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"Hey! Hey! LBJ!How many kids did you kill today?"
—Popular anti-Vietnam War protest chant
President of the United States from 1963 to 1969, Lyndon Baines Johnson (aka LBJ) managed to be both incredibly good and horrendously bad.
The good was his role in the Civil Rights Laws of the 1960s, playing a bigger role than Kennedy did (as a teacher from Texas, he had seen the impact of segregation). This ended legally sanctioned racism and also altered the US political landscape, effectively removing southern whites from the New Deal coalition that had dominated US politics since 1932, and adding African-Americans. This was part of Johnson's broader ideal of "The Great Society." He also amended Social Security to create Medicare for the elderly and Medicaid for the poor; he set up the Department of Housing and Urban Development; much of the work to land on the moon was done while he was in office, though the project completed a few months into Nixon's term; massively expanded Federal money for education: and ended the system of racial quotas in immigration established since the 1920s.
He is notable as the only U.S. President to attempt to end national poverty.
The bad was the Vietnam War, along with the persistent atmosphere of political corruption that surrounded Johnson, including accusations of voter fraud, bribery, and selling government secrets. Critics claimed that his support for Civil Rights was belied by his Senatorial votes against anti-lynching legislation, and that his poverty programs were nothing but cynical ploys to buy votes with handouts. Lyndon's administration carried over JFK's adoption of the "Whiz Kids", a group of RAND Corporation game theorists who were responsible for mind-bendingly complex flow charts and kill quotas. The massive bureaucracies LBJ put in place to administer his grandiose social projects proved to be riddled with waste and inefficiency. His increasing unpopularity, along with his ill-health, ultimately led to his decision not to run for re-election in 1968. It appears that the actual independent effect of the war on his ratings was minimal -- with his perceived mishandling of domestic issues causing more public distrust.
Johnson, a Texan by birth (unlike George W. Bush), after a brief time as a teacher, was elected to Congress in 1937. In World War Two, he asked for a combat assignment, but didn't really see much action. He did try to improve conditions for US soldiers.
On his second attempt he was elected to the US Senate in 1948. He became Senate Majority Leader and was chosen as John F Kennedy's running mate in 1960, after earlier trying to stop JFK's nomination, in an attempt to balance the unpopularity that the liberal New Englander Kennedy inspired in the Democratic party's largely conservative Southern base. Johnson is widely regarded as one of the more effective Senate majority leaders in recent history, in no small part due to his propensity for unapologetically bullying other Senators. He was also one of only three Southern Senators (the other two being Estes Kefauver and Al Gore, Sr., both of Tennessee) not to sign the high-profile, pro-segregation Southern Manifesto in 1956. However, whether this was due to principle, politics (he was known to already be eying the White House), his role in the Senate's leadership, or some combination thereof is unclear.
Johnson became Vice-President and might well have been forgotten by history, had the events of November 22, 1963 not intervened.
The death of Kennedy meant Johnson became President, being sworn in on Air Force One, with a Roman Catholic missal as no Bible was available.
He was re-elected in 1964 in a landslide, with help from the infamous "Daisy Girl" ad, which painted his Republican opponent, Arizona senator Barry Goldwater, as a war-mongering extremist who might well start World War III. Johnson won 61% of the popular vote, which is still a record.
In 1973, Johnson died of his third heart attack, two days after he would have finished a second term.
Johnson was a colorful figure, whose rough-edged Texan demeanor contrasted strongly with Kennedy's elegant image. One incident had him exposing his appendicitis scar to the public; in another he picked up his pet beagle by the ears, assuring the onlookers, "He lahks it!" He was legendarily tough: it took him several hours to realize he was experiencing his first heart-attack. He had odd eating habits, eating quickly and, if someone near him hasn't finished eating yet, taking their food to eat, as if it was nothing out of the ordinary. He was also apparently a bit obsessed over his initials: he had LBJ on his wristcuffs, gave out pens with LBJ on them during his trips to other countries, his wife was nicknamed Lady Bird Johnson (real name Claudia, and that nickname actually predated LBJ. He proposed to her on the day they first met), named his children Lynda Bird and Luci Baines Johnson (his first daughter was born 10 years after his marriage), and his pet beagle's name was Little Beagle Johnson. Perhaps his oddest habit was conducting meetings on the toilet (Perhaps one of the best non-sexual examples of Coitus Uninterruptus). Satirical portrayals in media usually focused on playing up his Texan-ness to a comical degree.
Lyndon Johnson provides examples of these tropes in media:
- Alliterative Family: His children all had the initials LBJ -- and his wife was nicknamed "Lady Bird" Johnson.
- A Real Man Is a Killer: Anyone wanting his political favor had to go out to his Texas ranch and kill animals (so called "hunting") that were driven toward them as they sat in a blind.
- Bunny Ears Lawyer: Oh boy.
- Gag Penis: LBJ's party piece was pulling out what he nicknamed "Jumbo", not least when he was giving his famous toilet-seat interviews; by all accounts, Johnson's Johnson lived up to its name.
- My New Gift Is Lame: He made headlines when he gave the Pope a bust of himself. A bust of Lyndon Johnson.
- Never Live It Down: Johnson is commonly seen as the President that got America into the Vietnam War. Part of the reason he left office was due to angry crowds of protesters outside the White House accusing him of murdering their children.
- No Sense of Personal Space: "The Johnson Treatment" was less about not having a sense of personal space and more about deliberately invading other people's to influence them. The fact that he was really tall definitely helped.
- Riddle for the Ages: The nomination of Kennedy over Johnson was an ugly business, and an air of mystery still looms over the fateful decision to make him Kennedy's Vice-President.
- Screw The Advice, I'm Doing What's Right: Johnson and his wife marched in JFK's funeral procession despite being told not to by the Secret Service and the FBI, in fear of a second assassination. He was later paraphrased as saying he "could do, should do, would do, and did" march in the procession.
- Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: With his Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Johnson was a boisterous, domineering loudmouth who enjoyed hunting and speeding along his ranch in a pick up truck. Humphrey was a gabby, yet sensitive man who was prone to tearing up. He also let Johnson dominate him during the extant of their working relationship.
- Johnson once took Humphrey hunting and told him to shoot a deer. Humphrey nearly broke down in tears over it. LBJ didn't give it a second thought.
- Slobs Versus Snobs: LBJ never ceased to loathe the Kennedy family, who (to be fair) hated him in kind.
- Vindicated by History: Loathed at the time of his presidency because of the Vietnam War, viewed favorably in hindsight, amongst the top 15 presidents, for his domestic program.
Johnson in fiction:
- Metal Gear Solid 3
- In Forrest Gump the title character moons Johnson.
- Unintentionally. In the book, Gump and Johnson were sharing the stories of their respective surgical scars -- Johnson from gallbladder surgery, Gump from being "wounded in the buttocks." A photographer just happened to walk by at the inopportune moment, and spun the story.
- A lot of other works set in the Vietnam era, such as Across the Universe, usually mention him in a big protest scene.
- An unnamed Johnson is seen from behind, petting his beagle, in Batman: The Movie, as he announces the fate of the representatives of the United World Organization.
- In Seinfeld, when asked if a (apparently very ugly) newborn more resembles the mother or the father, Kramer replies "Lyndon Johnson."
- In "The Outing", the characters argue who was the ugliest world leader of all time. George suggests Johnson.
- Also, in one episode, George misses his boss' instructions because George failed to follow him into the restroom where he continued to talk, unaware that George hadn't followed him. Jerry says: "He pulled a Lyndon Johnson on you," adding that apparently an entire Vietnamese bombing campaign was planned as Johnson recovered from some bad Chinese food.
- In King of the Hill, Buck Strickland is physically based on Johnson, and shares many of his more unflattering traits.
- Hank hero-worships both of them.
- In addition, Hank's prize bloodhound Ladybird is named after Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson, the President's wife.
- Hank hero-worships both of them.
- During the Kennedy administration, Vaughn Meader recorded a comedy album entitled The First Family. Johnson appears in only one sketch:
Johnson: Ah'd like to say somethin', if ah might!
JFK: Must you, Lyndon?
- In The Right Stuff, Donald Moffat gives, in this troper's humble opinion, the definitive portrayal of LBJ. "You know what the Russians want?"
- In the film version of How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, Ponty is seen leaning in to the White House windows to say, "Good morning, Mr. President!" to an LBJ lookalike.
- Dino Spumoni "caught his ear" in an episode of Hey Arnold.
- Appears in the Mary Shelley's Frankenhole episode "LBJFK", asking the good doctor to put his brain in JFK's more appealing body.
- Never seen or heard in The President's Analyst, but it's him. A self-described 'typical American' proclaims that he's a liberal in the same tradition as the President - "You know - we're for civil rights!" In a location shot outside the White House gate we see his beagles being walked.