Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Wit and Wisdom of LBJ




Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908-1973) was the 36th President of the United States, between 1963 and 1969, becoming Pres upon the assassination of President Kennedy. A rough hewn but sincere Texan, he was noted for his plain speaking and no-nonsense approach to the Presidency. At the same time as he continued Kennedy’s attack on discrimination , he escalated the American presence in Viet Nam, perceiving a need to stand against the expansion of communism. Despite domestic hostility to the war and the portrayal of LBJ as a warmonger (characterised by the chant at anti-war rallies “Hey Hey LBJ, how many kids have you killed today?”), privately the deaths of young men caused him much personal grief. When he left the Presidency he had aged much more than the 6 years in that office. As part of his Great Society program, he was responsible for laws that upheld civil rights, public broadcasting, Medicare, Mediaid, environmental protection, aid to education, aid to the arts, urban and rural development. His War on Poverty helped millions of Americans rise above the poverty line during his presidency. He was succeeded by Richard Nixon and died four years after leaving office.

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Some LBJ quotes:

I do not find it easy to send the flower of our youth, our finest young men, into battle.”

News Conference (28 July 1965)

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“Gerry Ford is so dumb he can't walk and fart at the same time.... He's a nice fellow, but he spent too much time playing football without a helmet.”

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"Boys, I may not know much, but I know chicken shit from chicken salad.”

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“[Richard Nixon]'s like a Spanish horse, who runs faster than anyone for the first nine lengths, and then turns around and runs backwards. You'll see; he'll do something wrong in the end. He always does.”

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“It's probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.”

On FBI director J Edgar Hoover, who had dirt files on large numbers of politicians and celebrities, as quoted in the New York Times, 31 October 1971

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“I took the oath. I became president. But for millions of Americans I was still illegitimate - a pretender to the throne, an illegal usurper. And then there were the bigots and the dividers and the Eastern intellectuals who were waiting to knock me down before I could even begin to stand up. The whole thing was almost unbearable.”

On assuming the Presidency, November 22, 1963

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“I will not let you take me backward in time to Vietnam. Fifty thousand American boys are dead. Nothing we can say will change that fact. Your idea that I could have chosen otherwise rests upon complete ignorance. For if I had chosen otherwise, I would have been responsible for starting World War III.”

To his biographer, Doris Kearns Goodwin

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“I don’t want loyalty. I want loyalty. I want him to kiss my ass in Macy’s window at high noon and tell me it smells like roses. I want his pecker in my pocket.

Quoted in David Halberstam ‘The Best and the Brightest’ (1972). Discussing a potential assistant.

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“If I left the woman I really loved - 'The Great Society' - in order to get involved with that bitch of a war on the other side of the world, then I would lose everything at home. All my programs. All my hopes to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless. But if I let the Communists take over South Vietnam, then I would be seen as an appeaser.”

On the Vietman War

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“Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men's skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact.”

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“You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: 'now, you are free to go where you want, do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please.' You do not take a man who for years has been hobbled by chains, liberate him, bring him to the starting line of a race, saying, "you are free to compete with all the others," and still justly believe you have been completely fair... This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity—not just legal equity but human ability—not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result.”

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Making a speech on economics is a lot like pissing down your leg. It seems hot to you, but it never does to anyone else.

Private comment, as quoted in Name-Dropping (1999) by John Kenneth Galbraith

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“Fuck your parliament and your constitution. America is an elephant. Cyprus is a flea. Greece is a flea. If these two fleas continue itching the elephant, they may just get whacked good ...We pay a lot of good American dollars to the Greeks, Mr. Ambassador. If your Prime Minister gives me talk about democracy, parliament and constitution, he, his parliament and his constitution may not last long...”

Comment to the Greek ambassador to Washington, Alexander Matsas, over the Cyprus issue in June 1964. Quoted in I Should Have Died (1977) by Philip Deane

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“The purpose of the law is simple. It does not restrict the freedom of any American, so long as he respects the rights of others. It does not give special treatment to any citizen. It does say the only limit to a man's hope for happiness, and for the future of his children, shall be his own ability. It does say that there are those who are equal before God shall now also be equal in the polling booths, in the classrooms, in the factories, and in hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, and other places that provide service to the public.”

Civil Rights Bill signing speech, 1964

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“I do not believe that the Great Society is the ordered, changeless, and sterile battalion of the ants. It is the excitement of becoming—always becoming, trying, probing, falling, resting, and trying again—but always trying and always gaining.”

Inaugural address, 1965

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“In each generation, with toil and tears, we have had to earn our heritage again. If we fail now, we shall have forgotten in abundance what we learned in hardship: that democracy rests on faith, thatfreedom asks more than it gives, and that the judgment of God is harshest on those who are most favored. If we succeed, it will not be because of what we have, but it will be because of what we are; not because of what we own, but, rather because of what we believe. For we are a nation of believers. Underneath the clamor of building and the rush of our day's pursuits, we are believers in justice and liberty and union, and in our own Union. We believe that every man must someday be free. And we believe in ourselves.”

Inaugural address, 1965

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Some LBJ pics:




Lyndon Johnson showed off his surgical scar after a double operation to remove his gallbladder and a kidney stone. “I got two operations for the price of one,” said Johnson.

Lyndon B Johnson being sworn in on Air Force One with Jackie still in her blood-stained outfit beside him. 


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Critical view:

Those wishing to read about LBJ's nasty side should click on:


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