Pitching the Presidency: How Presidents Depict the Office

By Paul Haskell Zernicke | Go to book overview
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5
Lyndon Baines Johnson: The Martyred President

Rebekah Johnson had great hopes for her son Lyndon. She devoted much of her time and energy trying to make him into a man of culture and intellect. She had him memorize snippets of Tennyson and Longfellow when he was three, taught him to read by four, and made him take violin lessons at seven. It was his mother's tireless tutoring and relentless expectations, not Lyndon's self-motivation, that kept him in school. 1 When Lyndon quit his violin lessons, Rebekah deliberately acted like he was dead and turned her affection toward his sisters and father. When he initially decided not to attend college, his mother again withdrew her affection. As Johnson recalled, "We'd been such close companions, and, boom, she'd abandoned me."2

Lyndon Johnson constantly struggled to balance his mother's expectations with his father's demands. Sam Johnson wanted his son to be the perfect specimen of masculinity. When Lyndon showed a dislike for hunting rabbits, his father labeled him a coward. So Lyndon shot a rabbit and then vomited. After damaging the family automobile, Lyndon fled to his uncle's house because he so feared disappointing and angering his father that he could not bear to face him. Sam eventually commanded Lyndon to drive the damaged automobile slowly and repeatedly around the town square to prove that he had not produced a "yellow son." 3

Lyndon saw politics as a way he could please both of his parents:

I still believed my mother the most beautiful, sexy, intelligent woman I'd ever met and I was determined to recapture her wonderful love, but not at the price of my daddy's respect. Finally, I saw it all before me. I would become a political figure. Daddy would like that. He would consider it the manly thing to do. But that would

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