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Meet The Press – Former White House Council Clark Clifford – February 4, 1950 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Former White House Council Clark Clifford is interviewed on this episode of Meet The Press from February 4, 1950. Having announced his departure from the Truman White House and a return to private law practice, Clifford is grilled on a variety of topics – from the upcoming mid-term elections, to the Presidential election in 1952, to the current status in the Cold War and our position among nations in the world during what was largely considered an unsettling time.
Clifford went to Washington, first to serve as assistant to the President’s Naval Adviser, after the naming of a personal friend from Missouri as the President’s Naval Adviser. Following his discharge from the Navy, he remained at Truman’s side as White House Counsel from 1946 to 1950, as Truman came rapidly to trust and rely upon Clifford.
Clifford was a key architect of Truman’s campaign in 1948, when Truman pulled off a stunning upset victory over Republican nominee Thomas Dewey. Clifford encouraged Truman to embrace a left-wing populist image in hope of undermining the impact on the race of third-party Progressive candidate Henry A. Wallace, who had served as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Vice-President from 1941 to 1945. Clifford also believed that a strong pro-civil rights stance, while sure to alienate traditional Southern Democrats, would not result in a serious challenge to the party’s supremacy in that region. This prediction was foiled by Strom Thurmond’s candidacy as a splinter States’ Rights Democrat, but Clifford’s strategy nonetheless helped win Truman election in his own right and establish the Democratic Party’s position in the Civil Rights Movement.
In his role as presidential adviser, one of his most significant contributions was his successful advocacy, along with David Niles, of prompt 1948 recognition of the new Jewish state of Israel, over the strong objections of Secretary of State General George Marshall.
Clifford Clifford emerged as a national figure almost overnight, moving from a low-level naval aide in the White House to President Truman’s top adviser and strategist. His success came from hard work, a good mind, poker skills to match those of his boss, the ability to stroke the press, the knack to immediately seize on serendipitous opportunities, and the ability to identify, reshape and promote good ideas first proposed by others, such as George Kennan. He thus gained fame for papers that he presented forcefully, but did not actually write, including his 1947 proposal on Truman’s reelection strategy and the Clifford-Elsey papers on Cold War strategy. He became a trusted advisor to presidential candidate John F. Kennedy in 1960, assuring his access by indicating he wanted no public office. His reputation – and his law practice – continued to soar until finally Lyndon Johnson forced him to become Defense Secretary to lead the nation out of the Vietnam trap. Historian Walter Isaacson argues that in many ways Clifford resembled the four wise men who shaped American foreign policy in the 1940s and early 1950s – Dean Acheson, Averell Harriman, Robert A. Lovett, and John J. McCloy. However, Isaacson argues, “Clifford remained a Wise Man wannabe because he could never quite shake his reputation as a partisan Wheeler-dealer and manipulator.”
After leaving the government in 1950, Clifford practiced law in Washington, D.C., but continued to advise Democratic Party leaders.
Here is that Meet The Press appearance from February 4, 1950.