Wednesday, February 10, 2021

JOHNSON WEEK continued: Hey Hey LBJ

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Risque content and language below.

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The title derives from a chant during anti-Vietnam protest marches in the 60’s and 70’s: “Hey hey LBJ, How many kids have you killed today?”

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A lengthy read but an interesting insight into LBJ's personality and Presidential manner, Presidential conduct having been a recent focus.

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The following is an article by Scott Van Wynsberghe in the National Post, January 26, 2018.

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The most vulgar American president ever? It sure as #$@!%* isn't Donald Trump

How repulsive was Lyndon B. Johnson? Contact with him put one at risk of encountering a profane spectacle of burping, farting and crotch-scratching

President Lyndon B. Johnson sings with his dog, Yuki, at the LBJ ranch near Stonewall, Texas, while his grandson, Patrick Lyndon Nugent, looks on, on Jan. 6, 1968.

As the world awaits the next nasty utterance from Donald Trump [This article dates from 2018, Otto], one can only marvel at how history itself has ended up in (language alert!) — a “shithole.” Amid the chronic shock and horrified reactions, people have become blind to the fact that he is not (yet) the most disgusting U.S. president in living memory. That title actually belongs to a Texan Democrat, Lyndon B. Johnson, a howling, flatulent tormentor of women whose cussing and racism remain breathtaking today. And if you’re offended by Trump’s level of vulgarity, you really — really — don’t want to read any further.

How Johnson got away with his behaviour for so long was complicated, but distraction helped. The very way he attained power — by succeeding the slain John F. Kennedy — caused some critics (notably writer Robert Sherrill and activist Barbara Garson) to focus scornfully on that. The agony of the Vietnam War likewise diverted attention.

But Johnson was also an intense networker, and he succeeded in cultivating or otherwise entangling several prominent journalists, including Walter Lippman and Drew Pearson, as well as Washington Post owner Katherine Graham. According to biographers Ronald Steel and Oliver Pilat, plus Graham’s own 1997 memoir, these personal ties undermined a lot of objectivity in the press.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, right, and Lady Bird Johnson watch as U.S. Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson is administered the oath of office as he assumes the presidency following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, on Nov. 22, 1963.

Indeed, numerous Washington insiders — reporters, officials, cronies — did not reveal their knowledge of Johnson’s ugly side until 1980, when oral biographer Merle Miller coaxed them. Later biographers, including Robert A. Caro, Robert Dallek, and Randall B. Woods, have added to the revelations.

As well, it was not widely known for years that Johnson had a recording system in the Oval Office. This system, like the more infamous one of Richard Nixon, captured many very regrettable comments, but it would not be definitively described until a 1999 book by historian William Doyle. (Transcripts of the recordings were edited and released through historian Michael R. Beschloss beginning in the late 1990s.)

Finally, one reaction to Johnson’s coarse language was a tendency to sanitize the public record. British journalist Henry Brandon has recalled how The Washington Post rendered “bullshit” as “bull.”

So, exactly how repulsive was Johnson? He was horrid enough that the way he said things was almost as bad as what he said. Anyone who came into contact with him was at risk of encountering a spectacle of burping, farting, nose-picking and crotch-scratching. Congressman Richard Bolling, who witnessed some of this, told Merle Miller: “I wouldn’t say Johnson was vulgar — he was barnyard.” Worse, Johnson had no sense of personal space and treated conversation as a creepy hands-on affair. Miller learned from Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee that, “You really felt as if a St. Bernard had licked your face for an hour, had pawed you all over.”

For women, the ordeal was even worse, and Bradlee claimed that Johnson groped Katharine Graham and was “bumping” up against the breasts of Washington Post writer Meg Greenfield. (In her memoir, Graham says nothing of this and is suspiciously quiet about almost all of Johnson’s peculiarities. She does admit he kissed her on the cheek at least once.)

President Lyndon B. Johnson hands a pen to civil rights leader Martin Luther King after signing the historic Civil Rights Bill on July 2, 1964.

A truly unlucky few even got to see Johnson relieve himself. Reporter Sam Schaffer toured Johnson’s Texan ranch and was stunned when Johnson urinated right in front of him, in the open. Arthur Goldschmidt, a friend and United Nations official, was in the Oval Office with Johnson when the latter suddenly headed for the washroom, “took a crap, then shaved and showered, all the while continuing his conversation as though what he was doing was the most normal thing in the world.”

As for what Johnson was actually saying during all the above, he was known for folksy aphorisms that were crude, sometimes racist, and often weird, including “it was raining as hard as a cat pissing on a flat rock,” “as straight as an Indian shits,” and the importance of fighting an opponent “till he’s shitty as a bear.” These became more disturbing in his retirement years, when UPI reporter Bill Theis was told by him that subsequent White House economic policies were “the worst thing that’s happened to this country since pantyhose ruined finger-fucking.” (That quote apparently was passed around as insider gossip until it got to Miller via Richard Bolling.)

Lyndon B. Johnson reads the President’s Daily Brief as his wife, Lady Bird Johnson, holds their first grandchild in an undated photo taken by White House staff.

The pantyhose bit was part of a troubling pattern. Biographer Woods learned that Johnson would tell close friends that his own wife, the delightfully named Lady Bird, was “the best piece of ass I ever had” (but he still cheated on her). Recorded Oval Office telephone conversations include a 1964 exchange with staffer Ralph Dungan concerning female appointees to government positions. Johnson kept asking Dungan about their looks. Former staffer Yolanda Boozer told Miller that Johnson would comment if female White House employees gained any weight, provoking anxious dieting.

Regardless of gender, Johnson’s treatment of subordinates could be appalling. In one of her very rare confirmations of Johnson’s behaviour, Katherine Graham says she saw Johnson apoplectically yelling at aide Jack Valenti over some mistake. She describes the tirade as “callous and inhuman.” A senior adviser, James H. Rowe Jr., reportedly quit after witnessing a similar incident. Johnson’s own vice-president, Hubert Humphrey, informed Miller that Johnson’s need to control people caused him to say of certain individuals that, “I’ve got his pecker in my pocket.”

President Lyndon B. Johnson, right, talks with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, sitting, after McNamara had returned from a fact-finding trip to Vietnam, at the White House on March 13, 1964.

And then there was the N-word. Although Johnson styled himself as a civil rights crusader and did make progress on race relations, he still presided over a United States torn by racial violence. His public and private statements showed that he never realized he himself may have been part of the problem. For example, Robert A. Caro says he referred to the manual labour of his youth as “n—-r work.”

A recorded 1964 telephone conversation with the hapless Jack Valenti touched on Johnson’s electoral chances in Texas for an upcoming presidential race: “I think I can take every Mexican in the state and every n—-r in the state.” Several weeks before that presidential vote, Johnson spoke before a New Orleans crowd about how Southern politicians constantly twisted all issues towards race. That was a valid point, but then the speech became strange: “All they (the voters) ever hear at election time is n—-r, n—-r, n—-r!” Woods discovered that somebody sanitized the official record of the speech, substituting the word “Negro,” but witnesses confirmed what was really said. Robert Dallek learned of a 1967 meeting in the Oval Office with Texan state official Larry Temple, concerning possible black candidates for the Supreme Court. Johnson stressed he would consider only high-profile people: “When I appoint a n—-r to the bench, I want everyone to know he’s a n—-r.”

Unsurprisingly, when black rioting erupted in Los Angeles in 1965, Johnson was bewildered, and he confided to aide Joseph Califano his fear that “Negroes will end up pissing in the aisles of the Senate.”

In the end, however, it was the uncontrollable Vietnam War that destroyed Johnson’s administration and wrecked his legacy. William Doyle unearthed a fitting quote from a moment in mid-1965, when Johnson was moodily strolling on the grounds of the White House, cursing: “I don’t know what the fuck to do about Vietnam.”

Top that, Trump.

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Bonus item:

The Wit and Wisdom of LBJ:

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, that freedom 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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