We all look at the Matthew McConaughey of today—the one who honorably labors on art films like Bernie and Mud (films of such apparently modest means that they could only afford one word in their titles)—a lot differently than we did ten years ago, when he often seemed content to flex his pecs and his pearly whites alongside the likes of Kate Hudson and Jennifer Lopez. He’s less of a star and more of an actor now, and the phrase “Matthew McConaughey vehicle” no longer carries any baggage.
So it’s fitting that on this Presidents’ Day McConaughey will encourage us to similarly reconsider the career of another misunderstood Texan. Today, a handful of television stations will start running a PSA for the newly renovated LBJ Presidential Libary in which McConaughey hails our 36th president. “How do you define a legacy?” McConaughey asks, standing in front of LBJ’s White House desk. “Is it what you leave behind or what you stand for? Is it the laws you pass, or the lives you change? Is it the wars you fight, or the battles you win?” (Actually, it’s all of the above, isn’t it?)
In keeping with the revisionism that has taken hold in recent years, the PSA focuses more on LBJ’s domestic achievements—voting rights, civil rights, civil liberties, education—than on the Vietnamese quagmire that for so long dominated his legacy. It’s a tension very much at the center of the LBJ Library’s recent multi-million dollar makeover (and, of course, at the center of contemporary Texas politics, where LBJ’s domestic agenda is very much under attack).
Ironically, McConaughey, who donated his time to the spot, looks less presidential here than he often has. His face is strikingly gaunt—presumably when he filmed the PSA he hadn’t yet gained back all of the 38 pounds he lost to play an HIV-positive man in the upcoming The Dallas Buyer’s Club—and he’s sporting a scraggly moustache that wouldn’t have seemed White House-worthy even when the likes of Grover Cleveland and Wiliam Howard Taft walked the earth.
It’s yet another sign that McConaughey, as he steers into middle age, no longer feels compelled to put much stock in his matinee idol looks. Which makes this PSA an effective bit of reputation-burnishing—for two different sons of the Hill Country. You can check it out here: