"Like a jackass in a hailstorm."
"Hey! Hey! LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?"
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
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 about 16,000 "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.note
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 he oversaw the start of negotiations with Panama to return the Panama Canal, 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. Johnson's mediation very narrowly prevented a war from breaking Greece
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
, he orders pants
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.
- Ambition Is Evil: Only someone as ambitious and proud as he was could have done all the good things he did, but it was also that very same uncompromising force that led to the sad downfall of a person with so much potential.
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer: The 'toilet seat meetings' come to mind...
- The Chains of Commanding: Wrong as he was about fully entering the Vietnam War, LBJ really did feel increasing turmoil as the war dragged on and more American soldiers were killed in his war. He was by all means pretty haunted by it toward the end of his presidency.
Being president is like being a jackass in a hailstorm. There's nothing to do but to stand there and take it.
- Cluster F-Bomb: Dropped as many cluster F bombs on the Oval Office as he dropped cluster real bombs on the 'Nam.
- Deadpan Snarker: You couldn't go through all that he did without having a sense of humour about it.
- Despair Event Horizon: He proclaimed on his flight home from Nixon's first inauguration that he was going to start living for himself and nobody else, putting him in a "very self-destructive spiral" that lasted for the rest of his life.
- Determinator: Say what you will about him or his policies, but it is undeniable that he was willing to do just about anything to accomplish his goals.
- Et Tu, Brute?: "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America!" Check and mate.
- Everything Is Big in Texas: A boisterous, raw, quirky and proud Texan who was easily the tallest man in any room.
- The Gadfly: His favourite prank was to take guests out in his car, start screaming that the brakes had failed and drive into a lake. His car was amphibious.
- 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.
- Hero-Worshipper: He was this for Franklin D. Roosevelt. Johnson really tried to go down in history as "FDR 2.0", including the part about winning a major foreign war. The tragedy of it is that he probably would've been one of the greatest presidents if he hadn't actually gone to war.
- History Repeats:
- Is This Thing On?: LBJ knew the White House phone recorder is always on, but he just doesn't care.
Johnson: [Calling to order custom made pants from the Oval Office] And another thing, the crotch, down where your nuts hang, is always a little too tight, so when you make them up, give me an inch that I can let out there, uh because they cut me, it's just like riding a wire fence.
- Ironic Echo: Goldwater chose "In your heart, you know he's right" as his audacious campaign slogan. Johnson's camp had their rejoinder prepared: "In your guts, you know he's nuts." (They also had backups: "In your heart, you know he's too far right" and "In your heart, you know he might.")
- Their other cunnin' electoral tactic was to book tiny sign space under the huge "In your heart, you know he's right" signs to put a little placard, in the same colours and font, saying "Yes. Extreme right."
- Ironic Nickname: "Landslide Lyndon" was originally meant to mock Johnson's first election to the Senate, which he won very narrowly; he won the Texas Democratic primary by 87 votes, in an election where over a million votes were cast statewide. It became less so in 1964.
- Irony: The 20th century President who did the most for African Americans was, himself, racist. He'd drop the N-word very casually in private.
- It's All About Me: While of course most Presidents are concerned with their historical legacy, LBJ was absolutely obsessed with his place in history. The general consensus is that he could have been great if he left Vietnam, but he didn't want to go down as the first President to lose a war and this caused his downfall.
- Jerkass Woobie: During his years after the presidency.
- Large and in Charge: He is tied with Lincoln as the tallest President.
- Made of Iron: He was legendarily tough: it took him several hours to realize he was experiencing his first heart attack.
- My New Gift Is Lame: He made headlines when he gave the Pope a bust of himself. A bust of Lyndon Johnson.
- No Poverty: He wished to see this happen. While of course this was impossible in just five years, he did have some impressive accomplishments in this regard.
- 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 stood six feet and four inches definitely helped.
- Pet the Dog: A huge Crowning Moment of Awesome for LBJ, which happened years before he was even President, was when he helped hundreds of European Jews escape Nazi Germany before the war broke out and get them jobs in Texas.
- 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.
- Rousing Speech: The "We Shall Overcome" speech, hands down. It made MLK cry.
- The Scapegoat: Johnson is commonly seen as the President that got America into the Vietnam War. (So much for JFK's pledge to "bear any burden".) Part of the reason he left office was due to angry crowds of protesters outside the White House accusing him of murdering their children.
- 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 pickup truck. Humphrey was a gabby, yet sensitive man who was prone to tearing up. He also let Johnson dominate him during the extent 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 hated him in kind and weren't afraid to show it. Even when he was serving as Jack Kennedy's vice president, their relationship was at best frosty and professional.
- Sucky School:
- He went to a one-room school that only had one teacher. His graduating class (which he was president of) only had six people.
- Johnson taught at these where Latino Americans went to school. His watching as despair and the realizations of what segregation kept them from being destroyed their inner hope led him to fight it when he became President.
- Theme Initials: He was obsessed over his initials (it worked for Roosevelt and Kennedy?): 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.
- Trademark Favorite Food: Not quite what you would expect from an ornery Texan, but in addition to more hardy back-country fare, he loved melon and Fresca with a passion.
- Tragic Hero: Read all the stuff about the horrors committed in Vietnam and realize that this was done by the man who also ensured that the federal government would protect America's black citizens from Jim Crow, a change in policy that forever widened the possibilities available to African Americans. People like LBJ are why history often doesn't present us with easy picks for heroes and villains.
- Tragic Villain: A lot of the records show that he had serious misgivings about entering Vietnam from the very beginning. The Pentagon kept pressuring him to escalate American involvement and send in more troops. Some even say that deep down inside Johnson opposed Vietnam. Not that it matters very much, since he still did send American troops to Vietnam - to a conflict he knew could not be won.
- Had he refused to go to war, the accusation of his Democratic administration being red would have stuck. The realities of the Cold War meant that even the stupidest war against Communism had to be fought for any American leader to be politically viable.
- Unperson: Not Johnson himself, but he used the trope early in his political career when a picture of Johnson shaking the hand of President Roosevelt with Texas Governor James Allred in the middle was altered to remove Allred◊.
- Urine Trouble: He once pissed on one of his Secret Servicemen; literally urinated right on him.
- Vindicated by History: Yes and no. Loathed at the time of his presidency because of the Vietnam War, he has been viewed more favorably by scholars in hindsight for his domestic program and his control of Congress, and they often place him in the Top 15 for his domestic successes. The public, however, still remembers him more for the Vietnam War, and his approval rating is only above Richard Nixon and George W. Bush as far as post-World War II Presidents go.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: He honestly did think he was doing what was right for his country.
- Worthy Opponent: Even after JFK's death, RFK did not like the man, but did respect how he was able to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in such a short time.
Johnson in fiction:
- Frank Zappa attacked Johnson's Great Society utopia on his album Freak Out!, added an imitation of him during Plastic People on Absolutely Free and Johnson is also featured twice as a cut-out on the album cover of We're Only in It for the Money. In a 1990 interview Zappa did say that his opinions about Johnson had changed over time. Whereas he felt the man blew it in the 1960s he came to see him in a more favorable light after all the far worse US presidents that followed.
- Unsurprisingly, Oliver Stone's JFK paints him as a supervillain who rubber-stamps the Vietnam War in order to get elected. The plot relies on the so-called "Wise Men", fourteen unofficial 'advisors' from the World Bank and other organizations who oversaw the war from start to finish, as the real leaders; Johnson is just a Puppet King in the movie.
- Is played by Liev Schreiber in Lee Daniels' The Butler
- Metal Gear Solid 3 opens with a tense conversation between Johnson and Premier Khrushchev. The latter is preparing to be overthrown by Brezhnev and is no mood to cut deals. Johnson bestows the code name "Big Boss" unto the hero in the ending sequence.
- In Forrest Gump the title character moons Johnson. 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 an (apparently very ugly) infant 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; among the presidents, only his appreciation for Ronald Reagan rivals that of LBJ. In addition, Hank's prize bloodhound Ladybird is named after Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson, the President's wife.
- The Simpsons:
- In "Dog of Death", Santa's Little Helper is forced to watch violent images to make him become a more aggressive watch dog. One of the images he sees is Johnson yanking his dog's ears.
- In "Homer Bad Man", one of the mistakes corrected by the sensationalist news show Rock Bottom is"'Lyndon Johnson did not provide the voice of Yosemite Sam".
- In "Bart The Fink", Marge says to Bart that going through a period of remorse after someone you love has passed away is normal: "I had the same experience after Lyndon B. Johnson passed away."
- 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 a compelling 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!, a possible reference to a controversial incident in which Johnson was photographed picking up his dog, Little Beagle Johnson, by his ears.
- Archive footage of Johnson appears in Call of Duty: Black Ops, which takes place during the Vietnam War. Members of his cabinet appear in a in-game cutscene, though the scene takes place back when Kennedy was still in office.
- 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.
- We Were Soldiers references Johnson's administration obliquely; Johnson comes off as something of an Obstructive Bureaucrat. This appears to be more or less what Joe Galloway, the co-author of the original book, really thought of Johnson.
- In HBO's Path To War he is portrayed by Michael Gambon as a tragic hero whose noble and compassionate domestic goals end up being destroyed by the Vietnam War.
- He gets a shout-out in The West Wing:
Josh: LBJ never would have taken this kind of crap from Democrats in Congress! He'd have said "You're voting my way, in exchange for which it is possible that I might remember your name."
- The Tony-Award winning play All The Way is based on his 1964 election. Bryan Cranston (he of Breaking Bad fame) won a Tony for the portrayal.
- HBO will be shooting a TV movie based on the play, with Cranston reprising his role.