Lyndon B. Johnson: Free Fall of a Political Star

American statesman (near Stonewall, Texas, 1908 - near Austin, Texas, 1973.)

Lyndon Baines Johnson was a descendant from a family of colonists. His parents were in a good economic and social position; his father had been elected 5 times for the state legislature and was a good friend of Samuel Taliafero Rayburn (1882-1961) the future speaker of the House of Representatives. The young Lyndon hadn't done too many studies, but in 1927 he started again in order to become a teacher. Since his childhood, he should have held a certain insecurity, mixed with jealousy, towards the patricians and intellectuals of the northeast.

Lyndon B. Johnson, 36th President of the United States of America




In 1931, he moved to politics. Due to his parents' connections, he soon became secretary of a congressman, but not for a very long time. Then, he translated to Washington, where he established close relationships with prominent figures, such as Rayburn, and then, in 1933, within the circle of friends of the president. In 1935, Franklin Roosevelt appointed him director of the National Youth Administration (NYA) in Texas. The following year, he presented his candidacy to Congress and was finally elected, occupying a seat in the House of Representatives. Johnson stayed there until 1948 (with an interruption in 1941-1942, when he served in the Navy). In the middle of this Assembly, he showed himself as a "new dealer" convinced, concerned about getting federal credits for his circumscription and partisan of tough defense policies. Under the Truman presidency, however, he evolved towards the right and approved the law Taft-Hartley Labor Act in 1947.


After a first unsuccessful attempt in 1941, he was elected for the Senate in 1948, and he kept his seat until 1961. He became part of the Committee on Armed Services and reproached the president for not having been more aggressive during the war with Korea. In 1951, he was elected "whip" in the democratic group, in other words, deputy chief; two years later, he reached the post of party leader. The democrats, back then, were a minority in the Senate. In 1955, the situation changed: Johnson became the leader of a majority. This function gave him a huge responsibility. The leader, not only participated in the appointment of the members of the Committee, but he also had to take responsibilities for the failure or success of the bills. Johnson was convinced that the White House was the main source of law initiatives. So, his purpose would be, collaborating with the president Eisenhower, despite the fact that Eisenhower was a Republican. This collaboration resulted to be pretty successful. Indeed, Johnson was able to seduce, and even spoil, praise, reward or punish, and do favors. He managed perfectly well the art of commitment. This way, to facilitate the vote for impeachment that would end with Joseph McCarthy, he highlighted how the behavior of the Senator, rather than his pathological anticommunism, embarrassed the Upper House of the Congress; since then, many became much less hesitant at voting time. In 1957 and in 1960, Johnson proceeded to join back together the two factions of his party in order for 2 laws on civil rights to be passed. In this phase, Johnson had big ambitions which his wife, "lady Bird", was trying to reinforce. He held some basic political ideas: defend the democracy, fight against poverty, ensure equal opportunities. A vibrant patriotism constituted his base of action. Johnson manifested a huge admiration for former president Franklin Roosevelt.

In 1960, in the democratic convention in Los Angeles, he was defeated by John F. Kennedy. However, for the surprise of many, he accepted abandoning his important post of leader to become vice-president, a post considered for many as a "dead rail". He was appointed with some functions in foreign and interior policies, but the presidential regime limited his political powers. For him, the years of vice-president were a time of frustration.

The murder of Kennedy, on November 22, 1963, suddenly put him in the first line. But his position was very delicate. The liberal press actually didn't trust him; in Kennedy's inner circles, he was many times treated, unfairly, as a usurper. At that time, most Americans were celebrating the glory of a president, greater dead than alive. With high skills, Johnson planned in 1964 to continue with the legislature program of his predecessor. He managed to make the Congress vote, on July 2, a first law on Civil Rights (to be completed in 1965) and tax reductions aimed to revive the economic growth. He won the presidential elections with the biggest majority reached by any U.S president until then.

In 1965, Johnson was no longer the "legatee"; the People had chosen him for his own merits. People wanted him to carry out the project "Great Society" an ambitious program of reforms about which he had spoken several times in the presidential race. Once again, Johnson achieved what Kennedy hadn't: the Congress passed the institution of free medical assistance for the elderly (Medicare, 1966) the granting of larger federal credits to the schools, to public healthcare and to social care budget.

However, the president didn't keep his popularity for a lot longer. The Vietnam War shocked very deeply the political life. Johnson had inherited from his predecessor a difficult situation: when he reached power, there were already 16,000 American soldiers fighting in Vietnam. After the incident, fictional or real, of the Tonkin Gulf on August, 1964, Johnson decided to bomb northern Vietnam, as a way of retaliation. Later, in 1965, the bombings became systematic. The troops sent to Indochina were increasing rapidly: 180,000 men in 1965, 400,000 in 1966 and 500,000 in 1967. Johnson was worried about losing the entire Southeast of Asia if he abandoned southern Vietnam, and he didn't want an "Asian Munich". He was willing to negotiate with the communists. If the "hawks" reproached him for his lack of toughness in politics, the "doves" were more and more numerous. The liberals, the blacks and the students abandoned the president. By the end of 1967, the manifestations against the war were so large and frequent, that the president could hardly speak in public. At the same time, inflation started to influence significantly the lives of many Americans, even provoking devastating effects. The funds needed to start the project "Great Society" were lacking, the racial fights were gradually multiplying between 1965 and 1968. Abroad, the "anti-Americanism" returned with the same force as before 1960; Europe, to which Johnson had never paid too much attention, distanced from the United States, and in 1966, De Gaulle hit very hard the NATO. Only, continued to be satisfactory the relationships with the Soviet Union; in 1968, the Treaty on The Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was signed.

After the powerful communist offensive in southern Vietnam, on January 1968, Johnson, according to the polls, was only supported by a third of his country people. The rest of citizens, didn't trust him anymore, unless he started with the peace negotiations. As a result, on March 31, Johnson announced the immediate suspension of bombings in northern Vietnam and that he was not going to present to the elections on November. With the opening of the conversations in Paris, his popularity slightly increased. However, his last weeks in the White House, brought him a lot of problems: the democratic candidate, Hubert Horatio Humphrey, Johnson's running mate in the 1964 elections and democratic candidate for the 1968 elections, carried out his campaign distancing the most he could from Johnson. But, his attempts were in vain, and Nixon beat him by a landslide.

Source: Wikipedia 

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