149. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy) to President Johnson 1


  • Some comments on Post-election Problems

I am drafting this memorandum before Election Day.2 Right now it looks as if you are about to have the biggest victory of the century. But this memorandum will be valid also if we get exactly 270 electoral votes. [Page 350]The immediate problems of the Presidency are not sharply affected by the size of the margin—however big or small the victory, the immediate problems will be there.

The victory itself will be the culmination of 347 days of really extraordinary achievement, perhaps the most important set of accomplishments that any President has ever racked up in a period of less than a year.

The country has been held together, with growing prosperity and unexpected civic peace.
An Administration set up by another man has been taken and used with extraordinary little strain and friction.
A large and precedent-shattering legislative program has been passed.
A lot of small but tricky international tests have been met.
A campaign of unusual meanness has been met by one of unusual breadth and generosity.
The policies and prospects defined in the winner’s campaign have much more breadth and quality on foreign and domestic issues than critics have yet noticed (although I hope Walter Lippmann may do a piece on our foreign policy Tuesday).

This overwhelming achievement will be seen for what it is after Election Day, and many people—both here and abroad—will have increasingly large expectations of future accomplishment. Insofar as these hopes give support and strength to your new administration, they give a solid base on which we have some time to build.

But the brightness of this achievement and the hopes it offers are threatened in a number of important ways, and the real purpose of this memorandum is not so much to celebrate what you have accomplished as it is to suggest some of the difficulties that must now be overcome.

The first problem is that while the victory may be very big, it will also be somewhat thin. A large part of the margin will be due not to us but to Senator Goldwater. Moreover, the very meanness of the Goldwater campaign has had as a consequence a certain clouding of the Presidency—a shadowing of the White House. And in the press, which has given us a degree of support unprecedented for a Democratic Administration, there is going to be backlash. It is foreshadowed in the Washington Star editorial of Sunday, and it is almost foreordained in the determination of newspapermen to be independent and critical. Reporters and publishers alike believe that they have been very generous to us during the campaign, and they are just waiting for a chance to even the score. This attitude will probably seem wholly unfair and inhuman to you, but I am sure it is a fact of our future life.

The second problem is that the White House needs to be organized for the long pull. Your miraculous performance in the last 11 months [Page 351]has been supported by literally super-human efforts by Valenti and Moyers—and by Jenkins until he cracked. This cannot go on for the long run. Moreover, great as the achievement has been, it has been sharply limited in the following ways:

The legislative program was already in existence;
There was an election year stand-down on major new initiatives, both domestic and foreign;
The primary business of the Presidency was to legislate and to campaign, and these jobs were overwhelmingly the personal responsibility of the President himself. Not even Valenti and Moyers can go at the rate they have been going, and there is more to be done in the next six months than even they have been doing.

A third and more general problem is that of manning the Administration beyond the White House. Very few major appointments have been made in the last 12 months, and the morning of the 4th of November will bring a stirring toward change of many sorts. A number of men have stayed simply in order to help beat Goldwater; a number of others are ambitious for promotion which they may or may not deserve; still others have not done very well and ought to be changed. And all this is in addition to your own imperative need to get the men you want where you want them—which your victory will permit and your needs demand.

A fourth and still more general problem lies in the field of national security, in a set of major decisions which have been deliberately deferred. There are five big ones and a number of little ones. The big ones are: (1) Vietnam; (2) European policy—the MLF and the Kennedy Round and De Gaulle; (3) Cuba; (4) Nuclear spread, Red China, and the UN; (5) Foreign aid in all its aspects. The marginal troubles, any one of which could become explosive, include Cyprus, the Congo, Indonesia-Malaysia, and Article 19.

Taken together, these problems are very serious indeed, and my own judgment is that if we do not now take time to get organized and to make certain basic decisions about operations and policy, we could very easily make a mess of things at a time when a great many people will be waiting to jump on any mistakes.

Like other men I have views on these general problems; I think they are all tough but manageable. But my present point is that they need attention.

And the conclusion I reach is that you should take a very deep breath and walk around these problems, carefully and quietly, for about two weeks after Election Day. The country and the government will understand and expect a period of quiet and a period of preparation, and the people who have carried the major burden of the last months—Moyers, Valenti, Reedy—need time off almost as much as you and Mrs. Johnson do.

[Page 352]

Since you are probably incapable of doing nothing—even for two weeks—my suggestion is that you should use this period to have very frank and private talks with the men you trust most, about the general business of organizing the Presidency for your administration. This is the job which we have not attacked in the last 11 months, and getting it right is absolutely indispensable if the Johnson Administration of 1965 is to escape the frustrations that overtook Truman in 1949 and Roosevelt in 1937.

The people who can help you most in such a process of reflection and planning are those whom you trust most, whoever they may be. There are two kinds of people on whose insight you can draw with particular advantage—those who know you best and those who know the Presidency best. Men who know both, like Clifford and Moyers, can be especially helpful.

What I think you might want to do is to set up a process by which the people you want to talk with are brought to the ranch at your convenience whenever you are ready to talk. I think most such talks should be with one man at a time, as far as possible. It’s the only way for a President to get unvarnished and honest opinions. None of the men you want would object to coming in groups and then being interviewed as individuals. Occasionally there will be, as in the case of Rusk and McNamara and myself, people who need to come in a group for business problems and can be talked to separately at whatever length you want.

Such private conversations can also help your Cabinet and your staff more than you may think. Nothing is more important for them than to know as much as possible of your own desires and thinking—and these will be new and different, I am sure, after the election.

My fundamental point is simply that I think some such process of reflection and discussion is the one thing that is needed above all others—before you make final decisions about any of the great questions before you—and before you settle definitely on your own basic plans for manning the White House and the new Administration. If you take the time now, you can put together a team and a program that will be strong and stable and effective for the long pull. If instead we try to charge ahead with only what we have now, in the White House and in the Administration, we can expect sharp disappointments and failures, and even further crack-ups of overstrained individuals.

McG. B. 3
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Bundy Files, Management. No classification marking.
  2. November 3.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears these typed initials.