King of the Hill
HE autumn and winter of 1964 were a happy time for Lyndon Johnson. He was fulfilling every imaginable fantasy in his political life: He was a highly popular President winning passage of groundbreaking laws, describing broad plans for bold advances in American life, and gaining election in his own right with an unprecedented number of votes. If success gave him a temporary sense of repose, a feeling that at age fifty-six he had indelibly stamped his mark on history and could enjoy the prospect of another four and possibly even eight years achieving great things for the country, it was not evident to anyone around him. Johnson, Bill Moyers says, had "an exquisite hole at his center, which was an unfillable void." He was an inveterate malcontent, a man constantly reaching for new goals.
He was, as someone said of Napoleon, a tornado in pants. In August, after his nomination, and again in November and December, after his election, he spent weeks at his Texas ranch, where he was supposed to be relaxing. But a vacation from work, even a brief respite from his normally arduous schedule, was impossible. "Rest for him," Hubert Humphrey said, "was controlled frenzy."1
Watching Johnson on the plane flying to Texas after the Democratic convention in August, Humphrey felt that "if the plane had run out of fuel in mid-air, President Johnson's frenetic energy and excitement would have kept it flying."
At the ranch, he was in constant motion. It was not enough that he attended to the daily business of government, he also had to micromanage the affairs of his "spread." As Humphrey remembered, "If a fence was falling, he'd call his ranch foreman by phone from the car to report it. If a gate was loose, that word would go out. He would check cattle, looking for an injured or diseased one. When nothing caught his eye, he worried about dinner, calling the cook at the ranch