LBJ came across on television as kind of a dull person. When he was reading his speeches, they were boring and usually given without a lot of passion. This is one of the strangest things about Lyndon Johnson because everything about him was filled with passion. He was moody, funny, energetic, and active. If LBJ had been eloquent, he would have been legendary. LBJ was a gifted storyteller and a brilliant mimic, yet his speeches were boring. His eloquence came from his actions.
What is remembered about Lyndon Johnson is the “Johnson Treatment”. As Senate Majority Leader and then President, LBJ would use all powers of persuasion to get people to go along with what he was attempting to accomplish. LBJ’s arsenal included gentle prodding, begging, ass-kissing, logical arguments, stern warnings, threats, bullying, apologetic needling, and outright intimidation.
Lyndon Johnson was a physically-imposing man. No President other than Lincoln was taller than LBJ. At nearly 6’4” and weighing 220-230 pounds during his Presidency, LBJ towered over his aides and many of his contemporaries. He used that physicality to administer the Johnson Treatment. LBJ grabbed people by their lapels, squeezed their arms and legs, stamped on feet, kicked shins, and leaned on them, penetrating their personal space and becoming a part of them while hoping that they decide to just agree with him so he’ll go away.
Hubert Humphrey once showed a reporter the bruises that LBJ had left on his leg after a meeting where the Johnson Treatment was administered. In another famous story, President Eisenhower called his Director of Congressional Relations, Jerry Persons, into the Oval Office before Eisenhower met with Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson. “Jerry,” said President Eisenhower, “I want you to stand between Lyndon and me. My bursitis is kicking up, and I don’t want him to grab me by the arm.”
LBJ’s “Johnson Treatment” is many things. In the photo at the top, Senator Theodore Green looks terrified by it. It was also rude, bullying, improper, and annoying. Above all else, though, it was effective.