LEADERS: Lyndon Johnson: 1908-1973

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Overshadowing all of Johnson's good works, moreover, was the "brushfire" war he inherited, which soon began to breed revolt on the campuses and riots that scarred America's cities. Month after month, optimistic war bulletins from the White House were followed by news of slaughter in the field, giving birth to the "credibility gap." As Historian Eric Goldman wrote: "In his periods of triumph and of down-sweep, he stood the tragic figure of an extraordinarily gifted President who was the wrong man from the wrong place at the wrong time under the wrong circumstances."

History's verdict on Johnson's achievements and failures is still uncertain, but the thousands who mourned him last week had no doubt about his remarkable rampaging personality. His friends like to recall how Lyndon, after driving his new Lincoln Continental through a pasture down on the ranch, detected a slight hint of malfunction in the car and seized a telephone in the car to call Henry Ford II with his complaint, "You just aren't building them the way you used to, Henry."

His personal pronouncements were sometimes eccentric ("Never trust a man whose eyes are too close to his nose") and sometimes pungent (he would keep J. Edgar Hoover, said Johnson, because "I'd rather have him inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in"). His storytelling was legendary. One of his own favorites: "I decided to appoint Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court, and so I called him into my office. I told him, Thurgood, I know this will surprise you and please you, but you're the best I can think of, and I'm also delighted that I will have the chance to place the first black man on the court.' There were tears in both of our eyes. Finally Thurgood said, 'Mr. President, can I call my wife and tell her this marvelous news?' When Mrs. Marshall heard Thurgood's voice, she shouted, 'Baby, did we get it?' "

Lyndon Johnson is remembered, too, for his strange, dogged passion: for the time he flew to Viet Nam and told U.S. forces to "come home with that coonskin on the wall"; for the time he roared round the world in less than five days in 1967 and wound up dropping in on the Pope to see if anything could be done about freeing U.S. war prisoners; and for the many times he would stop to talk farming with an Appalachian family or drop in on the old folks in the new nursing home down in Johnson City. "Didn't he live well?" Lady Bird Johnson asked a friend beside the bier in Austin last week. He certainly did.

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