Johnson and the Great Society
It was reported that Lyndon Johnson was keenly disappointed when his old friend Dick Russell was not at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington to welcome him when he returned from Dallas as president on the evening of November 22. Later that night, however, Johnson called Russell at his apartment, and they talked for ten minutes about the tragic events in Dallas. Russell was one of the first persons to visit the White House the next day. As the two men sat talking over lunch, Russell kept referring to Johnson as "Mr. President." Finally, somewhat impatiently, Johnson said, "call me Lyndon as you used to. After all we've been together all these years.""No, Mr. President," Russell responded, "now you're the President of the United States. You to me are Mr. President." Such was Russell's abiding respect for the office of the presidency. 1
Dick Russell was happy to see his old friend in the White House. Indeed, he had worked quietly toward that end since the mid-1950s. He believed that Johnson had all of the talents and abilities to be a strong president, and he told Earl T. Leonard, his press secretary, that "old Lyndon is going to enjoy being president, he'll enjoy every minute of it, every hour of it."
At the same time, a Johnson presidency left Russell with mixed feelings and some obvious concerns. One thing that Russell understood perhaps better than anyone else was Johnson's skill and effectiveness as a political leader. Would Congress, which had failed to pass much of Kennedy's liberal agenda, now respond to Johnson's leadership and enact a host of social and economic measures, including civil rights legislation? Unhappily, Russell believed that would be the case. He wrote a friend on November 26, 1963, that Johnson had recently "gone all out, even further in some respects than President Kennedy, on the racial issue" and intended to press for passage of the "iniquitous" civil rights bill. He warned that the shock over Kennedy's death was no reason to