Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Politics of Credibility
Peter Schultz

            “Vietnam itself meant virtually nothing; it was a ‘little piss-ant country,’ [Lyndon] Johnson scoffed. What truly hung in the balance was American credibility in the larger war against Communist expansion….” [Mutual Contempt, p. 261, emphasis added]

            If Vietnam meant almost nothing and American credibility meant almost all, the sacrificing the lives of Americans and Vietnamese in large numbers makes perfect sense, even without a victory. In fact, to prove US “credibility,” to prove US constancy, reliability, the more Americans that are sacrificed, the better. “Look how credible we are – we are willing to sacrifice our youths, lots of them, for a country that in itself means almost nothing to us. We sacrifice our own to prove our credibility. You can trust us to sacrifice our own for almost nothing.”

            This is the result of a “politics of credibility,” a politics that not only LBJ embraced but many, many others as well. And this is why so many felt betrayed by their own government. They were being sacrificed for "a little piss-and country" that meant virtually nothing. 

What would be an alternative kind of politics? How about a “politics of justice?” Maybe it would be worth a try.

[The book cited is Mutual Contempt: Lyndon Johnson, Robert Kennedy, and the Feud that Defined a Decade, by Jeff Shesol]

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