Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961-1973

By Robert Dallek | Go to book overview

3
"Landslide Lyndon"

FRANKLIN Roosevelt's idea of the presidency was himself in the White House. Lyndon Johnson's idea of the presidency was FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, and even Kennedy in the office. But LBJ? Despite much talk about eclipsing "the whole bunch of them" as a reformer and a vote-getter, Johnson found it difficult to see himself as Chief Executive. He knew he was as smart, and maybe even smarter, than most of his predecessors. He had no doubt that his thirty years in Washington made him as well prepared to be President as anyone else. But he couldn't shake a constant, nagging concern that he didn't quite measure up, that he didn't belong or wasn't legitimate or hadn't won "real" acceptance from the people, the press, the Kennedy "crowd," the "liberals," the northerners, the business establishment, the "eastern intellectuals," or anyone who criticized him or challenged his judgment on even the smallest thing. Yet his conviction that others doubted him told more about his own uncertainty than any public reluctance to see him in the Oval Office. 1

Throughout his career, inner doubts translated into worries about losing elections, even when every political calculation suggested otherwise. His fears made him back and fill and agonize over withdrawing from races he badly wanted to run and seemed almost certain to make. And when he ran, he was unrelenting, pressing himself and everyone in the campaign into ceaseless, frenzied, exhausting efforts. It was as if his survival depended on winning; defeat seemed to threaten his identity, not just his professional life but his reason for existing. The loss of political office would have consigned him to the emptiness he had struggled with throughout his life. His hold on his House seat in 1941 made his loss to "Pappy" O'Daniel in a special election for a U.S. Senate seat bearable. His eighty-seven-vote victory out of nearly a million cast for the same Senate seat in 1948 rested

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