Ah, Presidents Day – a day for kids to stay at home and for stores to host sales. Today, I will take it to honor my favorite president – Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Johnson was born in 1908 in Texas. Growing up he was active in his school and church, including being voted president of his 11th grade class. He graduated from the Southwest Texas State Teachers’ College in 1930 and went on to teach for a little while. In the same year he campaigned for Welly Hopkins who was running for State Senator. On Hopkin’s recommendation, Johnson became the legislative secretary to Congressman Richard M. Kleberg.
In 1934 he married his wife, Claudia Alta Taylor, who became nicknamed Lady Bird. The following year he was appointed as head of the National Youth Administration. He left this job to run and enter into the House of Representatives in 1937, where he served until 1949. Also during this time he served in the United States Navy. Much of his dealings were in the Pacific theatre, which he argued had only acceptable and deplorable, and deemed that the area needed more priority. After a contested election, he joined the Congress in 1949. While in Congress, Johnson was very good at creating successful working relationships with fellow Congressmen. In 1954 he was elected as the majority leader and was heavily involved with the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
After failing to gain the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960, he was asked to run as the VP candidate with John F. Kennedy. After Kennedy’s election, Johnson was rendered powerless in the vice presidential position and sent on various trips to improve America’s appearance in foreign eyes. On November 22, 1963, Kennedy was assassinated during a visit to Texas. Two hours and eight minutes later, Johnson was sworn in aboard Air Force One to become president.
The first thing Johnson did as president was to push through the Civil Rights Bill. He was then faced with the election of 1964 (my favorite election) where he went up against Arizona Republican Barry Goldwater. The election produced one of the most infamous political ads of all time – the Daisy Ad – which despite the fact that it only aired once, left an impact. The ad implied that if Goldwater were elected, it would bring the United States to the brink of nuclear war. But that November, Johnson won by a landslide.
While in office, Johnson proved to be quite the domestic president. He signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Immigration Act of 1965, the Gun Control Act of 1968, the Freedom of Information Act, and created the Great Society, which included more acts that focused on bettering education, fighting disease, improving Medicare and Medicaid, urban renewal and combating poverty (known as the War on Poverty) and passed many more wonderful acts, including the Food Stamp Act, the Public Broadcasting Act, the Fair Housing Act, and the Urban Mass Transit Act (and that’s not all of them!). The Great Society built on the New Deal of former President Roosevelt. But Johnson made it known that the Great Society would not have been possible, had it not been for the great post-war boom that was over seen by President Eisenhower.
But through all of this positive acting, the war in Vietnam loomed. The United States’ involvement in Vietnam had roots while Eisenhower was still in office, and escalated slowly until the Gulf of Tonkin incident. Johnson had little foreign experience and trusted his advisers, such as Robert McNamara on the notion of the Domino Theory and containment. Soon, the US was sending a horrific number of men to Vietnam, and Johnson faced a nation turned against him.
In March of 1968, under the stress of the Vietnam War, Johnson publicly declared on television that he would not seek reelection. And that November Republican Richard Nixon entered office.
Johnson also had a reputation of being extremely crude and has been called bigoted and egotistical, but we must remember that no president is perfect – Lincoln made statements that blacks and whites should not mix and FDR cheated repeatedly on his wife. It is sad though, that Johnson’s poor decision making regarding Vietnam have overshadowed his positive domestic acts, many of which are still vital to our society today.