Our Crudest President

Well, what to say? Most Americans will have a hard time forgiving Johnson for Vietnam; it's not at all clear that he thought he should be forgiven. Which is too bad, for if nothing else Johnson's social programs should be remembered: They are chastening reminders of the days, now apparently long gone, when a liberal president was actually a liberal. Yes, he was a crude, scheming son of a bitch, but he was our crude, scheming son of a bitch, and he was good at it and it's fun to watch.

Lyndon Johnson reviews the inaugural parade (Lady Bird at right).
photo: LBJ Library Collection
Lyndon Johnson reviews the inaugural parade (Lady Bird at right).

And then suddenly it's not so much fun anymore. Tragedy, in the old-fashioned sense, is created when a good and powerful man is compelled by history, circumstance, and his nature to sin against history, circumstance, and his nature. Let it here be proposed that Lyndon Johnson, of all people, is the great tragic figure of postwar American history.

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