Friday, August 27, 2010

In Memoriam: Lyndon Baines Johnson

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe 36th President of the United States is not my favourite; from all I've read about him, Lyndon Baines Johnson was a better President in theory than in practice, ideally suited to the rough-and-tumble politicking of the Senate, but incapable of the kind of finesse demanded by the Oval Office.

While the Great Society reforms he planned and the War on Poverty he declared came to pass, perhaps no one but he would have had the nerve to twist as many arms as he must have had to do to make it so, which damaged his reputation almost as much as the bigotry he let himself in for by siding with the disadvantaged over those who had a vested interest in keeping them that way.

Following the assassination of JFK in Dallas in November 1963, Johnson was sworn in to succeed him, and won his own election handily the following year. However, his involvement in Vietnam - precipitated by the possibly spurious Gulf of Tonkin Incident - caused his popularity to plummet; he probably would have lost the 1968 election to Richard M. Nixon had he not opted out of the running in March 1968, so you have some idea not only how unpopular he was personally, but how unpopular his ambitious program of civil rights and social welfare reforms had made him with the Establishment as well.

Born on this day in 1908, Johnson died in January 1973, aged only 64; for years smoking, drinking, and stress had weakened his heart. Today his library and museum (which opened in Austin, Texas, in May 1971 with President Nixon in attendance) is the nation's most-visited, hosting over a quarter million visitors a year. While his birthday has been commemorated by Lyndon Baines Johnson Day in Texas since the year he died, LBJ's memory in general has been given some much-needed rehabilitation in recent years by Robert Caro, whose three-volume memoir of LBJ (a fourth is planned) is entitled The Years of Lyndon Johnson.
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