Johnson attributed his viability as a candidate to his identification as a political moderate, a pragmatic southwesterner capable of good working relations across the political spectrum. In a time of intense racial and sectional strife, Johnson saw himself as perhaps the only politician who could substantially ease black-white and North-South tensions.
Johnson saw his predicament clearly. But he failed to resolve it for fear that acknowledging the growing extent and cost of the war would thwart his domestic reforms, while pursuing a course of withdrawal risked political ruin. LBJ, instead, chose to obscure the magnitude of his dilemma by obscuring America's deepening involvement as South Vietnam began to fail.
His mother's conditional love seems to have affected Johnson in two ways. First, he always worried that whatever approval he might receive could be quickly withdrawn. And second, he imitated his mother in his relationships with others, offering generous love until the recipient disappointed him and then administering to that unfortunate soul "the Johnson freeze-out," the same treatment his mother had given him.
Like Lyndon Johnson's contemporaries, historians disagree about his presidential standing. A 1996 assessment of his White House record by thirty-two scholars was notable for its differences: fifteen historians saw him as a near great President; twelve thought him only average; and five described him as either below average or a failure.
Johnson's first important political position was as director of the National Youth Administration in Texas from 1935 to 1937. Construction of his system of roadside parks put young Texans to work and quietly introduced the participation of African Americans in some NYA programs. When the incumbent congressman of the Tenth Congressional District died in 1937, Johnson entered the race as a devoted supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal.
On June 9, Johnson received the Silver Star from General Douglas MacArthur for gallantry in action during an aerial combat mission over hostile positions in New Guinea. President Roosevelt ordered all members of Congress in the armed forces to return to their offices, and Johnson was released from active duty on July 16, 1942.
Controversy over the war had become acute by the end of March 1968, when the president limited the bombing of North Viet Nam in order to initiate negotiations. At the same time, he startled the world by withdrawing as a candidate for re-election so that he might devote his full efforts, unimpeded by politics, to the quest for peace. When he left office, peace talks were under way; he did not live to see them successful, but died suddenly of a heart attack at his Texas ranch on January 22, 1973.
Not since the first President Johnson took office in 1865 has a presidency begun amid such tragedy and turmoil as Lyndon Baines Johnson's did when he took the oath of office on 22 November 1963 aboard Air Force One, parked on Dallas' Love Field. It was the plane that earlier in the day had brought President John F. Kennedy to the city on a trip that was to end with his assassination. In its somber aftermath, when President Johnson received at the White House the dignitaries from around the world who had traveled to Washington for Kennedy's funeral, he stood in a brighter limelight than any incoming president had ever had to endure.
No one who knew or has studied Lyndon Johnson can deny the primal force of his personality, nor its complexity, contradictions, ambiguities, and, for most, ultimately its mystery...He managed the transition after the death of President Kennedy with consummate skill, tact, and grace. Yet seen by those close to him Johnson was also boorish and overbearing and could be sulky, tempestuous, and vindictive.
The Lyndon Johnson presidency marked a vast expansion in the role of the national government in domestic affairs. Johnson laid out his vision of that role in a commencement speech at the University of Michigan on May 22, 1964. He called on the nation to move not only toward "the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society," which he defined as one that would "end poverty and racial injustice."