The Revised LBJ

The Revised LBJ

Lewis L. Gould

The American presidency--America itself--has never been the same since Lyndon Baines Johnson assumed the office in November 1963. Here a historian details the emerging revisionist view of his presidency.

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Last December, George McGovern suggested in The New York Times that, apart from Woodrow Wilson and the two Roosevelts, Lyndon Johnson was "the greatest president since Abraham Lincoln." It was a startling change of heart for the former senator from South Dakota, once a fervent opponent of LBJ's Vietnam policies and the Democratic Party's antiwar presidential nominee in 1972. McGovern's reappraisal followed on the heels of another surprising outburst of revisionism by a long-time LBJ critic. At the Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, Harvard University economist (and Kennedy intimate) John Kenneth Galbraith declared, "Next only to [Franklin D.] Roosevelt, and in some respects more so, Lyndon Johnson was the most effective advocate of humane social change in the United States in this century." While not seeking to minimize the tragedy of the Vietnam War, Galbraith lamented that its overwhelming legacy had relegated Johnson's Great Society to "the historical backwater."

After 30 years in presidential purgatory, LBJ and his historical fortunes are in ascendancy. Vice President Al Gore has listed Johnson among the presidents he most admires. Boston Globe columnist David Shribman calls LBJ "the hottest political figure in the nation right now." In the academy and the political arena alike, there is renewed interest in the large visions that drove Lyndon Johnson and a fresh desire to modify the historical picture of his presidency.

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About the Author

Lewis L. Gould is the Eugene C. Barker Centennial Professor Emeritus in American History at the University of Texas, Austin, and the author of Lady Bird Johnson: Our Environmental First Lady (1999).

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