Taped conversations reveal special relationship between Richard J. Daley and Lyndon B. Johnson

May 10, 2011

By Robert Loerzel

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Taped conversations show that Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley had close ties to President Lyndon Johnson.

Rahm Emanuel won’t be the first Chicago mayor with connections to the White House. Richard M. Daley is a political ally of both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. Daley's was a good friend of John F. Kennedy’s. And Richard J. Daley also had close ties with Lyndon Johnson. In this report,Eight Forty-Eight contributor Robert Loerzel takes a listen to tapes documenting that relationship.

 

President Lyndon Johnson recorded more than 9,000 phone calls when he was president. The people on the other end of the line didn’t realize LBJ was recording everything they said, and one of those people was Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley.

LBJ and Daley talked on the phone a lot. The Lyndon B. Johnson Library has almost nine hours of Dictaphone tapes from more than fifty calls between these two men. It includes Daley in 1966, telling Johnson what he thinks about Martin Luther King, Jr.

DALEY: I think we’ve gone a long way with the “good doctor,” Mr. President. He’s not your friend. He’s against you on Vietnam. He’s a goddamn faker.

The tape is scratchy, but Daley’s thoughts about King are loud and clear. “He isn’t your friend,” he tells the president. “He’s a faker,” he says, adding a profanity. Longtime Chicago journalist Richard Ciccone says this tape reveals Daley expressing his true feelings about King.

“Daley had no use for Martin Luther King, but he could never say that publicly,” Ciccone says. “He thought he was a charlatan and a faker and a power-grabber. He would warn Johnson in private, you know, ‘Don’t trust that guy.’”

Ciccone wrote about Daley’s relationship with Johnson in his book, Daley: Power and Presidential Politics. He says Daley and LBJ had a special relationship, that they were genuine friends, but they also they also needed each other for political reasons.

“Johnson, in his Great Society programs, provided Chicago with millions of dollars that really enabled Daley to turn the city around,” Ciccone remembers. “In return, Lyndon Johnson, well, he bought into the myth that Daley had elected Jack Kennedy. Part of his reason for getting so close to Daley was because he thought he needed him.”

LBJ constantly flattered Mayor Daley.

LBJ: I’m a Dick Daley man…I’m a Daley man myself, first, last and all the time. And I’m for you when you’re wrong. You’re the only thing we got left in this country.

Daley wasn’t a yes man for the president, but he was full of flattery, too.

DALEY: I wanted to talk to you and say to you you’re still a great president and doing a great job.

LBJ: Thank you.

One of the things the tapes show is how Daley acted as an intermediary between LBJ and Bobby Kennedy. In 1968, LBJ was getting ready to run for re-election and Daley urged Kennedy not to run for president.

DALEY: And I said that, “I don’t care who it is that’s president. If he wants the nomination of his party, it’s a damn poor party that will not stand behind their president when it comes to delegates in the convention.”

Ciccone says Daley was putting party loyalty above his friendship for the Kennedy family.

“His brand of politician was…you were just loyal to the party,” Ciccone added. “You were loyal to whoever had the office. And while he liked the Kennedys, personally — Irish-Catholic, you know. Jack Kennedy was his idol, and he would have loved to have seen Robert in the White House. But Lyndon was the president. And Daley felt that kind of loyalty was paramount, even over personal friendship.”

Robert Kennedy did end up running for president. Johnson pulled out of the race. Kennedy was assassinated. And in August 1968, protesters and police clashed at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The tapes reveal what LBJ and Daley were saying behind the scenes. On the final night of the convention, LBJ called Daley from his ranch in Texas.

LBJ: We are so proud of you, and you are so tremendous, and Ladybird was here and we placed a call just to tell you that the Good Lord and the…is looking over you and guiding you, and you are the one, uh, great courageous, decent thing that I know in this country.

A week later, they spoke again. Daley said the Chicago police couldn’t hold back when they saw protesters burning American flags.

DALEY: Some of our fellas that are policemen have sons in Vietnam. Some of them lost their boys. So anyone with any American blood when he saw that, they went in and goddamn it, I’ll stand behind them until the end, and they whacked the hell out of them and they raised — they raised the Viet Cong flag. Our fellas tore it down and raised the American flag. Well, what are you gonna do if someone hits you with human manure in the face? You gonna stand there? Or hits you with human — see, they were throwing bags of manure in the face. They were throwing bags of urine. And then they were calling — you should know the language, Mr. President.

LBJ: Oh, I know it, I know it…

Daley insisted that the leaders of the protest movement should be prosecuted.

DALEY: If the attorney general will only stand up, we will turn up with a conspiracy on all — and show, and, and, reveal it with documentation and with evidence and fact. We don’t wanna go after anyone on a witch hunt. But gosh darn it, Mr. President, I think these people should be exposed to the entire nation and show what you’ve been up against for the last year and a half when you go about this country. Organized behind it. Commie.

The federal government did prosecute some of the protesters. The Chicago Seven were acquitted of conspiracy. Five were convicted of crossing state lines to incite a riot, but an appellate court threw out those convictions.

On the morning after the 1968 presidential election, LBJ sounded tired. Republican Richard Nixon had just defeated Democratic Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

LBJ: Well, we put up a good fight, Dick. We did our best…

But Daley was defiant. He said LBJ could’ve won the race if he’d stayed in it. Daley criticized Humphrey for apologizing for the violence in Chicago.

DALEY: You, you woulda breezed in. You would, and I, honest to God, you woulda, you woulda won and — because you presented the thing. You fought. You weren’t pussyfooting. You weren’t — like, he comes out here Friday and makes a talk in which he talks about the convention. And, “We’re all sorry what happened in Chicago.” Well, we’re not sorry. I’m not, I, I — mistakes were made. That’s one thing. But goddamn it, you don’t be reminding an audience of 25 or 30,000, all Democrats, that we regret what happened in the city.

Author Richard Ciccone says the tapes of Daley talking with LBJ are a gold mine of information about both men.

“It really shows you what a relationship Daley had with the president,” says Ciccone. “The tapes are wonderful to listen to. Give you an insight into history you couldn’t get any other way.”

Will we get that same sort of insight into the relationship between Rahm Emanuel and Barack Obama? It seems likely the two of them will talk on the phone in the months and years ahead. But it’s unlikely we’ll hear tape recordings of it all. For that sort of intimate eavesdropping, it’ll be hard to top the tapes of LBJ and Richard J. Daley.

 

Music Button: Lou Busch & His Orchestra, "Street Scene '58", from the CD Ultra Lounge Vol. 4 Bachelor Pad Royale, (Capitol)