Fifty years ago President Lyndon Johnson,was surprised coming up to his renomination for the Presidency,by an unexpected challenge over his handling of the Vietnam War, by Senator Eugene McCarthy
Standing against him for the leadership of Democrats on a Peace Platform.
The Peace movement was still quite small in the US. Most Americans still supported the war. Most wanted it finished, but not at the expense of surrender. A peace candidate wasn't expected to do very well at all.
Then the Tet Offensive happened. A major offensive right across South Vietnam. Focused on the urban strongholds rather than the rural hamlets. It came just weeks after a huge PR campaign by the Johnson Administration,that had told Americans the war was being won.
The pictures on the nightly news told a different story. Bodies in the streets of Saigon. Americans under siege the length and breadth of Vietnam. Walter Conkrite, the voice of evening news America, gave his first ever personal opinion. "America cannot win."
In the aftermath McCarthy came a very credible second place to the sitting president in the New Hampshire primary.
A few days later, Robert Kennedy said he would run on a peace ticket too, so Johnson was suddenly in big, big trouble.
He made a television appearance in which he uttered a famous phrase. But just before that part Lyndon explained his view that because the Vietnam War was so important. Was so time consuming and required such focus, it was going to take every second of the President's time.
"I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office: the presidency of your country."
Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President."
The War had claimed it's highest profile victim.
It is worth noting that in a sort of Brexit like frustration, a lot of the Democrats who voted for McCarthy had voted because they thought Johnson wasn't pursuing the war hard enough.
They thought Johnson too weak on war. So they voted for a peacenik ?
Yes..exactly that. Anyone but LBJ! His support was becoming narrower as he was seen as simultaneously too much pro-war and too much anti-war.
The success of McCarthy in a sort of stalking horse role is what convinced Johnson's biggest rival and sworn enemy, Robert Kennedy, to finally run against him. And made Johnson quit.
Fifty years on, another serving leader, is faced with an impossible challenge. Having to reconcile Hawk and Dove elements within their party and the nation. A challenge that sucks the time and focus out of all other agenda. That diminishes all other politics and leaves the all important domestic legislation drifting aimlessly.
Brexit is Vietnam for May. And she doesn't even have Lyndon Johnson's relatively successful domestic bills to fall back on.
The time for the leader to leave will only become more of an issue with every passing day. The time for a successor is once Brexit is done. Not immediately. But within a year of our leaving the EU.
So the new leader can have distance from the past. And a focus for the future.
There will be a feeling by Mayites that she's done.."Alright."
But, in truth, she has not.
The deal isn't the deal. Its just "Alright."
The country isn't doing well or badly. It's doing "Alright."
The local elections? Who knows? But by polling it looks like Jez will do well as this cycle favours him anyway. And Theresa might snatch a few rurals in exchange for the metropolis. Which might be 'Alright.'
And so on.
I'm afraid, Prime Minister, 5/10 isn't going to be enough. Even 6/10 with a rabble of an opposition like Momentum, shouldn't be considered a success.
So perhaps now is the time to look at 2020. To put aside all fantasies of managing to muddle through to the next election and leading the party to triumph. You had your chance.
Reflect a little now on how best to make the transition. And although very few believed Johnson's explanation for why he wasn't running again, it was a very good excuse.
And a very good speech.
"...With Britain's future facing a challenge right here at home from the failed policies of Hard Left socialism. With our hopes, and Europe's hopes, for a successful, new European partnership, hanging in the balance every day...
... I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes. Or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office: the leadership of your country."
|..I shall not seek ..and will not accept...|
"Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your Prime Minister."