Lyndon Johnson was a great original, a man whose energy and personality knew few bounds, the polar opposite both of Richard Nixon’s rootless ambition and Gerald Ford’s Midwestern blandness. Only he had the presidential perspective on his controversial years, but his own memoir, The Vantage Point, sets down everything except the man himself. What was LBJ like? A few of his colleagues, aides, and rivals try to give us some idea. The remarks from Joe Frantz, Robert Allen, and Peter Benchley are from the oral history collection of the LBJ Library. General Westmoreland adapted his anecdote for us from his upcoming book, A Soldier Reports. Bill Moyers, Tom Johnson, Ralph and Opal Yarborough, and Bob and Mary Hardesty gave us their recollections directly; they have never appeared before.
Cleaning His Plate
Not long after my return from Saigon, President Johnson told my wife, Kitsy, that he understood that Quarters 1, the Chief of Staff’s residence at Fort Myer, has a spectacular view of the federal city. When, he asked, was Kitsy going to invite him to a little family dinner? Kitsy could hardly believe the President was serious. In any event, what did he mean by a “little family dinner?” She procrastinated until in another meeting some weeks later, the President repeated the question with obvious determination to have his way.
Kitsy finally concluded that a little family dinner might be construed to mean the President and Mrs. Johnson; their daughter Lynda (Luci was away); and, because of the President’s high regard for Bus Wheeler, the Chairman of the Joint