THE reputations of most Presidents after they leave the White House suffer an eclipse. In time, however, they make something of a comeback. Passions over controversial questions subside and achievements are balanced against shortcomings.
So far, Lyndon Johnson is a case apart. His public standing since 1969 has plummeted, and an upturn seems nowhere in sight. "Lyndon Johnson was clearly a monster of ambition, greed, and cruelty," one historian wrote in 1990. "What's not to loathe?" In the view of one journalist, "No . . . politician ever did more than he to destroy the country." There are reasons enough to dislike Lyndon Johnson: certain aspects of his private behavior offended any one with the least sense of propriety, and his public actions violated legal and democratic standards on which the American system of government is supposed to rest. But there exists a hatred of Johnson that passes the bounds of common sense and contributes nothing to historical understanding.*
We now need a balanced biography that draws on the massive documentary record and focuses less on Johnson the man and more on his larger impact. Johnson's importance in twentieth-century history is too great for us to dismiss him as little more than a contemptible character whose principal distinguishing feature was the advancement of Lyndon Johnson. He was a man of consuming ambition, but he was also a politician with considerable vision that he carried to fruition during a long career. From his earliest days in Congress he was a liberal nationalist, an advocate of Federal programs that had a redefining influence on American life. His efforts to promote the national well-being by helping the least affluent help themselves and to end racial segregation as a prelude to southern economic advance and expanded political power were acts of genuine statesmanship. They had their beginnings in Johnson's pre-presidential years reconstructed in this volume. Johnson was also a representative figure. His election campaigns, accumulation of wealth,____________________