"If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: 'President Can't Swim.'"
— Lyndon Johnson
"Hey! Hey! LBJ!Lyndon Baines Johnson (August 27, 1908 — January 22, 1973), often known as LBJ, was the 36th President of the United States (1963-1969). The thirteenth President from the Democratic Party, he inherited the office following the tragic assassination of the young and inspirational John F. Kennedy and was followed by the honest and lovable Richard Nixon. He managed to be both incredibly good for his domestic reforms and horrendously bad for what he did abroad. Johnson was a Texan by birth (unlike George W. Bush). After a brief time as a teacher, he worked as the head of the Texan branch of Franklin D. Roosevelt's National Youth Administration and then was elected to Congress in 1937. This background exposed him to both the effects of the segregation policies of the South as well as the dire poverty that some people live in, and it shaped his political beliefs to be highly liberal. In World War II, 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 U.S. 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 more 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. Known as the "Johnson Treatment," he would use his intimidating height and lean close to other Senators and invade their personal space, making them nervous and easier to manipulate. Johnson even had a collection of dirty secrets on every Senator, including their favorite things, their fears, and any skeletons in their closets. This continued to be used once he was President. Senate majority leader for six years, LBJ wisely chose to cooperate with the hugely popular President Dwight D. Eisenhower rather than try to sabotage his policies, thus giving Johnson the image of a moderate lawmaker. A number of important bills, including Eisenhower's two Civil Rights Acts, were passed in the Senate largely because of Johnson's political maneuvering. He was also one of only three senators from the former Confederate States (the other two being Estes Kefauver and Albert 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 eyeing the White House), his role in the Senate's leadership, or some combination thereof is unclear. Johnson became Vice President, and he was known for being bored with the job. Since the office of Vice President has been famously known for being very useless, LBJ didn't get to do too much, and Kennedy sought him for advice on an infrequent basis. He did get to head the National Aeronautics Space Council, though, so that's cool. He 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. Here's where it gets rocky for Landslide Lyndon. Following Kennedy's death, public sympathy was largely for the Democrats. Johnson was elected to his only full term in a landslide in 1964, with help from the infamous "Daisy Girl" ad, which painted his Republican opponent, Arizona senator Barry Goldwater, as a warmongering extremist who might well start World War III (for the record, Goldwater did say he would use nuclear weapons in Vietnam if he had to). Johnson won a 61.1% landslide with the popular vote (the largest popular vote landslide in modern American history, surpassed only by the landslides which swept some of the Founding Fathers into office) as well as 44 states, including, for the first time in the Democratic Party's history, Vermont; in much the same vein, Georgia voted for Goldwater, the first time it had ever voted Republican. Goldwater was the first Republican to sweep the Deep South, winning Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina; if blacks in the South had equal voting rights, Goldwater probably would have only won his home state of Arizona, giving him only five electoral votes. note Because Johnson had ascended to the presidency with less than two years of Kennedy's term remaining, LBJ could therefore run again in 1968 and still be under the ten-year maximum a person can serve as President in place under the Twenty-second Amendment. We'll get to that part later. Meanwhile, the Democrats also won huge landslides in both houses of Congress, which gave them the chance to pass sweeping liberal bills for the first time since the days of FDR and the New Deal. One of the good things he did was his support of the Civil Rights Movement. After he became President, he went before Congress and declared that nothing would honor the legacy of their recently deceased leader more if they passed the Civil Rights Bill which he supported. (LBJ would often rely on the public memory of Kennedy to get his desired legislation passed.) Thanks largely to LBJ's skill with Congress, the bill narrowly passed in 1964 and Johnson signed it before he was up for election that year - thus, legal segregation against minorities could no longer be enforced. The next year, following the Selma Marches of 1965, he decided to tackle obstacles to the black vote. He maneuvered the passage of the Twenty-fourth Amendment through the states, which banned the use of poll taxes that were used to prevent black people from voting. He then signed the sweeping Voting Rights Act, which banned literacy tests and gave the federal government the power to intervene in any counties which tried to prevent certain groups from voting (namely, all of the South). Johnson went before Congress and, when asking them to pass the act, took on the Civil Rights Movement's slogan and declared "We Shall Overcome." LBJ also signed other bills defending civil rights, including a bill in 1968 which banned discrimination in the sale of housing. He gave an executive order requiring federal contractors to implement "affirmative action" to bring more minorities and women into the workforce - this is actually something different than what immediately comes to mind when you hear "affirmative action." Johnson was not actually telling them to start hiring more of them to meet the number of minorities in the region with racial quotas, that was Richard Nixon; LBJ just wanted to protect minorities from discrimination and encourage others by example. Two landmark nominations for federal office were made during Johnson's time: Thurgood Marshall became the first African American on the Supreme Court (He was the man who previously argued against racial segregation in the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education (1954).) and Robert Weaver became the first African American on the Cabinet, heading the newly created Department of Housing and Urban Development. The effect of this was seen immediately - while the Democrats had already won the black vote since the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt, now they voted overwhelmingly for the Democrats, and the percentage of African Americans voting Democrat has never fallen below 80%. However, this also meant that the Democrats lost the white Southern vote, a loss which would haunt them for decades to come. It's generally agreed among scholars that Johnson would have accomplished a lot more than Kennedy - Southerners in Congress would not have taken kindly to a Northerner telling them to pass these civil rights bills, but when it was their fellow Southerner Johnson supporting these measures, several of them quieted down. Still, he did come to recognize that he only improved their standing in the eyes of the law, not their social standing. As he said not long before leaving office, "As I see it, I've moved the Negro from D+ to C-. He's still nowhere. He knows it." This was all part of Johnson's broader ideal of "The Great Society," Johnson's name for his domestic policies. Following Kennedy's famous challenge to "Let us begin anew," Johnson declared "let us continue" in the wake of the nation's mourning. With his mastery of Congress, Johnson managed to remarkably pass more than 1,000 pieces of legislation. Much of The Great Society was part of his War on Poverty - his attempt to bring nearly every American over the poverty line. The Economic Opportunity Act (1964) created the Job Corps and the Volunteers in Service to America to help provide aid and job training to poor communities in the country. Several programs were created to help teach the poor how to become more self-sufficient, such as Volunteers in Service to America, Community Action Agencies (each of which are run locally), and Head Start. A tax cut in 1964 put less burden on low-income Americans. It was Johnson who created the Food Stamp program (now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) in 1964. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965) was a sweeping reform of the education system that provided aid to schools with a large number of low-income students, and the Higher Education Act (1965) created a scholarship program to ensure that students from poor families will have the opportunity to get a college education. He amended Social Security in 1965 to create Medicaid (health care for poor people) and Medicare (health care for the elderly); Johnson signed this bill in front of former President Harry Truman, who tried to get these passed years ago, and gave him and his wife the first Medicare cards. The Omnibus Housing Act (1965) provided housing for low-income Americans, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development was created to oversee urban renewal. The development of poor rural areas, especially Appalachia and the Deep South, was one of the Johnson administration's highest priorities. He is notable as the only U.S. President to attempt to end national poverty, and poverty was indeed drastically reduced during his term by a full ten percent, and living conditions were significantly improved for those who remained below the line. For what it is worth, it has never seen such a huge, rapid fall ever since (it mostly hovers somewhere below 15% depending on how the economy is doing, usually around 13%). Many of the people lifted out of poverty were minorities and retired senior citizens, two groups often suffered even during times of prosperity. The economy was also in great shape during his presidency, with unemployment getting as low as 3.4% for months when he left office. To compare, the lowest it has ever been since was near the end of Bill Clinton's second term when it was briefly at 3.8%. Of course, the Great Society had many other notable acts. He passed several environmental bills: the Wilderness Protection Act (1964) preserved almost 10 million acres of forests, the Water Quality Act (1965) required that the country's lakes and rivers get cleaned up, the Clean Air Act Amendments (1965) set new standards for vehicle exhaust emission, and the Air Quality Act (1967) put limits on pollution. His wife, Lady Bird Johnson, vocally supported passage of the Highway Beautification Act (1965), which limited the amount of advertising that can be placed on federal highways and also forbid junkyards from being visible on the roads, meaning that either gates were built around them or they were moved. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 ended the system of racial quotas in the immigration system (prior to the bill's passage, anyone from Latin America, Asia, and Africa was banned and severe limitations were put in Southern and Eastern Europe), instead putting emphasis on immigrants who had relatives in the country. Johnson signed the bills creating the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, providing support for the country's artists. The Freedom of Information Act (1966) disclosed nearly all documents from the executive branch. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (1967) ended the system of employment discrimination for people over 40. The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 created the entities now known as National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Following the tragic assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, Johnson passed the Gun Control Act of 1968, forbidding interstate firearms transfers except among licensed manufacturers and dealers. The Bilingual Education Act (1968) required schools to teach multiple languages and provide extra care for students with limited grasp of English (namely, Spanish-speaking students). The Department of Transportation was created to oversee the building of new roads, highways, and public rails. New laws were passed to protect American consumers from false advertising and requiring food industries to list ingredients in their products. Most of the work done for the Moon landing was done on his watch, too, and he was in the audience watching the Apollo 11 rocket launch just months after he left office. The bad was the Vietnam War - until him, American only sent "military advisers" there to help back up the fighting South Vietnamese soldiers and occasionally fight with them in battle. Johnson, however, was determined to prevent the South from falling to communism. Following the attack of a navy destroyer by the North Vietnamese in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964, LBJ managed to get Congress to basically give him the power to wage the war in Vietnam without actually declaring war. (It was later revealed that Johnson lied about some details - the ship fired on the North Vietnamese first, and it was on a spying mission.) After this, American ground troops actively fought in the battles rather than just help the South Vietnamese. By the end of his presidency, 550,000 Americans troops were in Vietnam, with 1,000 dying a month. 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. Meanwhile, a truly massive bombing campaign called Operation Rolling Thunder began, and it practically bombed North Vietnam into the Stone Age. More bombs were dropped on that tiny corner of the world during Johnson's presidency than the number of bombs dropped all over the world during all of World War II. The chemical Agent Orange was poured all over forests and then burned them to the ground; it is estimated that over one million Vietnamese are deformed today because of the side effects of these chemicals, since they are still in the soils used for farming. LBJ pretty much committed war crimes when he gave the okay to such proposals. However, more and more people in South Vietnam came to view the Americans as oppressors rather than defenders (it didn't help that America previously supported the widely unpopular regime of Ngo Dinh Diem during the Kennedy years), and it eventually got to the point where many of them were actively helping the North Vietnamese. The Pentagon and the members of the Cabinet eventually realized that Vietnam could not be won, but Johnson refused to go down as the first President to lose a war. As television crews played more and more of the carnage on American television channels, the public grew further divided over the war - the "Doves" wanted to leave Vietnam as soon as possible, while the "Hawks" wanted to defend South Vietnam at all cost. It also didn't help that Johnson passed a draft, which are never popular. Even many of the most vocal Hawks, however, openly believed that Johnson was not handling the war very well. It also must be said that LBJ was in a bit of a pickle - after countless Chinese troops poured into Korea during the Korean War, he did not want to risk such a thing happening in this war by invading North Vietnam, preferring to defend the South until the North no longer had the will to fight. And then the Tet Offensive happened in 1968. This was a series of multiple attacks aimed at just about every American and South Vietnamese stronghold in the South. The goal of the North was to provoke a general uprising among the South Vietnamese people against the unpopular central government, and sweep them to a quick and decisive victory. It failed miserably: the people did not revolt, the North Vietnamese Army suffered massive casualties, and the Viet Cong was so devastated that it never fully recovered. None of that really mattered, however. The American people, having been told repeatedly that the communists were on the verge of defeat, were outraged that an offensive on this scale could take place. The psychological impact of the offensive had not been anticipated by the communists, and demoralization was not their intention, but when they saw the effects they began broadcasting the offensive as a brilliant success. Protests against continued involvement in the war broke out all over the country, especially on college campuses, and these continued in the following years. The Democrats, formerly in perfect unity under Johnson's capable hands, split into multiple factions, some sticking by the President and others demanding the war's immediate end. Johnson went on air and shocked the country by saying that not only would no further troops be sent to Vietnam, but that he would not be seeking reelection later that year. This left the Democratic ticket wide open for anyone to take. JFK's brother Bobby entered the race at the last minute, and, when it looked like he would win the party's convention and possibly the presidency, he was fatally shot. When the Democratic convention eventually happened in Chicago, angry protesters demanding peace eventually got involved in brutal clashes with thousands of police officers. Johnson's Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, won during all the commotion. Meanwhile, this gave the Republicans, who nominated Richard Nixon, the perfect chance to win. Thus, Johnson's time in office ended in tragedy, just like how it began in tragedy.note Additionally, there was a persistent atmosphere of political corruption that surrounded Johnson, including accusations of voter fraud, bribery, and selling government secrets. The secret COINTELPRO FBI program, which was a (largely illegal) series of spying networks watching the Civil Rights leaders and other "subversive" groups, continued under his watch, though the public would not know about it until it leaked in 1971. Critics claimed that his civil rights bills and domestic programs were attempts to buy votes with handouts to blacks and poor whites (for what it is worth, Malcolm X agreed with that first point). Because the plans for his Great Society programs were rushed out so quickly and because the majority of federal money was still being spent on the military, the massive bureaucracies LBJ put in place to administer his grandiose social projects proved to be riddled with waste and inefficiency - as one member of Congress said, "We cannot have guns and butter." In addition to taking money away from his domestic programs, the Vietnam War had long-reaching consequences for the American economy, and it was one of several factors involved in the stagnating economy of The Seventies. Meanwhile, racial and social tensions reached heights no one could have predicted just years earlier, with summer riots starting in many cities, especially in minority communities. Sometimes entire parts of cities went up in flames. Many affluent (as in, mostly white) city residents moved out of the urban areas and into suburbs, starting what was appropriately nicknamed the "white flight." The riots and other factors caused a crime wave that affected American cities for decades, only starting to finally go down in The Nineties - how much of this was beyond LBJ's control is uncertain, but it was an issue with several voters. Johnson also changed how Social Security was managed in this country, as surpluses from the Social Security trust funds were included in the yearly federal budget to make the deficits look smaller. 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 was not the only cause for his low ratings, with his perceived mishandling of domestic issues causing additional public distrust, especially the escalating urban violence and race riots. In response to the increasing divide over the war and racial issues, a growing counter-culture started among the youth in protest of what was going on throughout the country. For what it is worth, the rest of his foreign policy wasn't so bad. Relations with Latin American countries were a bit testy during his time - he stopped a revolution in the Dominican Republic in 1965, he did not back down when Castro threatened to cut off the water supply to Guantanamo Bay in an attempt to force the Americans out, and the start of negotiations with Panama to return the Panama Canal began on his watch, finally getting completed during Jimmy Carter's term. Meanwhile, relations with the Soviet Union improved significantly in spite of Vietnam - in 1967, the first direct treaty between the two countries was signed since the fall of Russia. The Outer Space Treaty (1967) banned nuclear weapons from being sent into space, and we also signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which made it illegal to transfer nukes between countries. Following the Six-Day War, Johnson met with Soviet premier Alexei Kosygin and the two agreed that they needed to defuse tensions in the Middle East. When North Korea captured an American spy ship in 1968, Johnson managed to negotiate the release of its crew. After leaving office, he decided that he didn't have much to live for and resumed smoking, even though his doctors previously told him many years before that it would kill him. He also gained 25 pounds. Everyone around him remarked that it was pretty much a lengthy form of suicide, and he had a lot of heart attacks. On January 22, 1973, Johnson, 64 years old, died of his third heart attack, two days after he would have finished a second full term, only four weeks after another well-respected former Democratic senator who later became Vice President and President died from pneumonia. Johnson was the only living former President when he died. One day after he died, a ceasefire in Vietnam was reached. 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 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. Perhaps his oddest habit was conducting meetings on the toilet (Perhaps one of the best nonsexual examples of Coitus Uninterruptus). Or maybe his oddest habit was pulling his penis - named "Jumbo" - out in front of the White House Press Corps, and waving it around. Still, he sometimes had moments of sympathy that shocked those close to him: After he was sworn in on Air Force One, he called Kennedy's mother to try and comfort her. Satirical portrayals in media usually focused on playing up his Texan-ness to a comical degree. Oh, he was also a big fan of Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Here, he orders pants.
How many kids did you kill today?"
— Popular anti-Vietnam War protest chant
Lyndon Johnson provides examples of these tropes in media:
Johnson in fiction: