In her piece about New York City ["You Got a Problem With That?"], Joan Acocella presumes that eagerness to dispense unsolicited opinions is a manifestation of smartness. To the contrary, it mainly displays arrogance. One thing she says is true: "Living with [New Yorkers] is a little like being a child again and having your mother with you... helping you, correcting you, butting into your business."
Fort Bragg, California
Unintelligent New Yorkers
How appropriate that Joan Acocella's essay, which espouses New Yorkers' rudeness as a mark of intelligence, should be followed by Cristián Samper's column [From the Castle: "GNP or GNH?"] about Bhutan's philosophy of "gross national happiness" as the best measurement of a nation's performance. To propose that New Yorkers are smarter than other Americans because they have "higher ambition" and are "intent on long-term gains," as Acocella puts it, flies in the face of the view that wisdom and happiness have nothing to do with money, aspirations, accomplishments or the opportunity to show off one's expertise (all manifestations of ego). Many New Yorkers are friendly and helpful. But to subject oneself to the daily bombardment of overstimulation, of the me-first, get-it-before-somebody-else-does mentality, for the sake of acquisition, would not be considered intelligent by the Bhutanese. As a resident of the rural Midwest, I can imagine that when the heat, air conditioning and elevators quit because the grid goes down, when the meat and vegetable trucks stop arriving because the oil runs out, the residents of New York City may be willing to trade their appearance of intelligence for a dumber way of life.
The general assumption is that President Johnson's public decision of March 31, 1968, not to run for re-election was a complete surprise and perhaps impulsive ["The Unmaking of the President," by Clay Risen, April 2008]. This is not true. The whole story has not been told. On the night of the November 3, 1964, presidential election, when the results were clear, President Johnson telephoned newly elected Vice President Hubert Humphrey in Minneapolis and asked him to fly to Johnson's ranch in Texas the next morning to begin to discuss some of the issues they would confront in Washington. I, too, was in Minneapolis, and Humphrey invited me to join him on the flight. The day was filled discussing substantive issues, as well as personnel problems. During the visit, it became necessary for me to inform the president that I would not join either his staff or the vice president's—an embarrassing task.
On a flight to Washington, Humphrey asked me to sit next to him. Pledging me to secrecy, he told me that the president had informed him that he would not run for re-election at the end of his term and that he and Humphrey should prepare themselves for a Humphrey presidency in four years. When I asked why the president would serve only one term, I learned that Johnson was concerned about his heart problems, which he felt might prevent him from finishing the term and would likely not permit him to continue in office following his current presidency. He did not want to die in office.
During the four-year Johnson-Humphrey administration, the president apparently reaffirmed the need for Humphrey to prepare. Prior to Johnson's announcement in 1968 that he would not run for re-election, he visited the Humphreys in their apartment. The president said he would make the formal announcement that he would not run and suggested that Humphrey prepare himself for the election.
Shortly afterward, I gathered a number of political friends to begin to plan for the forthcoming campaign. James Rowe, a close associate of Johnson's, joined that group and made it very clear to me that he did so with the president's approval, evidence that Johnson supported Humphrey's bid for president. So much for the theory that Johnson was not enthusiastic about Humphrey succeeding him as president.
Max M. Kampelman
Former head of the U.S. Delegation to the Conference on Security and Cooperation
Clay Risen Responds:
I don't doubt that Hubert Humphrey told Mr. Kampelman about a confidential plan by Lyndon Johnson not to run again in 1968. What I do doubt is whether Johnson kept to that plan for more than a few days and whether his statement was thereafter taken as a standing fact by Johnson and Humphrey, and perhaps by others. This was, after all, the sort of thing Johnson did all the time. In early 1964, he had expressed concern about running for even that year's election. And throughout his first full term, particularly at moments of crisis or failure, Johnson would tell a trusted adviser—his wife, say, or Texas Governor John Connally—that he had decided not to run in 1968, only to change his mind later. In other words, announcing the end of his career was a psychological game for Johnson, one he was probably playing with Humphrey on that day in November 1964.
What's more, according to numerous aides, up until the day of his withdrawal on March 31, 1968, Johnson gave every indication that he intended to stand for re-election—he had hired a campaign staff, named a campaign director and ordered tens of thousands of campaign bumper stickers. Maybe this was all a ruse. But White House aide James Jones attests that when Johnson gave Humphrey his withdrawal speech on the morning of the 31st, the vice president began to cry. Clearly, taking over the campaign wasn't something Humphrey had prepared himself to do.