LEADERS: Lyndon Johnson: 1908-1973

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There was folksy Lyndon, interlarding his speeches with anecdotes that began, "My ole Daddy once told me. . .," or winding up a whistle-stop address with, "Ah wish Ah could stay and do a little sippin' and whittlin' with you. . ." There was Lyndon the manipulator of men, devising byzantine plots so secretive that not even his aides knew what he had in mind. And there was the frugal Lyndon Johnson going around turning off lights in the White House and urging everyone to "tell your friends that you have an independent, taxpaying, light-bill-saving President."

Prisoner. Most of all there was Lyndon the patriot, who choked up at the sight of Old Glory on a foreign field and could say—because he wanted to believe it in defiance of the facts—that his great grandfather had died in the Alamo with Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett. Johnson's patriotic fervor made him implacable on Viet Nam, the tragedy that pulled him from office. He was determined that "I'm not going down in history as the first American President to lose a war." He related Viet Nam to Texas: "Just like the Alamo, somebody damn well needed to go to their aid. Well, by God, I'm going to Viet Nam's aid!" He promised: "I'll do anything except swallow my honor and betray my country to get peace."

Johnson was always haunted by the past. He loved to relate lugubrious tales of family poverty, even though the Johnsons were actually quite well off by the standards-of the Texas of his time. Lyndon's father had earned a teacher's certificate and was active in state politics as well as farming. He married Rebekah Baines, who was possibly the only female college graduate in all of Texas' Blanco County. The marriage was recognized as genetically sound. As one neighbor put it: "The Baineses have the brains, and the Johnsons have the guts. The Baineses are intelligent, but they can't put things over. The Johnsons can put things over."

Johnson was shaped and shadowed for life by the hill country of Texas. To him, the world was just Johnson City grown big. He shared the prairie populist notion of mid-America that a wicked "they"—usually Wall Street or scheming foreign diplomats—were insidiously taking control. For most of Johnson's political life, "they" were the Communists. He was baffled by and suspicious of Eastern intellectuals and especially Harvard men. A story he told and always with loud laughter was that when he had gathered his top men in the Cabinet room there were Rhodes scholars, men from Harvard, Phi Beta Kappas—and one boy from Southwest Texas State Teachers College.

He had a passion about water, having seen rivers dry up in summer and sweep everything before them in spring floods. His first years in Congress were spent on bills to harness the Colorado, and the first thing he did after he bought his ranch was to put in a dam. "The prettiest sight you can see is seeing the dam filled up on the Pedernales. And one of the nicest sounds you can hear is the water at night going over the dam."

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