Lyndon Johnson on Principles & Values



Most important thing is what a man is trying not to say

Lyndon Johnson was a reader of men. He had promulgated guidelines for such reading, which he tried to teach his young staff members. "Watch their hands, watch their eyes," he told them. "Read eyes. No matter what a man is saying to you, it's not as important as what you can read in his eyes." Teaching them to peruse men's weaknesses, he said that "the most important thing a man has to tell you is what he's not telling you; the most important thing he has to say is what he's trying not to say"-- and therefore it was important not to let a conversation end until you learned what the man wasn't saying, until you "got it out of him." Johnson himself read with a genius that couldn't be taught, with a gift that was so instinctive that one aide calls it a "sense." "He seemed to sense each man's individual price and the commodity he preferred as coin." And Johnson also had a gift for using what he read.
Source: Passage of Power, by Robert Caro, p. 6 , May 1, 2012

1962: Worried whether he would be retained on 1964 ticket

Johnson had given up on all his attempts to obtain some measure of recognition, or at least dignity, as Vice President. Once, as Senate Majority Leader, he had been a mighty figure--"the 2nd most powerful man in the country"--but that seemed a long time ago now. Although initially he had been favored to win the Democratic nomination for President, he had been outmaneuvered, and, having accepted the vice presidency, had, in that post, become not just powerless but a figure of ridicule. He himself was worried about whether or not he would be retained on the 1964 Democratic ticket, and was convinced that whether he was or not, his dreams of becoming President one day were over. He had advised more than one aide to leave his staff. "My future is behind me," he said.

During the 3 years since Kennedy had turned aside Johnson's attempt to maneuver him into sending a portion of presidential power, Johnson had become among Kennedy's White House aides the object of dislike and distrust, and of derision.

Source: Passage of Power, by Robert Caro, p. ix-x , May 1, 2012

Father served 6 terms in Texas Senate but died penniless

Sam Ealy Johnson Jr. had been quite a figure in the Hill Country. During his 6 terms in the Texas House he was surprisingly successful in getting bills passed. "The Hon. S.E. Johnson," as the local newspaper called him, was for a while so successful in "real-estatin'" that he bought his wife the 1st automobile anyone in the town had ever owned.

All that changed when, in years of drought, in September 1922, when Lyndon was 14, Sam had to sell the ranch for whatever he could get--which wasn't nearly enough to cover his debts. The Johnsons moved back to their house in Johnson City, but they were able to keep it only because Sam's brothers periodically made payments.

He didn't run for reelection, and he probably wouldn't have won anyway. A potential opponent coined a saying: "Sam Johnson is a mighty smart man. But he's got no sense." He was to die--in 1937--as a penniless bus inspector. The Johnsons were, for the rest of Lyndon's boyhood, the laughingstocks of Johnson City.

Source: Passage of Power, by Robert Caro, p. 18-19 , May 1, 2012

OpEd: Won 1948 election by despotic control of voting

A figure from Johnson's past LBJ hoped to keep in the past: George Parr of Duval County, the legendary "Duke of Duval," the most powerful of the despotic "jefes" who controlled the Rio Grande Valley and its votes.

Parr could produce a lot of votes for him; he had, in fact, done so in 1948, when, late on election night, with Johnson still far behind, the counties the Duke controlled personally--and other counties controlled by the Duke's satraps--suddenly produced 20,000 new votes for Johnson; the vote in Duval was 4,195 for Johnson, 38 for [his opponent]: a margin of more than 100 to 1. And, 6 days later, with all the late returns supposedly counted and Johnson still behind by a few votes, a Parr-controlled precinct suddenly announced that its returns had somehow not been counted, and the 200 new votes for Johnson from this precinct--votes cast by people who had written their names in the same ink, in the same handwriting, and who had voted in alphabetical order--gave Johnson the lead by 87 votes.

Source: Passage of Power, by Robert Caro, p. 55 , May 1, 2012

JFK said "Let us begin"; I say "let us continue"

"All I have I would have given gladly not to be standing here today," he began. The sentence was eloquent, sorrowful. "Today John Fitzgerald Kennedy lives on in the immortal words and works that he left behind."

He defined the dreams that Kennedy had "vitalized by his drive and by his dedication"--"The dream of conquering space--the dream of a Peace Corps--the dream of education for all of our children." He would carry on the fight for those dreams, he said: "now those ideas and the ideals must and will be translated into effective action."

"In 1961, John F. Kennedy told his countrymen that our national work would not be finished 'in the 1st 1000 days. But,' he said, 'let us begin.' Today, in this moment of new resolve, I would say to all my fellow Americans, let us continue. This is our challenge," Johnson said, "not to hesitate, not to pause, not to turn about and linger over this evil moment, but to continue on our course so that we may fulfill the destiny that history has set for us."

Source: Passage of Power, by Robert Caro, p.429-430 , May 1, 2012

1960 JFK slogan: "Let us begin"; 1964 LBJ: "Let us continue"

The Democrats knew it would be hard for a still-grieving country to turn its back on the man who had been John F. Kennedy's handpicked vice president, and they made the most of their advantage. At the 1964 Democratic National Convention, the slogan emblazoned across the stage wasn't exactly subtle. Playing off of a line in Kennedy's well-known inaugural address--"Let us begin"--the Johnson convention theme was: "Let us continue." LBJ's acceptance speech referenced his predecessor six times. Notably the word that would be his eventual undoing--"Vietnam"--did not merit a single mention, despite the 23,300 American troops there on the ground.

If it seemed like voting against LBJ would be a vote against John F. Kennedy, Johnson apparently was fine with that. The Republicans, in effect, were battling two presidents at once: one martyred and one sitting. That meant the GOP needed to run a pitch-perfect campaign. What we got was quite the opposite.

Source: Known and Unknown, by Donald Rumsfeld, p. 87 , Feb 8, 2011

1987: Lady Bird admitted, "My husband loved women"

As president, Johnson had affairs with several of his young, fetching secretaries. When his wife, Lady Bird Johnson, was away, the Secret Service would take him to the home of one secretary. He would insist that the agents depart while he spent time with her.

At one point, Lady Bird caught him having sex on a sofa in the Oval Office with one of his secretaries. Johnson became furious at the Secret Service for not warning him. After the incident, which occurred just months after he took office, Johnson ordered the Secret Service to install a buzzer system so that agents stationed in the residence part of the White House could warn him when his wife was approaching. A former Secret Service agent says, "if we saw Lady Bird heading for the elevator or stairs, we were to ring the buzzer."

Asked in a 1987 TV interview about her husband's rumored infidelities, Lady Bird Johnson said, "You have to understand, my husband loved people. All people. And half the people in the world were women."

Source: In the President`s Secret Service, by Ron Kessler, p. 15-17 , Jun 29, 2009

OpEd: Civil rights alliance made transformational presidency

Obama could be the first chief executive since Lyndon Johnson with the potential to be a transformative progressive president. By that I mean a president who profoundly alters American politics and the role of government in American life--one who uses hi office to appeal to our best selves to change our economy, society, and democracy for the better. That achievement requires a rendezvous of a critical national moment with rare skills of leadership.

All of the great presidents used their leadership first to transform the public understanding of national challenges and then to break through impasses made up of congressional blockage, interest-group power, voter cynicism or passivity, and conventional wisdom. In different ways, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, & Johnson found allies, respectively, in the abolitionist movement, the labor movement, and the civil rights movement. Each president grew immensely if office. Each changed the national mood, then the direction of national policy.

Source: Obama`s Challenge, by Robert Kuttner, p. 1-4 , Aug 25, 2008

1960: Planned on nomination at a brokered convention

[To win the nomination after winning the Wisconsin primary against Hubert Humphrey, Kennedy] would now have to win in West Virginia. It didn't look good. An anti-Kennedy landslide loomed. The nomination would have to be brokered at the convention, a scenario that tallied with Lyndon Johnson's own game plan.

Johnson could get together with the delegates and woo them in the same tried-and-true manner he used on senators before a key vote. He'd work the states one at a time, using his allies from the Hill as local kingmakers. When the time came to pick a presidential nominee, the convention would choose a candidate who could actually win in November--not a Catholic, not a young backbencher who had never done much of anything where it counted: on Capitol Hill.

In West Virginia, Kennedy rewrote the game plan for Johnson and all future presidential campaigns. Henceforth, the battle of strength and tactic would be in the primaries, not in Capitol offices.

Source: Kennedy & Nixon, by Chris Matthews, p.129-130 , Jun 3, 1996

Persuasion over lunch with press, bankers, or black leaders

The president used the luncheon hour as his persuasion time. If there was an issue he wanted ventilated in the press, he would summon newsmen to share his luncheon table in the living quarters. If the economy needed prodding, he would invite bankers and businessmen to lunch with him. If some civil rights venture was encountering stormy objection in the Congress, he would welcome the top black leaders.

About 4 PM each day, the president would go to his bedroom, put on his pajamas, and climb into bed where he stayed for an hour. I cannot certify that he slept or even dozed. All I can verify is that he was in his bedroom.

Usually by 5 PM, the second half of the president's day began. The president would be receiving in his office. There would be off-the-record appointments of congressional leaders or individual congressman and senators, cabinet officials, and sprinkled among these would be on-the-record meetings with whomever the president chose to put on display.

Source: A Very Human President, by Jack Valenti, p.168-169 , Dec 1, 1976

To persuade Congress, persuade their constituencies

As a member of Congress for 25 years, LBJ knew exactly how much a congressman would take before rebellion set in. Moreover, he was keenly aware that the best was to a congressman's heart is through his constituency. "Give a man a good reason for voting with you and he'll try. Try to force it down his throat and he'll gag. A man can take a little bourbon without getting drunk, but if you hold his mouth open and pour in a quart, he'll get sick on you."

Therefore, the classic Johnson approach was to create a mood & feeling within the legislator that the best interests of the nation and his district (or state) would be served if a particular law was passed.

This was to be the augury of the Johnson style of Congress-treating and Congress-handling. His was the personal approach. Man to man. Phone to ear. Come let us reason together. This is Lyndon Johnson talking. Now, we don't have to be at each other's throat, do we? Your country needs your help and so do I. So it went.

Source: A Very Human President, by Jack Valenti, p.189&194 , Dec 1, 1976

Programs, partnerships, priorities, prosperity, and peace

The 5 ways of carrying forward the progress of these last 3 years concern programs, partnerships, priorities, prosperity, and peace.
  1. Programs: We must see to it that these new programs that we have passed work effectively and are administered in the best possible way.
  2. Partnership--to create an effective partnership at all levels of government, beginning between the executive and the Congress.
  3. Priorities: to move ahead on the priorities that we have established within the resources that are available. Let us resolve, now, to do all that we can, with what we have--knowing that it is far, far more than we have ever done before, and far, far less than our problems will ultimately require.
  4. Prosperity: to keep our economy moving ahead, moving ahead steadily and safely.
  5. Peace: I come now finally to Southeast Asia-and to Vietnam in particular. We are in Vietnam because we are committed by the SEATO Treaty to "act to meet the common danger" of aggression.
Source: Pres. Johnson's 1967 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 10, 1967

We can fight in Vietnam while also building a Great Society

Our Nation tonight is engaged in a brutal and bitter conflict in Vietnam. It just must be the center of our concerns.

We will not permit those who fire upon us in Vietnam to win a victory over the desires and the intentions of all the American people. This Nation is mighty enough, its society is healthy enough, its people are strong enough, to pursue our goals in the rest of the world while still building a Great Society here at home.

I recommend that [Congress] provides the resources to carry forward, with full vigor, the great health and education programs that Congress enacted into law last year. I recommend that we prosecute with vigor and determination our war on poverty. I recommend to you a program to rebuild completely, on a scale never before attempted, entire central and slum areas of several of our cities in America.

Source: Pres. Johnson's 1966 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 12, 1966

1960 ideological balance: Voted opposite JFK 264 times

On July 13, Kennedy, to balance the ticket, selected as his running mate the Majority Leader of the Senate, Lyndon B. Johnson. It was a surprise political pairing.

The degree of ideological balance in the 1960 Democratic ticket was suggested by the fact that, as Vice President Nixon later pointed out, the two men had "flatly disagreed 264 times on roll call votes in the Congress. They have disagreed on farm policy, disagreed on taxes, disagreed on civil rights, disagreed on foreign aid, disagreed on foreign policy, disagreed on defense. They have disagreed on labor issues, disagreed on public works, disagreed on housing, disagreed on Tidelands oil. Name it, and they have disagreed on it. "

Despite their differences--or perhaps because of them--the Kennedy-Johnson ticket struck some observers as a masterful coup.

Source: Waging Peace, by Pres. Dwight Eisenhower, p.593-594 , Jan 1, 1965

1941: Lost in Senate run; 1960: lost in presidential run

The first time he ran for the US Senate he was defeated. But he came back 7 years later to run again, and successfully this time.

He made the Senate peculiarly his own institution and became the youngest, and at the same time the most effective, floor leader any political party ever had in that body. At the peak of his influence in the Senate, he was struck down by a heart attack that for a time threatened to take him out of politics forever. But he fought back to complete recovery.

In 1960 he hopefully went after the Democratic nomination for President, but Kennedy won the nomination on the 1st ballot. Where that left Johnson no one could tell--for a few hours. Then it was announced that he had accepted the nominee's plea to join him on the ticket as candidate for Vice President.

Source: The Lyndon Johnson Story, by Booth Mooney, p. 3-4 , Jun 1, 1964

Long line of elected officials on both sides of family

Lyndon Johnson was born to politics. His father served 5 terms in the Texas legislature. His maternal grandfather also saw service in the legislature as well as in the office of the Texas Secretary of State. His maternal grandmother was the niece of a man who signed the Texas Declaration of Independence from Mexico, fought in the freedom-winning Battle of San Jacinto, and became a member of the First Congress of the Republic of Texas. One of that grandmother's uncles was a governor of Kentucky. Her forebears, back in the Old Country, for several generations represented their home district in the Scottish Parliament.
Source: The Lyndon Johnson Story, by Booth Mooney, p. 8-9 , Jun 1, 1964

People reject extremism, either on the right or the left

Johnson's efforts as Minority Leader in the Senate were directed at building a Democratic record on which Democratic candidates for Congress could successfully contend for victory at the polls.

As a Democrat in a position of leadership, he was convinced the greatest service he could render his party was to guide it into and along the path of moderation. He believed the party had made great strides in regaining much of the respect it had lost because of accusations that it was irresponsible. He wanted to hold these gains and add to them.

"Eventually," he said, "the people will reject any political organization that is ruled by the extremists, either the right or the left. If I can leave any imprint on the Democratic Party, I want it to have the effect of making ours a moderate party, not a party of extremes." He succeeded in making the issue of the 1954 campaign the "politics of responsibility" record of the Democrats in Congress.

Source: The Lyndon Johnson Story, by Booth Mooney, p.107 , Jun 1, 1964

1954: Led Senate with "unity-moderation-cooperation"

The value of his leadership was recognized [as] first shown in the flood of newspaper editorial comments that came in the days following his heart attack. There were hundreds of editorials. Taken as a whole, they provided incontrovertible proof that Johnson's policy of "unity-moderation-cooperation" was more deeply representative of popular sentiment in the US than even he could have guessed. A "compromise" editorial [synthesized from several others] follows:

"Johnson has distinguished himself as a conscientious composer of differences not only between a Democratic Congress and a Republican Executive but also among factions of Democrats. His leadership has been notable for the smoothness of its functioning, the absence of caviling and obstructionist tactics and the harmony which has been induced within his own traditionally wide-split party."

One of the Washington newspaper writers headed a column, "Everybody Loves Lyndon." That seemed to sum up the situation fairly enough.

Source: The Lyndon Johnson Story, by Booth Mooney, p.130-135 , Jun 1, 1964

Continue JFK's plans, not in sorrow, but because it's right

Let us carry forward the plans and programs of John Fitzgerald Kennedy--not because of our sorrow or sympathy, but because they are right. In his memory today, I especially ask all members of my own political faith, in this election year, to put your country ahead of your party, and to always debate principles; never debate personalities. For my part, I pledge a progressive administration which is efficient, and honest and frugal.
Source: Pres. Johnson's 1964 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 8, 1964

I am a free man, an American, a Senator, and then a Democrat

I am a free man, an American, a US Senator, and a Democrat, in that order.

I am also a liberal, a conservative, a Texan, a taxpayer, a rancher, a businessman, a consumer, a parent, a voter--and I am all these things in no fixed order.

I bridle at the very casualness with which we have come to ask each other, "What is your political philosophy?" I resent the question most often not because I suspect it of guile and cunning, but for its innocence, the innocence that confuses dogma with philosophy and presumes that the answer can be given in a word or two. Our political philosophies, I have found, are the sum of our life's experience. God made no man so simple or his life so sterile that such experience can be summarized in an adjective.

It is part of my philosophy to regard individuality of political philosophy as a cornerstone of American freedom and, more specifically, as a right expressly implied in our nation's basic law and indispensable to the proper functioning of our system.

Source: Johnson article in The Johnson Story, by B.Mooney, p. ix-x , Jun 1, 1958

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