Wednesday, March 31, 2021

A Whole (Nother) Story

A child of the sixties, the first president I kind of remember was LBJ. Even though I was in first grade when he left office, I knew who he was. As I grew older and learned more about the turbulent decade in which I was born, Johnson was always a bit of a minor character: the benchwarmer forced into the game in the JFK story, the out of touch antagonist in the RFK story, the recalcitrant cooperator in the MLK story, the ineffective villain in the Vietnam story. (That old guy.)

His wife, Lady Bird, was also a soft-edged somebody who planted a lot of flowers along the highway, not much substance there. But today, on our road trip home, we listened to the first six episodes of the podcast In Plain Sight: Lady Bird Johnson. Hosted by Julia Sweig and based on her book about the former first lady, the podcast tells the story of the Johnsons' time in the White House using the over 123 hours of audio diaries that Mrs. Johnson kept. Her voice, her insight, and her smart observations humanize the couple in a way I just never considered. (Highly recommend the podcast.)

In my mind, the Johnsons always seemed so old, but when President Kennedy was assassinated and the two of them were thrust into a role they had worked toward but in a time and situation they were unprepared for, he was 55 and she was 51, both years younger than I am now. (Pooooosh! Mind. Blown.)

Despite their good intentions, the changing world was ultimately unmanageable, and they found themselves out of touch, especially with younger Americans. There was a little bitterness along with the relief they shared upon retiring to Texas in 1969. It would have been nice if they had had many years together after that, reading and riding and swimming and hiking and driving the amphibious car on their ranch in the Texas Hill Country, but LBJ passed away just 4 years later, at the age of 64. (So sad, right?)


  1. This was a very interesting read, with ideas to follow up on.

  2. This was interesting to read! I am going to check out the podcast. I know very little about LBJ.