Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Dallex - Flawed Giant

Dallek, Robert. Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961-1973. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Dallek proposes that the best explanation for both the remarkable successes and devastating defeats of the LBJ presidency lie in his personality. He believed he was and strove to be the greatest President ever. At the same time, he suffered a constant crisis of confidence that led him to paranoia and indecision.

How did he get so much done? p.236
1. The Johnson treatment - unparalleled relationship with a Congress that was, until 1966 midterm, incredibly favorable. 2/3 of both houses is a rarity
2. The legacy of Kennedy's death
3. The "national receptivity to righting historic wrongs and using federal power to improve people's lives." p.236

"Johnson had at least one indisputable triumph in domestic affairs for which he deserves credit. He played a large part in bringing the South into the mainstream of the country's economic and political life." p.625

"One observer of the mourners...overheard one black woman say to her little girl: 'People don't know it, but he did more for us than anybody, and President, ever did.'" p.623

Civil Rights Act 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965
Medicare for the elderly
Medicaid for the impoverished
War on Poverty
Environmental Protection
Education - teachers, high school, college
Urban development - response to urban riots

Dallek portrays LBJ as constantly searching and hoping for an avenue to negotiate with Hanoi, a sign that part of him knew he had not quite grasped a winning strategy for Vietnam. By 1966, he felt he had to see the episode through though he knew his previous estimate of reaching an end to the conflict by 1967 would not come to pass.

Given America's aerial supremacy, LBJ long believed that bombing North Vietnam would tip the tide. But it didn't.

Dallek also frequently notes public opinion polls that show the American public generally agreed with LBJ's assessment of how the war should be fought, up until Tet.

The mounting American death toll led LBJ to personalize the war, drawing the conclusion that he had better not lose the war (not that he had better end the war).

While Halberstam blames the Vietnam quagmire largely on the flow of information created by a willful desire by those close to the action to deceive those in Washington into continuing a hopeless situation, Dallek presents Vietnam as a problem caused by LBJ's personality and political maneuverings. Following the Gulf of Tonkein incident, LBJ wanted to hide the growing scope of Vietnam as long as possible to thus avoid diminishing the momentum of the Great Society. By the time the public and Congress began to pay closer attention to Vietnam in 1966, it was too late to reverse course (at least in LBJ's mind and the mind of most of his advisors). Once it became apparent to other experts that Vietnam had reached a stalemate, LBJ still refused to seek a way out. For example, he saw McNamara's proposal to declare victory and leave as a personal betrayal, and banished McNamara to the World Bank.

Connection to Broad Political Themes
The irony of LBJ is that he tried more than any President to create programs for the benefit of just about every American, conceivably bringing them all into the Democratic camp. Yet his Presidency marks the end of the New Deal coalition.

Gil Troy - JAH
Both the Great Society and Vietnam were rooted in LBJ's emotional emptiness, which fed his grandiosity. "Fearing rejection, Johnson minimized the commitment to achieve both goals." Ultimately, then, he never felt he fully achieved his Great Society goals.

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