One of the greatest photos of a President, along with the famous “Loneliest Job” photo of John F. Kennedy, is this photograph of an anguished Lyndon Johnson listening to a recorded report about Vietnam from his son-in-law, Charles Robb (later a Senator and Governor of Virginia), who was serving there.
Vietnam crippled LBJ’s Presidency, turned the people against him, and killed the Great Society. When Johnson lost the people, he lost the will to fight, and he lost the will to live. He dropped out of the 1968 Presidential race and went home to Texas where, “They know when you’re sick and care when you die.”
Richard Nixon, Johnson’s immediate successor and a President who knew something about heartbreak and failure, was among the best of those who tried to put LBJ’s last years in perspective:
"I think President Johnson died of a broken heart, I really do. Here’s Johnson, this big, strong, intelligent, tough guy, practically getting so emotional that he’d almost cry, because his critics didn’t appreciate him. He, till the very last, thought that he might be able to win them. And the point was, rather than have them love him, he should have tried to do what he could have done very well — have them respect him. And in the end he lost. He neither gained the love nor retained the respect.”
It’s tough to love a guy like Lyndon Baines Johnson. His own personality and Vietnam made it even more difficult. But he does not get enough respect, even among historians who agree that he is shafted when it comes to his domestic accomplishments. LBJ did more for Civil Rights than any other President. Yes, I said, ANY other President. Even Lincoln. Lincoln did some great things. Lincoln helped free the slaves. But if Lincoln took off the shackles, LBJ enacted laws that protected their freedom. Not just their freedom, either. Our freedom. You are all affected, every day, by something that Lyndon Johnson did. If you don’t think so, tell me your daily schedule and I’ll give you an example.
On his 105th birthday, I’m not asking you to love Lyndon Johnson. But I wouldn’t have posted an avalanche of LBJ content on his birthday if I didn’t. I just hope you take the time to respect what he did, and that’s all I think he would ask of you, too. Then he’d probably cuss at you and squeeze your arm and kick you in the shin and tell you to go raise hell.