Lyndon Johnson is reviled by both the liberal left and the conservative right in the United States, which is no mean feat. Is it possible for any serious student of US history not to be familiar with the taunt of “Hey! Hey! LBJ, How many kids you kill today?”
And yet without Lyndon Johnson Barack Obama would not be president today.
Viet Nam, with a push from JFK, really kicked off under LBJ. Yet here was a president who had no real interest in foriegn affairs and wanted to eradicate poverty in the US. One facet the book really gets across is the idea that what LBJ really wanted was not to bomb North Viet Nam but to cut a deal with Ho Chi Minh, another politician, as to what was needed to do the business. In exasperation he used to bawl at his advisors that he would rather be building schools in Viet Nam than bombing it.
Lyndon Johnson was possibly the most corrupt man to ever serve in the presidency, but history speaks for itself. He brought in the 1965 Civil Rights bill knowing full well that it would (And did.) destroy the Democratic Party in the South. But it was the right thing to do, and for that LBJ deserves more gratitude than he gets.
Robert Dallek’s slim book is a masterful blending of two heavier tomes on LBJ’s life, and another example of how sometimes less is more.