LBJ for the USA
Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – My first presidential campaign was in 1964 with Lyndon Johnson. I was 12. I passed out literature in my neighborhood, stuffing rural mailboxes with cards that said “LBJ for the USA.”
On Election Day, I had a handful of those same cards and passed them out to perspective voters. Both the Republican and Democratic judges did not enforce the “so many feet from the polls” regulation, figuring I was some kind of amusement.
When people started coming home from work, the lines became longer and people had to wait. As they stood in line, they read the campaign material instead of just breezing through to vote. A lady with the Republican committee threw me out into the cold, dark night, telling me I had to be so many feet from the polling place. I got a severe tongue lashing. I have campaigned for every Democrat candidate since.
Still in high school, with the anti-war protesters swirling around, I remember Lyndon Johnson’s speech that he would not seek a second term. I passed out literature for Robert Kennedy and then Hubert Humphrey. My next recollection was Walter Cronkite announcing Johnson’s death on television.
President Johnson faded from memory as life continued until I wrote a series of heavily researched articles for Frederick Magazine on the history of Camp David. My impression changed. He became a hard drinking man, insecure with being catapulted into the presidency and riding around Frederick and Washington counties on hung-over Sunday mornings attending different church services.
He popped again into in my consciousness when, while driving through Peninsular Malaysia, we passed a Kampung LBJ. Nobody had any idea why a rural village would have been named after him. Just guessing, he must have visited here on one of his travels.
Lyndon Johnson then fades away until I downloaded a book The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power, by Robert Caro. It had been on The New York Times bestseller list and was one of those tomes which I could read a bit at a time when I had time. I finished it in three days; it was that good.
I never knew LBJ was such a sneaky, backstabbing, deceitful, devious, double-dealing, malicious, mean, nasty, slippery, sly, unscrupulous, crafty, cunning….(I have run out of adjectives from the Thesaurus). He makes “Tricky Dick” (Richard Nixon) look like an angel. There does not seem to be one personality trait that did not come from Lucifer.
As if to say to God, “Look, I really am a nice guy,” he railroaded the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through Congress, dynamiting the Southern blockade in the process. With a “Lord, I am so sorry for the way I am” attitude, he shoved through the War on Poverty initiatives, Medicare and the Great Society only to be undone by the Vietnam War.
Mr. Caro’s book of over 700 pages is not the usual dull presidential biographical tome, but a lively, surprising piece of research that will have you saying “I remember that” and “was he really that awful.”
I don’t think I will go back and read Caro’s first two volumes because, right now, I have had enough of Lyndon Johnson. But, in a year or two when the final volume appears on the Vietnam War, I will probably be one of the first to purchase a copy.
…Life is good. . . . .