A Sea of Troubles
By the beginning of 1967, the dissent over Vietnam, urban riots, political reverses, and doubts about administration programs to elevate poor folks into the middle class and transform America into a Great Society made Johnson wonder why he had ever wanted to be President. He took some solace from the knowledge that all his predecessors had shouldered heavy burdens. "Men of ordinary physique and discretion cannot be Presidents and live, if the strain be not somehow relieved," Woodrow Wilson had complained. Herbert Hoover had called the office "a compound hell."1
During 1967 continuing and intensifying problems subjected Johnson to an ordeal that, in the words of one sympathetic columnist, "seems more than a man should have to bear." In the winter of 1966- 67, even before a host of new difficulties appeared, he found himself defending his administration from attacks by friends and foes alike. Governor Warren Hearnes of Missouri told Johnson that if he were running in his state now he would lose by 100,000 votes, despite a half-million margin in 1964. "Frustration over Vietnam; too much federal spending and . . . taxation; no great public support for your Great Society programs; and . . . public disenchantment with the civil rights programs" had eroded the President's standing. Democratic senators echoed the same complaints at a White House meeting in January.
However much the criticism hurt and agitated him, he refused to show his true feelings in public. Any confirmation of dismay would encourage opponents at home and abroad. The attacks on him were "unfair," Johnson had told the governors in December, and he cautioned them "to wash our dirty linen outside of the newspapers." The columnist said: Johnson"loathes with all the fury of his giant physique, hyperactive mentality and volcanic temper"