying to elicit support for a strong Vietnam policy.”

Bui Diem acknowledged sending cables to Saigon, conveying the interest of the Nixon campaign in having President Nguyen van Thieu resist pressure to join the peace talks.

“I found a cable from October 23,” Bui Diem wrote, “in which I had said, ‘Many Republican friends have contacted me and encouraged us to stand firm. They were alarmed by press reports to the effect that you [President Thieu] had already softened your position.’

“In another cable, from October 27, I wrote, ‘I am regularly in touch with the Nixon entourage,’ by which I meant Anna Chennault, John Mitchell, and Senator Tower.”

Bui Diem also noted that Chennault “had other avenues to Thieu, primarily through his brother, Nguyen Van Kieu, a South Vietnamese ambassador to Taiwan.”

Thieu’s Version

President Thieu’s fullest account of the peace-talk gambit was recounted by his former aide, Nguyen Tien Hung, in The Palace File (coauthored with Jerrold Schecter). Hung/Schecter reported that “Anna Chennault visited Saigon frequently in 1968 to advise Thieu on Nixon’s candidacy and his views on Vietnam. She told him [Thieu] then that Nixon would be a stronger supporter of Vietnam than Humphrey.”

Thieu also bypassed his Washington embassy for some of his messages to Chennault, Hung/Schecter wrote. “He relied heavily on his brother Nguyen Van Kieu” and that “Mrs. Chennault often sent messages to Thieu through aides to his brother.”

Based on interviews with Chennault, Hung/Schecter reported that she claimed that John Mitchell called her “almost every day” urging her to stop Thieu from going to the Paris peace talks and warning her that she should use pay phones to avoid wiretaps.

Hung/Schecter wrote: “Mitchell’s message to her was always the same: ‘Don’t let him go.’ A few days before the election, Mitchell telephoned her with a message for President Thieu, ‘Anna, I’m speaking on behalf of Mr. Nixon. It’s very important that our Vietnamese friends understand our Republican position and I hope you have made that clear to them.’”

Chennault said, “Thieu was under heavy pressure from the Democrats. My job was to hold him back and prevent him from changing his mind.”

As Hung/Schecter wrote: “Throughout October 1968 Thieu tried to delay the Johnson bombing halt decision and an announcement of Paris Talks as long as possible to buy time for Nixon.”

For his part, Johnson gradually became aware of the double game being played by Thieu and Nixon. As the days counted down to the election, Johnson was hearing sketchy reports from U.S. intelligence that Thieu was dragging his feet in anticipation of a Nixon victory.

For instance, a “top secret” report on Oct. 23, 1968, report presumably based on National Security Agency’s electronic eavesdropping quotes Thieu as saying that the Johnson administration might halt U.S. bombing of North Vietnam as part of a peace gesture that would help Humphrey’s campaign, but that South Vietnam might not go along.

“The situation which would occur as the result of a bombing halt, without the agreement of the [South] Vietnamese government would be to the advantage of candidate Nixon,” the NSA report on Thieu’s thinking read. “Accordingly, he [Thieu] said that the possibility of President Johnson enforcing a bombing halt without [South] Vietnam’s agreement appears to be weak.” [For the document, click here and here.]

By Oct. 28, 1968, according to another NSA report, Thieu said “it appears that Mr. Nixon will be elected as the next president” and that any settlement with the Viet Cong should be put off until “the new president” was in place.

Wall Street Intrigue

The next day, Oct. 29, national security adviser Walt Rostow received the first clear indication that Nixon might actually be coordinating with Thieu to sabotage the peace talks. Rostow’s brother, Eugene, who was Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, wrote a memo about a tip from a source in New York who had spoken with “a member of the banking community” who was “very close to Nixon.”

The source said Wall Street bankers at a working lunch to assess likely market trends and to decide where to invest had been given inside information about the prospects for Vietnam peace and were told that Nixon was obstructing that outcome.

“The conversation was in the context of a professional discussion about the future of the financial markets in the near term,” Eugene Rostow wrote. “The speaker said he thought the prospects for a bombing halt or a cease-fire were dim, because Nixon was playing the problem to block.

“They would incite Saigon to be difficult, and Hanoi to wait. Part of his strategy was an expectation that an offensive would break out soon, that we would have to spend a great deal more (and incur more casualties) a fact which would adversely affect the stock market and the bond market. NVN [North Vietnamese] offensive action was a definite element in their thinking about the future.”

In other words, Nixon’s friends on Wall Street were placing their financial bets based on the inside dope that Johnson’s peace initiative was doomed to fail. (In another document, Walt Rostow identified his brother’s source as Alexander Sachs, who was then on the board of Lehman Brothers, though Nixon’s original Wall Street contact is not named and remains unknown to history.)

In a later memo to the file, Walt Rostow recounted that he learned this news shortly before attending a morning meeting at which President Johnson was informed by U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam Ellsworth Bunker about “Thieu’s sudden intransigence.” Walt Rostow said “the diplomatic information previously received plus the information from New York took on new and serious significance.”

That same day, Johnson ordered FBI wiretaps of Americans in touch with the South Vietnamese Embassy in Washington and quickly learned that Anna Chennault was holding curious meetings with South Vietnamese Ambassador Bui Diem.

Working the Phones

Johnson began working the phones contacting some of his old Senate colleagues, including Republican Senate Leader Everett Dirksen, to urge that they intercede with Nixon to stop his campaign’s peace-talk sabotage.

“He better keep Mrs. Chennault and all this crowd tied up for a few days,” Johnson told Dirksen on Oct. 31, 1968, according to a tape recording of the call released in 2008.

That night, Johnson announced a bombing halt intended to ensure North Vietnamese participation in the talks. The Democrats were finally taking the action that Brown and other anti-war activists wanted, but it was late in the game and many voters remained dubious over whether Johnson was serious or was engaging in a political stunt.

“The President had no credibility,” said Brown. “When he said, ‘I’m ending the war,’ the assumption was that we’d bomb them back to the Stone Age.”

However, the historical evidence now indicates that Johnson was serious about ending the war. Indeed, he apparently felt a powerful responsibility to do so before leaving office, possibly thinking that it was the only way to salvage his legacy. But he discovered that Nixon’s operatives continued to obstruct the process.

On Nov. 2, 1968, Johnson learned that his protests had not shut down Nixon’s gambit. The FBI intercepted the most incriminating evidence yet of Nixon’s interference when Anna Chennault contacted Ambassador Bui Diem to convey “a message from her boss (not further identified),” according to an FBI cable.

According to the intercept, Chennault said “her boss wanted her to give [the message] personally to the ambassador. She said the message was that the ambassador is to ‘hold on, we are going to win’ and that her boss also said, ‘hold on, he understands all of it.’ She repeated that this is the only message ‘he said please tell your boss to hold on.’ She advised that her boss had just called from New Mexico.”

In quickly relaying the message to Johnson at his ranch in Texas, Walt Rostow noted that the reference to New Mexico “may indicate [Republican vice presidential nominee Spiro] Agnew is acting,” since he had taken a campaign swing through the state.

That same day, Thieu recanted on his tentative agreement to meet with the Viet Cong in Paris, pushing the incipient peace talks toward failure. That night, at 9:18, an angry Johnson from his ranch in Texas telephoned Dirksen again, to provide more details about Nixon’s activities and to urge Dirksen to intervene more forcefully.

“The agent [Chennault] says she’s just talked to the boss in New Mexico and that he said that you must hold out, just hold on until after the election,” Johnson said. “We know what Thieu is saying to them out there. We’re pretty well informed at both ends.”

Johnson then renewed his thinly veiled threat to go public. “I don’t want to get this in the campaign,” Johnson said, adding: “They oughtn’t be doing this. This is treason.”

Dirksen responded, “I know.”

Johnson continued: “I think it would shock America if a principal candidate was playing with a source like this on a matter of this importance. I don’t want to do that [go public]. They ought to know that we know what they’re doing. I know who they’re talking to. I know what they’re saying.”

The President also stressed the stakes involved, noting that the movement toward negotiations in Paris had contributed to a lull in the violence. “We’ve had 24 hours of relative peace,” Johnson said. “If Nixon keeps the South Vietnamese away from the [peace] conference, well, that’s going to be his responsibility. Up to this point, that’s why they’re not there. I had them signed onboard until this happened.”

Dirksen: “I better get in touch with him, I think.”

“They’re contacting a foreign power in the middle of a war,” Johnson said. “It’s a damn bad mistake. And I don’t want to say so. You just tell them that their people are messing around in this thing, and if they don’t want it on the front pages, they better quit it.”

A Worried Nixon

After hearing from Dirksen, Nixon grew concerned that Johnson might just go public with his evidence of the conspiracy. At 1:54 p.m. on Nov. 3, trying to head off that possibility, Nixon spoke directly to Johnson, according to an audiotape released in 2008 by the LBJ Library.

“I feel very, very strongly about this,” Nixon said. “Any rumblings around about somebody trying to sabotage the Saigon government’s attitude, there’s absolutely no credibility as far as I’m concerned.”

However, armed with the FBI reports and other intelligence, Johnson responded, “I’m very happy to hear that, Dick, because that is taking place. Here’s the history of it. I didn’t want to call you but I wanted you to know what happened.”

Johnson recounted some of the chronology leading up to Oct. 28 when it appeared that South Vietnam was onboard for the peace talks. He added: “Then the traffic goes out that Nixon will do better by you. Now that goes to Thieu. I didn’t say with your knowledge. I hope it wasn’t.”

“Huh, no,” Nixon responded. “My God, I would never do anything to encourage Saigon not to come to the table. Good God, we want them over to Paris, we got to get them to Paris or you can’t have a peace.”

Nixon also insisted that he would do whatever President Johnson and Secretary of State Dean Rusk wanted, including going to Paris himself if that would help. “I’m not trying to interfere with your conduct of it; I’ll only do what you and Rusk want me to do,” Nixon said, recognizing how tantalizingly close Johnson was to a peace deal.

“We’ve got to get this goddamn war off the plate,” Nixon continued. “The war apparently now is about where it could be brought to an end. The quicker the better. To hell with the political credit, believe me.”

Johnson, however, sounded less than convinced by Nixon’s denials. “You just see that your people don’t tell the South Vietnamese that they’re going to get a better deal out of the United States government than a conference,” the President said.

Still professing his innocence, Nixon told Johnson, “The main thing that we want to have is a good, strong personal understanding. After all, I trust you on this and I’ve told everybody that.”

“You just see that your people that are talking to these folks make clear your position,” Johnson said.

According to some reports, Nixon and his aides were gleeful after the conversation ended, believing they had tamped down Johnson’s suspicions. However, privately, Johnson didn’t believe Nixon’s protestations of innocence.

A Last Chance

On Nov. 4, the White House received another report from the FBI that Anna Chennault had visited the South Vietnamese embassy. Johnson also got word that the Christian Science Monitor was onto the story of Nixon undermining the peace talks.

Saville Davis of the Monitor’s Washington bureau approached Ambassador Bui Diem and the White House about a story filed by the Monitor’s Saigon correspondent, Beverly Deepe, regarding contacts between Thieu’s government and the Nixon campaign.

Deepe’s draft article began: “Purported political encouragement from the Richard Nixon camp was a significant factor in the last-minute decision of President Thieu’s refusal to send a delegation to the Paris peace talks at least until the American Presidential election is over.”

The Monitor’s inquiry gave President Johnson one last chance to bring to light the Nixon campaign’s gambit before voters went to the polls, albeit only on the day before and possibly not until the morning of the election when the Monitor could publish the story.

So, Johnson consulted with Rostow, Rusk and Defense Secretary Clark Clifford in a Nov. 4 conference call. The advisers were unanimous that Johnson shouldn’t go public, citing the risk that the scandal would reflect badly on the U.S. government.

“Some elements of the story are so shocking in their nature that I’m wondering whether it would be good for the country to disclose the story and then possibly have a certain individual [Nixon] elected,” Clifford said. “It could cast his whole administration under such doubt that I think it would be inimical to our country’s interests.”

Johnson concurred with the judgment, and an administration spokesman told Davis, “Obviously I’m not going to get into this kind of thing in any way, shape or form,” according to another “eyes only” cable that Rostow sent Johnson. [See’s “The Almost Scoop on Nixon’s ‘Treason.’”]

The Consequences

The next day, Nixon narrowly prevailed over Humphrey by about 500,000 votes or less than one percent of the ballots cast.

On the day after the election, Rostow relayed to Johnson another FBI intercept which had recorded South Vietnamese Ambassador Bui Diem saying, prior to the American balloting, that he was “keeping his fingers crossed” in hopes of a Nixon victory.

On Nov. 7, Rostow passed along another report to Johnson about the thinking of South Vietnam’s leaders. The report quoted Major Bui Cong Minh, assistant armed forces attaché at the South Vietnamese Embassy in Washington, saying about the peace talks: “Major Minh expressed the opinion that the move by Saigon was to help presidential candidate Nixon, and that had Saigon gone to the conference table, presidential candidate Humphrey would probably have won.”

Johnson continued to hope that Nixon, having won the election, would join in pressing for Saigon’s participation in the peace talks and achieve a breakthrough before Johnson left office on Jan. 20, 1969. But the breakthrough was not to be, and Johnson went into retirement in silence about Nixon’s “treason.”

Johnson did, however, instruct Rostow to take with him the secret file of wiretaps and other evidence, which Rostow labeled “The ‘X’ Envelope.” (It remained unopened until the mid-1990s and has gradually been declassified since then.)

Contrary to the hopes of many Americans including some anti-war voters who cast their ballots for Nixon thinking he had a “secret plan” to end the war the new President had no intention to end the war quickly.

When Nixon met Thieu on Midway Island on June 8, 1969, in their first face-to-face sit-down since the election, Nixon unveiled his plan for a gradual “Vietnamization” of the war, while Thieu sought more U.S. guarantees of military assistance, according to The Palace File.

Hung/Schecter recounted Thieu explaining Nixon’s assurances in a later meeting with Taiwan’s leader Chiang Kai-shek. “He promised me eight years of strong support,” Thieu told Chiang. “Four years of military support during his first term in office and four years of economic support during his second term.

“By the time most of the Americans have withdrawn, so will the North Vietnamese; by then Saigon should be strong enough to carry on its own defense with only material support from the United States.”

Nixon’s plan proved unsuccessful. Yet, having allegedly made his secret commitment to the South Vietnamese regime, Nixon kept searching for violent new ways to get Thieu a better deal than Johnson would have offered. Seeking what he called “peace with honor,” Nixon invaded Cambodia and stepped up the bombing of North Vietnam.

Before U.S. combat participation in the war was finally brought to a close in 1973, on terms similar to what had been available to President Johnson in 1968, a million more Vietnamese were estimated to have died. Those four-plus years also cost the lives of an additional 20,763 U.S. soldiers, with 111,230 wounded.

On to Watergate

The failure of Johnson and the Democrats to call Nixon out on his possible “treason” also left Nixon with a sense of invulnerability, like a gambler’s confidence after succeeding at a high-stakes bluff.

When it came to his 1972 reelection campaign, Nixon pushed more chips onto the table. Feeling that he had snookered the savvy Johnson, why not rig the entire democratic process by spreading dissension among the Democrats and hoodwinking the Democrats into selecting the weakest possible opponent?

But Nixon also fretted about his possible vulnerability to undisclosed information that the Democrats might have on him. After entering the White House, Nixon worried about Johnson’s file on the peace-talk gambit and those fears led Nixon into a frantic search for its location. He didn’t know that Johnson had ordered Walt Rostow to take the file out of the White House when Johnson departed on Jan. 20, 1969.

So, the search continued. On June 17, 1971, upon hearing the file might be in a safe at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Nixon ordered a break-in by operatives under former CIA officer E. Howard Hunt. The order apparently marked the start of Nixon’s “plumbers’ operation,” which led to the failed Watergate break-in at the Democratic National Committee exactly one year later. [See’s “The Dark Continuum of Watergate.“]

Though the investigations of Nixon’s Watergate-related dirty tricks forced him to resign in disgrace on Aug. 9, 1974, his legacy of ruthless politics lived on, in part, because he and his cohorts were never held accountable for their interference in the Vietnam peace talks. In fact, there was never an official inquiry into their actions.

Arguably, Nixon, the master political strategist, also succeeded in driving a permanent wedge into the Democrats’ New Deal alliance. By dragging out the Vietnam War for four more years, Nixon managed to cleave the Democratic Party in two, carving away many “hard-hat” white voters from what they saw as “hippie” anti-war activists and their minority allies.

Reflecting on the consequences of the 1968 election and after seeing the latest evidence of Nixon’s Vietnam “treason” Sam Brown said he regrets his decision to rebuff appeals for his support of Humphrey, especially since he thinks endorsements from former McCarthy activists might have erased Nixon’s narrow victory margin.

“In ’68, there was plenty of blame to go around,” Brown said. “You had to forgive us somewhat.”

Still, Brown acknowledged that American democracy could have gone in a much more positive direction if Nixon had been defeated. “What he did to our politics,” Brown lamented. “He was every bit as duplicitous as people said he was, maybe more so.”

On a personal level, Brown said his decision in 1968 still causes him pain and embarrassment. “I’m not proud about what I’m about to tell you,” Brown said, adding that he cast his ballot for a minor third-party candidate as “a throwaway vote.”

Brown said he justified his choice because he was living in Iowa, which was expected to go for Nixon anyway. However, in retrospect, he called his rationalization “a cop-out” and told me, “I wish I had voted for Humphrey even in a place that didn’t count. In retrospect, everybody should have been for Humphrey.”

There is a larger lesson from his youthful choice, Brown believes, understanding the danger of political purity. Brown, who later in his career ran the government ACTION agency for President Jimmy Carter and headed the U.S. mission to the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe for President Bill Clinton, worries that a return of this attitude among young activists could lead to Mitt Romney defeating President Barack Obama in 2012.

Brown said that on every important issue, “this guy [Obama] is 100 times better than the alternative” and that activists should put aside whatever disappointments they feel about Obama and not repeat the mistake of 1968.

To read more of Robert Parry’s writings, you can now order his last two books, Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, at the discount price of only $16 for both. For details on the special offer, click here.]  

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.

60 comments for “The Price of Political Purity

  1. Paul G.
    June 30, 2012 at 22:40

    That consummate Chicago style politician, and Obama Chief of staff, Rahm Emmanual said it all when questioned about his boss’ betraying of so many of his followers values after taking office: “What are they going to do,vote Republican?”

  2. June 29, 2012 at 16:15

    Some of us have a phylogenetic antipathy for the Nazi type locked step conformity-obedience currently being enforced by the two major political parties. The anti democratic problems associated with the existence of the electoral college are insignificant when contrasted to the ongoing efforts to nullify the Constitution & Bill of Rights. Once these foundation documents are history the fascist corporate state will express the “Triumph Of The Will.” Then we won’t have to concern ourselves with the electoral college.

  3. Frances in California
    June 29, 2012 at 14:27

    Well, all you condescending Progressives can feel really self-satisfied in November when Romney “ascends”. I, for one, will be forced into exile by the sheer economy of a Romney Kingdom. I’d much rather stay and fight to get the Electoral College abolished but I just won’t be able to afford to.

  4. June 29, 2012 at 13:56

    Mr Sanford,
    Your reference to “cultural blindness” hits the psychological target dead center.
    Some of us who lived through that era remember the German people being in mass denial. It looks like that’s what has been going on here for a very long time.
    We have our Hanna Reitsch types along with the Goebbels types; they seem to be at the throttle of the American “New Order.” The American “New Order” requires the nullification of the Constitution & the Bill of Rights. Absolute conformity & self sacrifice in the name of the Fourth Reich & its Wehrmacht is mandatory to facilitate the war on terror & liberate the “terrorized.” When this process is underway we find the Leni Riefenstahl types cheering on the new goose steppers as they drag us kicking & screaming to the Thousand Year Reich. Erik Fromm’s “Escape From Freedom” explains the partial causation of this phenomenon quite nicely.

  5. June 28, 2012 at 16:26

    The American public is now living in a fascist corporate state & many of them know it. That the President, his colleagues, & fellow office holders are fascist corporate statists is self evident. That they are crypto fascists is irrelevant. It’s difficult for this old man to comprehend why any American would vote for any fascist for any office given the efforts by Americans to terminate the existence of fascism in World War 2. Both Obama & Romney are disqualified for the office of the President. I’ve chosen my political cup of hemlock, & I’m stuck with it.

    • F. G. Sanford
      June 28, 2012 at 20:51

      You are oh, so right, Mr. Athenian, but when I try to discuss this or cite clear historical analogies, my friends and family act like I’m nuts. They, as far as I’m concerned, have the same cultural blindness that was rampant during WWII. Germans saying, “We had no idea this was going on” when the war was over. In the sarcastic words of the inveterate Hitler admirer, Hanna Reitsch: “After the war, you couldn’t find a single person who voted for Hitler”. Unfortunately, I’m afraid it requires total catastrophe for most people to wake up. Even then, they are willing to deny they had any personal responsibility. They are willingly watching the destruction of the U. S. Constitution, and cheering it on as a patriotic cause. Fascism begins like that. The masses cheer for it…until it comes home as the Gestapo.

  6. June 28, 2012 at 10:21

    Reality check here : Barack Obama is an assassin, a murderer, a slayer of innocents. And proud of it. Voting for Barack Obama makes you an accessory to his murders. I realize that many of you are ok with that. I’m not. Not voting for Barack Obama does not make me a supporter of Mitt Romney, no matter how hard you Demoblican Mobsters try to twist the truth.

    You need a minimum standard in life. Voting for an unrepentant murderer for president, one who promises to murder again and again, more and more, does not meet my minimum standard.

    • Ken Weeks
      June 28, 2012 at 16:21

      Perhaps we should call what we have in Obama, “The Price of Political Compromise?” I have no doubt that an unrepentant rich kid bully and dog torturer won’t hesitate to smoke a “bad guy” as soon as he gets his own drones. Getting a killer for President is like Monty Python getting SPAM with breakfast. There is no SPAM free choice on this very limited menu.

    • Kathleen
      July 9, 2012 at 14:51

      Best comment so far!

      You cannot overcome evil by supporting evil-doers! A vote for Obama is clearly a vote for Bush’s policies to keep expanding, and there is simply no justification for participation in this evil betrayal of human rights, democracy, and the earth.

      Shame on Mr. Parry’s cowardice. There is so much more at stake in 2012 than there ever was in 1968… The ONLY difference between Obama and Romney is that, if Romney wins he will be a quicker death of human rights, democracy, and the earth. (Besides, mobilizing behind Obama is the sure-fire way to guarantee the low voter turn-out Romney needs to win. So if your goal to “defeat Romney” is genuine, then the last thing you want to do is mobilize behind Obama!!)

      So, in the meantime, I will be voting for Jill Stein.

  7. Bill
    June 28, 2012 at 09:55

    Huh. Did I *not* just read an article on this site about how close the 1968 election was? And how Nixon had sabotaged the peace talks with North and South Vietnam? And how LBJ knew this? And how he decided not to tell the American people this even after Nixon lied to his face? And how Humphrey probably would have won had LBJ not done that?

    And how that set a pattern that the Republicans have followed ever since?

    And how the Democrats keep doing that over and over again?


    That’s called “good cop bad cop” my friend.

    Don’t be such a freakin’ chump.

  8. John Puma
    June 28, 2012 at 08:23

    I suggest that one day you devote yourself to the the REAL problem, i.e., fact that every four years Americans have ONLY the choice of the ” ‘lesser evil,’ i.e. the major-party candidate who will inflict the least damage on Americans and the world.”

    Among the standard litany of all presidential losses being the fault of “the Left” I suggest that Gore was not elected NOT because of Nader NOR of the SCOTUS, Inc,. but because he was not able to carry his own state.

    The best things accomplished by Obama, not within minutes of being declared unconstitutional (that is, repeal of DADT and non-defense of DOMA) are the undoing of the “efforts” of the most recent former “Democratic” president who spent eight years similarly kissing radical reich ass – only to be impeached for the effort.

  9. June 28, 2012 at 07:31

    Ideological purity has nothing to do with my decision not to vote for Obama again. I knew that he was vetted by Wall Street and is a corporate candidate and I never expected much from him, though I did expect better. That said, he has overseen the greatest growth of the police state and of citizen repression in our national history. That, along with his support for NDAA and his blind loyalty to the oil industry in supporting the XL shale oil pipeline, not to mention increased oil drilling and gas fracking make him unacceptable Period. I have written the DNC asking them to consider another candidate instead of backing Obama for another term and I would advise others to do so. I don’t want Romney and acknowledge that he would be worse but at this point, I would rather have an obvious wolf than a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We can no longer afford to delude ourselves with false hopes. The planet is changing and we are on the brink of calamity. Romney is a caricature of everything vile about this system and, while he is pandering to the right, he, like Obama, is an empty suit to be used by the global corporate elite.

    I will vote for Dems in Congressional races and certainly in my state but I have come to believe that the Presidential race is already decided by the corporate ruling class and both official offerings are despicable. Do what you want. I will probably write in “None of the Above” unless a progressive we can all get behind emerges.

  10. Terry Stone
    June 28, 2012 at 02:09

    Time for ‘None of the Above’ as an option on all ballots. If ‘NOTA’ wins, all new candidates must be run on the next ballot, and we keep it up until we get someone the people want. The cost of additional elections is well worth it, compared to what the lesser of two evils would cost us. It could give us back our voice, our power and our democracy.

    • June 28, 2012 at 08:07

      I agree Terry. We don’t need to wait for NOTA on our ballets, we can write-in candidates now. We need to Occupy The Election. It’s ‘illegal’ to write in the name of a candidate on a ballot in some states! What has happened to us that we are willing to take such absurd assertions seriously?

      Our system needs restructuring but everyone in ‘authority’ is too corrupt to be of any use to us. It is up to ourselves to get ‘creative’, to take the bull by the horns and force the system to obey our will.

      I’d like to have your thoughts on the Open Election Amendment

      and the other proposed restructuring efforts at the site.

      The system is broke, it must be fixed, we’re the only ones here to fix it.

  11. June 28, 2012 at 00:20

    The United States is the imperial power of the world, and has been at least since President Wilson. It sucks the life out of people almost everywhere, particularly in the third world, especially in the form of petroleum. Very roughly speaking, the difference between the two major parties has been that the Democratic rulers want to keep the peace at home by sharing some of the spoils with the rest of us, the 99%, while the Republican rulers want to share none of it. Justice requires that we fight imperialism; however, the Dems hold two trumps, in my opinion: 1) the threat of more “conservatives” on the Supreme Court, and 2) climate change. Things may well get worse, if the Dems win; they will surely get much much worse if the Republicans win. If you have grandchildren, or may have some, you’d better vote Democratic.

  12. McMike
    June 28, 2012 at 00:17

    One thing is quite clear by now, the left keeps getting told to hold our nose and vote for the corporatist Wall Street Dem, and the nation keeps veering further and further right each time we do that.

    I have yet to hear a “lesser of two evils” proponent explain how this cycle reverses.

    The answer is not complicated: put your vote where you want the politicians to go. If enough people agree with you; you’ll get what you want. This is precisely what the right has done.

    As an aside, Johnson’s decision to protect Nixon for the good of the country is sickening. When will the Dems stop pulling their punches in the face of jaw-dropping GOP treason?

  13. isdivc
    June 27, 2012 at 23:47

    I too have wrestled with this question of ‘lesser evil’ ever since McGovern campaigned. I don’t think either major political party will ever offer the answers progressives want. However, there are minor differences in the candidates that make me consider voting. One is simply appointing Supreme Court justices. No Democrat will ever appoint leftist judges to be sure. But he or she will appoint more moderate judges who have some respect left for the rights in the Constitution unlike the unholy 5 we have now. There are some other issues of a similar nature. It has led me to believe that progressives can hold their noses and vote for the lessor of two evils candidate but also realize this is NOT the path for real political change. I don’t send money to either party, nor work the polls, nor campaign for anyone. I spend my money and effort on independent groups outside the traditional political process but make the periodic effort to vote if only for changes at the margins. I can live with that until maybe, one day, there will be a party that I can be proud to vote for.

    • incontinent reader
      June 29, 2012 at 08:25

      The judges Obama has appointed to the Supreme Court may be more liberal on some issues, such as health care, but they have made no difference yet on the national security state, as witnessed by its recent decision to deny certiorari and effectively deny the habeas corpus rights validated by the Court of the Boumedienne to Adnan Abd Al Latif the Yemeni prisoner wrongfully detained at Guantanamo and ordered by the Federal District Court to be released in 2010. The Obama Administration appealed the decision and its appeal was upheld by a 3 Judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and the Supreme Court recently refused to hear the case. See the Consortium News Article by Prof. Marjorie Cohn titled “Hope Dies at Guantanamo” at:

      Being curious as to why the attorneys did not request an en banc hearing, I learned that the Appeals Court is now not only extremely conservative (years ago it was one of the most progressive Circuits), but that there are three slots that Obama has left unfilled for a long time, and, notwithstanding the diversity of his judicial appointments generally, that may also say something about the Administration’s intentions.

      • Frances in California
        June 29, 2012 at 14:24

        Count on Bork redo if Romney does manage to steal this election.

  14. June 27, 2012 at 23:45

    Further, in WI they chose a very non-purist candidate and he lost to Walker. If they had chosen someone who actually represented most of the people who had been protesting, perhaps the outcome would have been different.

  15. J Allen Lovejoy
    June 27, 2012 at 23:42

    I have to agree with two posters above “the use of the term purity is demeaning. The Democratic Party has moved so far to the right since 1968” and “he [O] has bent over backwards to appease the GOPhers, and in fact, allowed his chief of staff to call the left “F’n retarded.” . . . I’m still arguing with friends who accuse me of putting GWB in by voting for Nader. I believe the election was stolen anyway, making that a moot point. As for Mr. Obama–and Mr. Parry’s interpretation–purity is one thing, standing for certain principles is quite another. And Obama has continued to trash the Constitution as surely as his predecessor. This is not a sports contest: there are principles at stake. If GWB had been doing what Obama is doing, pProgressives would be screaming, but they have been largely silent. I really admire Mr. Parry and nealry all of his writing, but I think he’s wrong on this one. If something is wrong, it doesn’t matter who’s doing it. Yes, we can argue about the obstructionist GOP, but there have been plenty of times that O. has had a free hand and still sold out big time.

  16. delia ruhe
    June 27, 2012 at 19:39

    The Left has always had an irresistible attraction to the purity trap. We are the classic circular firing squad — we invented it. We preach a good line on diversity, but we’ve never been able to deal with diverse positions on the left end of the political spectrum. We don’t just debate the fine points of Leftism with one another; we destroy each other.

    • Robert Schwartz
      June 27, 2012 at 20:55

      Let me ask a very serious question: Do you really think that Obama represents the interests of “the left” in any way, shape or form? If so, how?

      I find that his withdrawal from Iraq, to the extent that that has been accomplished, was only because he could not negotiate a new SOFA agreement.

      Otherwise, he has escalated the Bush GWOT into new theaters.

      I find that he has bent over backwards to appease the GOPhers, and in fact, allowed his chief of staff to call the left “F’n retarded.”

      I could list a dozen issues or more, but never mind that, this president is basically to the right of where Nixon was, to bring it back to Parry’s article.

      As far as I’m an concerned, Obama is a War Criminal who has overseen the torture of Bradley Manning. I cannot in any good conscience vote for the man.

  17. June 27, 2012 at 19:37

    Putting one foot in front of the other :

  18. June 27, 2012 at 19:35

    A vote for either Obama or Romney – either duopol candidate – is a wasted vote.

    Obama is proven liar, murderer, and war criminal and Romney seems sure to be as well.

    If we want a democracy we are going to have to do it ourselves. That’s a tautology.

    The one thing each of us can do in this election – in any election – is to vote for someone we want to hold the office. If we all do that – writing in that person’s name where necessary, and it will be necessary in the most cases it seems to me – we will be able te elevate “none of the above”, or “other”, or “someone else” to top of the peoples’ choices. That will completely devalue the “selection” of the system and finally shut the mouths of these stooges who have – willingly or with stupid good intent – been perpetuating the system which has been electing the evil candidates like clockwork, candidates who then proceed to do the evil they were elected to do, as has Barack Obama, for instance.

    When we the people see that we in our majority voted against the “president” and for “someone else” the light will finally go on : we have the power to change our system.

    After that it will be a case of putting one foot in front of the other.

    The alternative is just more pure evil, and is completely predicatable.

  19. fathead morgana
    June 27, 2012 at 18:53

    A slight problem: Obama isn’t the lesser of two evils. No one has done
    more to advance the desires of the top 0.1% than he has. His actions are almost enough to give credibility to the notion that he was hired by them to do their bidding.

    With Romney, at least you know what you are getting. As was said above, he
    is an immoral opportunist. AND he will probably be less successful than Obama in delivering to his own class the things they want (no income tax, tax-free inherited wealth, only the “little people” paying taxes, etc.).

    So, here’s the choice: vote for an overt royalist (Romney) or a stooge for the rich (Obama). Or:

    write in Sid Vicious (or some other dead person).

    The existing political system is hopeless for all those not yet independently wealthy. Voting will not help. Political activity not
    backed up by hundreds of millions of $ will not be heard – and should it
    get some traction, will be violently suppressed (as we have seen).

    If you have to vote, vote for Sid or an asteroid or a plague.

    Oherwise you’re wasting your vote.

    • jonboinAR
      July 6, 2012 at 21:36

      Silly Morgana. Sid wasn’t born in the US. Write in Patti Smith.

  20. Chris Herz
    June 27, 2012 at 17:23

    Who cares? We are going to be governed by the reactionary policies preferred by the corporadoes and the hereditary rich no matter who “wins”.
    If voter caging, voter purges, the hacked voting machines and Citizens United do not produce an illegitimate government, I do not know what will.

  21. jo6pac
    June 27, 2012 at 17:09

    Well written and I have been following this story but being of the left I’ll be voting for the party that’s close to my beliefs in what govt. of the people and for the people should look like. Voting Green.

  22. Jorge Scordamaglia
    June 27, 2012 at 15:26

    The system counts on these “dilemmas” for it’s survival; therefore, the only viable alternative for change is aggravating the situation by anointing “The Corporate Raider” to precipitate the collapse at the risk of more repression and exploitation or voting for the same policies or worst, with a hypocritical and deceitful facade.
    This scenario will come to happen independently of who is in power; the sooner we understand and accept this premise the better.

  23. Gregory L Kruse
    June 27, 2012 at 14:51

    Even though Mitt Romney is not a conservative, (he is an amoral opportunist)the Republicans/conservatives will hold their noses and vote for him, because they are terrified about what Obama might do in a second term. That’s just reality. Obama may be a murderer of women and children, but he’s not an amoral opportunist. He is privy to the entire Project for the New American Century, and has no choice but to implement the plan, because it is the only one. In a second term he will get more time to slow it down and modify it, whereas Romney will charge full steam ahead. Is this enough difference to vote for Obama? I haven’t decided yet, and am giving a little money to Rocky Anderson and Jill Stein so that peace and sanity might have at least a little voice.

    • incontinent reader
      June 27, 2012 at 18:34

      He had a choice the first time. He could have taken his oath seriously, and reversed the course set by the Project for A New American Century. He had a huge mandate, and with his organizational and communication skills, and influence over the media, could have educated the public, released what had been classified before and after 9/11, and, notwithstanding the obstructiveness of the Republicans, won the people over to a new and forward looking agenda. As his former professor, Roberto Unger has said, this nation has terrific innovative energy, even though we may have for now lost our ability to build and manufacture. A visionary President could have galvanized the country in domestic and in international affairs. He knew early on the need for a just peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, and a grand bargain with Iran, but conned the Muslim world while initiating a secret cyberwar. So, instead, it was more of the same pathology of the Bush Administration, and in some areas much more of the same. We needed then and now peace, trade, diplomacy, cultural exchange, broad global cooperation-not another cold war- and a willingness to operate under the rule of law. Instead we have been doing the opposite.

      • JosephW
        June 28, 2012 at 01:00

        I’m not sure about what “huge mandate” you believe Obama had. In terms of electoral votes, yes, the “mandate” was “huge.” However, he won by just over 7 percentage points in the popular vote (Obama got 52.9% of the vote while McCain got 45.7%; perhaps you’ve been unduly influenced by Dubya’s decision to turn his SCOTUS-decided election in 2000 and his 2.4 percentage point victory in 2004 into “decisive mandates” so that Obama’s larger margin of victory should be termed a “huge mandate” but you’re wrong)).

        Obama’s greatest flaw, after the inauguration, was his utterly bizarre decision to want to work WITH the GOP which opened the door for the ConservaDems to push their own agenda (which differed from the GOP’s by only a few degrees). BUT. If you want to place the blame for Obama’s seeming turnaround, well, buddy, take a look in your mirror. EVERY SINGLE PERSON who looked at Obama during the 2008 Dem primary season and saw anything other than what he “turned into” after 1/20/08 simply didn’t want to see the truth.

        For all the shit about Obama’s being “against the war” and how Hillary was the wicked witch who allowed Dubya to plunge us into Iraq, the reality was that SENATOR Obama’s voting record was usually to the RIGHT of Senator Clinton’s. Bear in mind that when Sen Clinton had to make that decision–whether yea or nay–on the authorization issue, Barack Obama was safely ensconced in the Illinois Senate where he didn’t have to make any such decision.

        Obama showed his true colors (pun not intended) in late 2007 when HE approved antigay evangelist Donnie McClurkin to headline a “tour” with Obama of Southern Black Evangelical churches. When LGBT groups protested McClurkin’s record on LGBT equality, Obama said he didn’t know anything about that; Obama claimed that he only knew of McClurkin’s popularity with the SBEs. Then, of course, came all the “I was against the war” BS, except for the fact that, shortly after having been elected to the US Senate, Obama made a comment that seemed to contradict his “anti-war” stance by stating that he believed that Dubya was doing all he could, given the situation at hand. And, then, the clincher–his speech in Selma, AL, where he had the audacity to state that his parents had met at the march on Selma, a noted historical event of the civil rights movement that took place in early 1965, roughly 3 1/2 years AFTER Obama’s birth, and the year AFTER his parents divorced. (What I found most truly appalling is that NONE of the civil rights leaders who WERE in Selma during March of 1965 refused to contradict Obama’s account, opting instead to cover his words by suggesting Obama was speaking metaphorically.)

        But none of that seemed to matter to the Obama faithful (both the long-term and the newly-converted), many of whom had–in the 2004 primary season–been disappointed when Sen Clinton chose to serve the people of New York, as she’d promised during her 2000 Senatorial campaign, and so decided to turn their backs on her and support the man who had stated (shortly after being sworn in as US Senator) that he had no plans to run for President in 2008. Of course, he’d barely started his 3rd year as the junior Senator from Illinois before changing his mind and announcing his candidacy. (If Clinton had actually run for President in 2004, she would’ve never been re-elected in 2006; I wouldn’t even bet on her chances to have survived the primary. Dem opponents would’ve jumped on her “breaking her pledge” and if she’d managed to make it to the general election, her GOP opponent would not only use the “breaking her pledge” but would’ve also asked if NY could count on her to sit out the 2008 Presidential race.)

        The Obama partisans COULD have supported Kucinich (who actually DID vote against the war at every turn since he was actually in a position to do so) but no. They were swayed by the Chicago razzle-dazzle and the Black skin (conveniently ignoring the fact that Obama was NOT the first African-American to make a run for the White House; Rep Shirley Chisholm was in 1972) and a whole lot of pretty words. Now, of course, many of those same folks are outraged that their “great Black hope” turned out to be just another typical politician, willing to turn his back on the “faithful” if it meant he could get a bill passed by Congress.

        It’s kind of amusing that so many Obama supporters were willing to slam a McCain Presidency as 4 more years of Bush (even nicknaming him “McSame”) yet now, they’ve come to realize that Obama has also been little more than 4 more years of Bush (yes, yes, there have been significant differences but there are way too many similarities as well).

        Now, as a resident of Alabama, I knew that my vote wouldn’t count since the state hasn’t gone to the Dems since 1976, so I felt free to write in the Greens. (McKinney wasn’t really the best person but she stuck to her principles as a Congresswoman. Even when those ideals got her into trouble, she didn’t let anyone push her into changing because it was “easier” to do so. It was also my way of fighting back against the Obots who didn’t hesitate to refer to white voters who simply did not like Obama–for whatever reason–as racists.) Now, this year. I don’t know. Obama will NOT win Alabama–there’s just no way. Will I “hold my nose” and vote for Obama or will I look at a third party and vote (or, more likely, write in) for that candidate? Romney is far worse than Obama, even when you just look at Obama’s failures as President (and, no, I’m not referring to the past 18 months–I mean when he actually had a Dem Congress); Romney just does NOT care about the vast majority of the people–he can’t even fake it (Obama, for all his faults, does at least SEEM to care about people; Romney just can’t do that). I’m not as masochistic as some progressives/liberals are and hoping for a Romney victory as a way of “waking people up” for 2016. The country cannot survive another GOP presidency, especially if the Teabaggers stick around as the majority in the House and pick up just 1 or 2 more Senate seats but stay a minority (it will be far more terrifying if the Teabaggers manage to take control of the Senate as well as keep the House) but I also can’t place blind faith in the “hope” that Obama will suddenly develop a spine and immensely thicker skin come November 7 after he wins re-election because nothing I’ve seen in Obama’s presidency to date suggests that he will “turn to the left” since he was never as “left” as people want to believe (and no matter what BS FoxNoise wants to spew, Obama is about as “socialist” as Ronald Reagan*).

        *On the subject of Reagan, there’s another clue that people should’ve picked up on much earlier, as in during the primary campaign. Obama spoke fondly of Reagan and his presidency which should have immediately turned Obama into UNacceptable to ANYONE who considered themselves either liberal or progressive.

        • incontinent reader
          June 28, 2012 at 14:21

          I still think Obama had a strong mandate at the beginning of his term, and that many people would have rallied behind him had he set a truly progressive agenda. In hindsight, one can also say that, given his history and public statements, none of his subsequent policy positions as President should have been a surprise. But that is only half true, because in his books and campaign he was talking out of both sides of his mouth with the branding leaning very much to the left not the right, whether or not he and others disclaim it not. Regardless, as one who was admittedly mistaken (and perhaps naive) the first time, falling into the same trap again is not an option.

  24. F. G. Sanford
    June 27, 2012 at 14:39

    The truth is, when a President is sworn in, he takes an oath to support the Constitution. The discussion here should really be whether or not NDAA, H.R. 347 and liquidation of an American citizen without a trial comply with that oath. This argument about “lesser evils” misses the point. There are legislative and judicial remedies for breach of that oath. None of them are being discussed. I have to assume that everyone has come to the conclusion that current events are just a matter of political preference on the part of the incumbent. They believe that, although distasteful to some, nothing in the record rises to the level of fellatio in the Oval Office. That garnered swift repercussions. Let’s face it. There is a choice an incumbent guided by principles can make. He or she can do what the oath demands, and let the second term be damned. Or, he can pursue a strategy that will serve some other goal. Johnson could have stopped the war in his transition term. He didn’t. He chose not to run for the second, but failed to lay the blame for what he knew to be egregious crimes. Nobody knows what Humphrey would have done. Stop and think about it. Nobody is discussing the real problem. Regardless of who is elected, the American people are sending a clear message: the incumbent can do whatever he wants. That’s not what the Founding Fathers had in mind. If the first term was bulletproof, what may the second term bring?

    • Robert Schwartz
      June 27, 2012 at 15:20

      >>”I have to assume that everyone has come to the conclusion that current events are just a matter of political preference on the part of the incumbent. They believe that, although distasteful to some, nothing in the record rises to the level of fellatio in the Oval Office.”<<

      In the case of myself, you would be assuming falsely. As stated in my post verbatim:

      "One lesson to be learned, IMHO, is that giving a free pass to malfeasance in office, as Barack Obama did in re the crimes of the Bush administration, as Gerald Ford did in re the crimes of the Nixon administration and as Bob Parry hear tells, as LBJ did in re the treason of Nixon in his bid for office (admittedly not malfeasance in office) is not a trend that should continue, but rather, should by prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law." (verbatim – typo of "by" instead of "be" included)

      Yet, given that, impeachment (and conviction) of Obama while justified on many counts, would only lead to either a Biden presidency or if a dual impeachment (and conviction,) a Boehner presidency. As evidenced by the Clinton impeachment (I almost used the phrase "Clinton affair.") the senate trial would no doubt be a political rather than impartial trial of fact.

      The fact is, it is doubtful that a suitable course of action now presents itself. As citizens, we are limited in what options we have. As a member of Occupy Los Angeles, at least I tried to help point out the inadequacies of the system we are living within. The article that we are posting comments to was specifically about the voting choices open to us, and most of the comments addressed that issue.

      • F. G. Sanford
        June 27, 2012 at 16:29

        I don’t know who you are and I don’t know anything about your post. So don’t take it personally. You have to admit, though, that I’ve fairly well nailed the crux of the issue, and your comment confirms, as I say, nobody is going to do anything. My guess is Romney will win the election, and the whole thing will continue down a very bumpy road–as a corporate duopoly. Read between the lines.

        • Robert Schwartz
          June 27, 2012 at 16:58

          First off, of course I don’t take it personally.

          Second, perhaps I made a false assumption, that being that your statement, “None of them are being discussed. I have to assume that everyone has come to the conclusion that current events are just a matter of political preference on the part of the incumbent.” implied that you’d read the comments made up to that point, and that “everyone” were the people who had made those comments. Since you don’t know anything about my post, perhaps I erred.

          This article by Robert Parry was about the electoral choices we face, and the historical precedent of the 1968 campaign, ergo, most of the comments dealt specifically with that issue. So while you may have nailed the crux of an issue, it wasn’t the issue being discussed.

          I will agree with your premise that there should be a holding to account for the numerous constitutional violations of this and previous administrations. Indeed, I mentioned that that would be a better lesson to be learned from the historical example given by Mr. Parry. The difference being though, that I related it to the choices to be made in the upcoming election.

          No doubt, whichever of the dictatorship of the duopoly candidates wins in Nov. we have a bumpy ride ahead. I have no speculation as to which one it will be.

          Enjoy the circus in the meantime!

          • F. G. Sanford
            June 27, 2012 at 19:19

            Thanks for your response. When I said “everyone”, I was referring to what appears to be the consensus of the electorate in general. I wish it were a circus. In a way, it is, but only in an ironic sense: like an audience watching a sleepwalker haplessly enter the wrong hotel room. Regardless of the outcome, we have allowed precedents to be set which will not be easily undone. At this point, perhaps only untergang awaits. Hopefully, it won’t lead to any nuclear extravaganzas. I suspect the rest of the world, with the possible exception of France and Britain, are gradually losing their patience. As the money runs out, all we have left is military might. I could probably enjoy the circus from an academic standpoint…if I didn’t have kids. Nobody seems worried. I guess they’re asleep.

    • incontinent reader
      June 27, 2012 at 17:54

      Mr. Sanford (Fred?), you have nailed it, and “Elizabeth” and “Lamont” would agree.

      • F. G. Sanford
        June 27, 2012 at 19:29


  25. kaptinemo
    June 27, 2012 at 14:23

    I’m sorry, but a very critical aspect of ‘choice’ is left out, namely, that if all you get is Hobson’s Choice, you only get to choose from what ‘Hobson’ wants you to have.

    Google the following terms:

    Obama Clinton June 6 2008 Chantilly Virginia

    ‘Hobson’, in the form of the 1%, make the choice as to who gets the nod, Presidentially, which makes a hash of all this (pointless) progressive hand-wringing about ‘lesser evils’. It would behoove us to learn just who ‘Hobson’ is, don’t you?

  26. OH
    June 27, 2012 at 14:17

    Liberals in 2010 were 20% of the electorate and 90% of them voted for Democrats. Those on the left who are not voting for the lesser of two evils this time around, probably didnt in 2010, 2008, 2006, 2004, 2002, 2000, 1998, 1996, 1994, 1992, 1990, 1988, 1984, 1982, 1980 – and are not statistically very significant. Nader had to go all-out spoiler in 2000 to make a difference, focusing his campaign on vulnerable districts in Florida. In 2004 Nader called the Green Party part of the problem and was their #1 competitor for those kind of votes, over the issue of safe-states not over Green Party policies being not liberal enough. We see alot of Naderites on these boards and we assume there are alot of them, but there are very few. Please forgive us for posting off-topic, but what do you expect, current events are whats implied by this article, and I dont buy the very very vague and un-specific claim that “many on the Left abandoned Jimmy Carter”.

  27. June 27, 2012 at 14:13

    What a complete waste of cyber ink. As other commenters have already pointed out, there is no analogy between Humphrey in 1968 and Obama in 2012. Humphrey supported Democratic party policy. Obama is a neo-liberal bent on gutting the New Deal, and a mass murderer besides. I registered with the Greens this year, after 35+ years as a registered Democrat.

  28. Nolan Olhausen
    June 27, 2012 at 14:00

    I did not even read the article. Waste of time. If we all do what is right, which is to vote for the best candidate, to make moral decisions, the country will do just fine. Doing what Parry suggests is what led to this mess in the first place. To claim that Obama as the best candidate – mind you that I say this as a life long Democrat – is simply absurd. Do what is right and then live with the consequences. “It all works out in the end and if it does not work out, it is not the end.”


  29. June 27, 2012 at 13:39

    Sorry, Robert. I love your writing, but I can’t vote for a President like this. I’m no youngster, and I won’t vote for either of these men. It’s dangerous.

    Thank you for another wonderful article. Clearly, you write from your heart.

    • Peter Loeb
      June 29, 2012 at 06:59

      I too was brought up in another era, one where to vote was
      a sacred duty. (Parry et al are representatives of that era.)

      I support the resistance to Israel. It is brutal, racist. I cannot turn around and vote for a man who panders to those who are slaughtering Palestinians, stealing their homes, stealing their lands
      would give me no comfort ever.

      Neither do I support US foreign policy, international slaughter,
      (drones, other military interventions, torture…)

      I long ago decided to do what I can do. I resigned from the Democratic
      Party. I value lifeand honor the courage of those who resist to support it.

      My vote is only one and today, thank God, it will NOT award Obama and
      the warmongering Democrats.

      Romney and the Republicsns? Such a victory would be a disaster.
      But it will not scare me into giving an award to this administration’s
      evil foreign policy (a coninuation of past administrations of both parties).

      I am no longer young. I do not believe in “purity”. I can only act on
      my own passionate beliefs about humanity. This is not the result of any
      particular faith. It is the sum of my life. If I cannot “reach the
      promised land” (MLK, 4/3/68), I shall no contribute to its continued

      As someone once wrote “Judaism is a religion.” So is Islam and many
      Muslims together with Zionists believe that they have a mission to create
      Muslim states.

      — Of Jewish heritage, not belief.

  30. Robert Schwartz
    June 27, 2012 at 13:01

    I, too, find the comparison between Humphrey and Obama to be without much merit. It is true that the history provided by Mr. Parry is worthy of drawing lessons from, and we should discuss what those lessons might be. One lesson to be learned, IMHO, is that giving a free pass to malfeasance in office, as Barack Obama did in re the crimes of the Bush administration, as Gerald Ford did in re the crimes of the Nixon administration and as Bob Parry hear tells, as LBJ did in re the treason of Nixon in his bid for office (admittedly not malfeasance in office) is not a trend that should continue, but rather, should by prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

    Getting back to the issue at hand, which is the voting for lesser-evilism as regards the DLC democrats, let us further examine the more recent history and compare that to the example of LBJ/HHH. Taking the issue of war and the furthering of the military-industrial complex out of the picture, the Democratic Party of the Johnson Administration era furthered the New Deal promise of a more equal society, whereas the DLC era democrats are actively engaged in dismantling it. So, it was Clinton that pushed through the NAFTA, GATT deals and signed the repeal of Glass-Steagal and it is now the Obama Administration which is promoting the Pacific trade deal and has already pushed through the Panama/S. Korea/Columbia trade deals. In addition, the Obama administration has appointed the Simpson-Boles (catfood) Commission to severely weaken Social Security. Continued voting for lesser-evilism has pushed both major parties rightward.

    At least when GWB threatened to privatize S.S. and expend his political capital on the project, some democrats showed a little bit of spine to fight that off, they will be less prone to do so when the president has a “d” after his name, even though he be to the right of where Nixon was on many issues. And with that, I’ve come full circle. My final comment is:

    I wonder how Ray McGovern feels on this issue, considering his treatment at the hands of Hilary’s goons, and the treatment of Bradley Manning and whistle blowers in general by this administration.

  31. Anita
    June 27, 2012 at 12:17

    Every election cycle we are fed the same fear based crap. We must vote for the Dem because the other guy will be soooo much worse. The acceptance of this false choice, election after election, is why we are so firmly under the thumb of the global corporate tyrants. It is the failure on the part of Americans to be citizens, rather than consumers, and to make the tough decisions (and suffer the resulting temporary pain), that squandered the future of our children, not to mention their very lives, in war – after – fucking – war!
    No. It’s my vote. It’s my choice. It’s my conscience. I cannot accept this evil, and I will not support it with my vote.

    • June 28, 2012 at 15:29

      I’m now 80 & remember FDR. I’m with you on this “evil”; it has to end one way or the other.

    • photon's feather
      July 6, 2012 at 13:26

      Let there be no mistake: I despise Obama, and have denounced him as a militarist corporatist from before the ‘history election’ charade given to us by the Democratic ‘leadership.’

      But set against Romney, I would even vote for George Bush!

      There are many strategies that go beyond merely voting for president.

      First, always cut your losses. Yes, Obama will give us losses – but fewer than Romney.

      However, once you cut your losses, you must begin the work of making sure that there will be fewer losses the next time. You must work to change the Democratic Party. This can be done. If the ‘tea party’ can take over the Republican Party, surely lefties can take back the Democratic Party. Blue dogs and other ‘centrist’ (right-wingers) can and must be ousted. Find progressive candidates wherever you can and support them – beginning with the primaries.

      If you can move the party leftward, you will find more left-leaning candidates at every level of government – and even better, more outright leftists.

      We need everyone to work with us: take back the Democratic Party – but letting a Republican in anywhere only retards progress.

      Yes, it is your vote: please cast it wisely.

      • Kathleen
        July 9, 2012 at 13:47

        Your argument doesn’t make sense on a couple of points:

        Historically, low voter turn-outs are guaranteed in “lesser of two evils” elections…and since the only chance Republicans have at winning is elections if there is a low voter turn-out…well…

        Please remember that the unprecedented high voter turn-out of 2008 was a direct result of the desire to get rid of George Bush’s policies! Since Obama has upheld and expanded the ugliest policies of George Bush… it is time to ask Obama supporters- how did “Yes We Can” turn into “No We Can’t” get rid of George Bush’s policies?

        If we really want to defeat Romney then we need a high voter turn-out, like that of 2008. And since a high voter turn-out, like in 2008, is only possible when we mobilize behind someone who is against George Bush’s policies, then mobilizing behind Obama for 2012 is political suicide and Romney WILL win!

        In short, Obama’s supporters are the only chance that Romney has at attaining the low voter turn-out he needs to win in 2012. Please don’t betray the landslide of 2008 by supporting Obama’s re-election campaign!

  32. Trish Purcell
    June 27, 2012 at 11:19

    The information in this article, in a much shorter version, needs to be widely diseminated NOW!

    The idealism of many young activists has been badly damaged by Obama’s lack of strong leadership. His continuous and excruciatingly poor choices of advisors – particularly in the area of financial reform, his participation in the ongoing destruction of the checks and balances in government necessary to preserve democracy, and his abject failure in following the rule of law in dealing with the financial malfeasance of those who brought our country to the point of economic collapse have destroyed the image that carried him to the presidency in 2008.

    It is difficult for young idealists to accept that the lesser of two evils, even though it is still evil, may be a necessary choice at this point to avoid even greater devastation. Pointing out the results, in concrete historical evidence, of not making that choice is the only possible way to influence them at this point. But it needs to be done in short concise wording (maybe even cause and effect bullet points) that grab and keep their attention long enough to make the point. And it needs to be out there – every where, over and over – to really get through to people.

    If conservatives can do this successfully with their lies, why in the world don’t progressives do it with the truth!

  33. incontinent reader
    June 27, 2012 at 11:16

    Paul has stated it well. Add to that the Administration’s stealth with the ACTA and now the TPP treaty, which, as revealed in the section of the treaty that was leaked, would, both procedurally and substantively, damage our nation’s economic competitiveness and cripple its ability to protect its power to regulate health safety and welfare where it would be inconsistent with rights or privileges accorded corporations under the Treaty. See Democracy Now at: ;
    and, also, Public Citizen at:

    We know Romney will be worse, and the nation will likely suffer more as a result, but we are not talking about “purity”, ideological or otherwise, but a pervasive infection that has invaded the Democratic Party. Professor Roberto Unger at the Harvard Law School has made a strong statement about this Administration and both parties at:

    • incontinent reader
      June 27, 2012 at 11:42

      Sentence 2, above should have said “and cripple its ability to protect and regulate the health, safety and welfare
      of its people…..”

      This is not an easy choice for those of use from the Vietnam era, nor, notwithstanding Bob Parry’s excellent article, is it easy to identify and apply the lessons from that period; but to equate Obama with Humphrey is a mistake. Moreover, as a political matter, had Sargent Shriver run on the ticket- (and it has been reported that the Kennedy family nixed that to keep Teddy in a priority position)- a very different set of policies and outcomes might have arisen, especially with William Sloan Coffin’s relationship with Shriver and the creation of the Peace Corps, and Coffin’s leadership in opposing the Vietnam War and advocating Nuclear Disarmament. Unfortunately, here, Obama has revealed himself to be something very different than what Humphrey might have offered. And, if Obama is defeated, who knows, we may begin to read puff pieces about secret negotiations for peace with Iran, Syria and every other country the U.S. has been trying to destabilize and dismember, just like Olmert’s claim that he was prepared to make a fair and just peace with the Palestinians, even though he did want to give them the napkin on which he wrote his cryptic terms for it.

      • incontinent reader
        June 27, 2012 at 14:08

        Another edit error- Olmert would not give the napkin to Abbas- the point being we have nothing to rely on that Obama will not do the same or worse if reelecting him gives him a mandate to do just that, and noone in the Democratic Party except the marginalized or defeated few have had the guts to challenge his foreign policy, though thankfully, President Carter has weighed in on it to remind us and the Adminstration just before July 4th of what it is the Declaration of Independence and Constitution stand for.

        • incontinent reader
          June 27, 2012 at 17:43

          I agree. I was referring to the phony, after-the-fact claim by Olmert that he was seriously interested in peace in the last few months of his Administration, and to his initial meeting with Abbas where a map was written on the back of a napkin which Olmert would not let Abbas take. We all know that the Olmert government never observed the terms of the truce it signed with Hamas while Hamas did stick to what it promised, and that Operation Cast Lead which was months in the planning stage was initiated by Olmert in December 2008, while the Bush did nothing to stop it and Obama himself remained silent.

  34. Dan Domoff
    June 27, 2012 at 10:54

    I voted for Dick Gregory in 1968 (in NY, a state that went for Humphrey,as I recall). I have no regrets about that, though people I respect still castigate me for voting as I did. I have commented on this subject before, so forgive me for repeating: Nixon’s duplicity was criminal, and well-known. But to cast LBJ and the Rostows in the role of peacemakers is cynical at best. I would not have hesitated to vote for RFK. Had Humphrey “dumped” LBJ’s policies six months sooner, I might have voted for him. I am displeased with Pres Obama’s shadow wars and assaults on civil liberties, but I will vote for him…again. Ultimately, however, now at age 66, I have realized that the milit-indus-corp complex will have its way, regardless.

  35. Paul G.
    June 27, 2012 at 10:48

    oops last sentence should be lose lose.
    My compliments to Robert on his excellent series about Nixon’s treason.

  36. Paul G.
    June 27, 2012 at 10:36

    First I think the lesser of two evils decision is a very personal one; one in which there is no right or wrong. One has to live with their personal choice. Will going with the lesser evil choice make one puke is another way to put it, because should a fraud you can believe in be rewarded?
    Comparing the Obamascam/Romnut options with Humphrey/Nixon is not valid, and the use of the term purity is demeaning. The Democratic Party has moved so far to the right since 1968- I too worked for McCarthy- and has been so compromised by its absequiness to the corporate dollar that what we have now is quantum leap to the political middle ages. In 1968 no politician would even think about formalizing indefinite detention sans trial ( though Tricky Dick tried it on the sly). We did not have the greatest fraud in US history, not only going unpunished, but rewarded with over a trillion dollars in Federal bailouts. We were not engaged in sequential wars that appear to have no end in sight, i.e. get out of one start another. Obama has been following the play book of the Project for a New American Century in that regard. General Wesley Clark discovered, before we went after Afghanistan, that Bush planned on taking out seven Muslim countries. It appears Obomber is headed toward making good on that. He has prosecuted more whistle blowers than Bush, and used the 1917 Espionage act more times during his administration than in its entire history. His drone assassination program makes the CIA and KGB assassination programs of the 60’s look absolutely mild mannered. It is not that there is little difference between the two candidates-there are differences- it is that Obama has done such serious damage to our nation that the question is should he get away with it?
    The most disgusting aspect of this is that if Obama gets defeated the Democrats are more likely to turn even more to the right; as they did after McGovern was defeated, a la Clinton, instead of countering with a strong left middle position. Looks like a loose loose to me.

Comments are closed.