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Man Of The Year: Lyndon B. Johnson, The Prudent Progressive

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There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood in 1964, led on to fame for Lyndon Baines Johnson.

From that November afternoon when he made it clear that the torch of continuity was safe in his hands to that November night nearly a year later when he won the biggest election triumph in history, it was his year-his to act in, his to mold, his to dominate.

And dominate it he did. By words and gestures, by pleas and orders. By speeches noble and plainly blunt. By exasperated outbursts and munificent tributes. By intuitive insights and the blueprints of planners.

But most of all by work. He worked in the White House and he worked at the ranch. On the Hill and astride the stump. In his limousine (with four separate communication setups) and aboard the jet (with $2,000,000 in electronic gear). By letter, wire, scrambler and hot line. In the bath and in the bedroom, at every meal and over every drink.

He astonished his partisans with his cyclonic energy (“The Whirlwind President”), and confounded the skeptics by surpassing almost all of his predecessors in first-year accomplishments.

In that brief span, he: > Brought to the office of the presidency a concept not favored by his immediate predecessors, who, except for Dwight Eisenhower, felt that a “strong” President had to fight with Congress. Always mindful of the presidency’s great power, Johnson put into effect a new relationship with the other “coequal” branches of Government, thus achieving the truest partnership with Congress-in the checks-and-balances sense envisaged by the Constitution-in well over a century. His remarkable legislative record was crowned by the historic Civil Rights Act.

> Worked constantly to win business confidence for his Democratic Administration without losing labor’s. The result was an unprecedented extension of the national prosperity, sustained by his personal intervention in bringing about a rail settlement that seems likely to set a pattern for years to come, and spurred by his success in getting an $11.5 billion tax cut through Congress.

> Pursued the elusive goal of world peace while keeping U.S. prestige high and U.S. power strong. He provided no panaceas for chronic ailments, but he met his major flare-up crisis-that of the Gulf of Tonkin-with just about the proper mixture of force and caution.

> Strove tirelessly to achieve a national consensus, adding two phrases-“Let us reason together” and “I want to be President of all the people”-to the American political lexicon. The consensus, of course, became his on Nov. 3, with the greatest electoral victory since 1936 and the largest percent (61%) of the popular vote ever.

Goldfish Bowl. All this was done while his country and the world watched in a “show me” spirit. Jack Kennedy had drained the world’s capacity for unrestrained fascination with the U.S. presidency, and Lyndon Johnson was sure to harvest some initial resentments. But in that enormous goldfish bowl, he went relentlessly to work, determined to put his own stamp on the presidency, rarely trying to be anything but himself.

“Being himself” meant an enormous change in style, habits, thought and operation in the White House. It wasn’t always comfortable for those in close proximity, and it wasn’t always neat and nice when the stories leaked out. At 56, and despite a 1955 heart attack that was, by Johnson’s own account, “as bad as a man can have and still live,” his energies are enormous. Through the year, he was a geyser at perpetual boil. There were imprecations and outbursts at foes and friends as he occasionally wandered over what Kennedy called “the edge of irritability.” In some, he seemed perilously impetuous. But never, so far as anyone knows, when the national interest was really at stake.

That is probably why, though he suffered stalemates and setbacks, he has yet to meet with a reverse beyond redemption. “He will be impulsive in little things,” said Texas’ Governor John Connally, a close friend and political ally for 30 years, “but no one should make the mistake that this will carry over into serious foreign or domestic matters.”

Slice of Bread. In this, as in many other ways, the 36th President of the U.S. is an anthology of antonyms. In him, the conservatism of the self-made Texas businessman and the liberalism of the poverty-haunted New Deal politician pulse like an alternating current. He is overbearing to his aides, then suddenly overwhelmingly considerate; cynical about men’s motives, yet sentimental enough to weep when a group of Texas Congressmen presented him with a laudatory plaque; incredibly thin-skinned, yet able to brush off some criticism with the comment, “My daddy told me that if you don’t want to get shot at, stay oft the firing line.” He prides himself on being a shrewd judge of men’s strengths and failings; yet he was, at the very least, unperceptive enough not to detect grave flaws in two of his very closest aides, Bobby Baker and Walter Jenkins.

In the growing shelf of Johnson literature, the man almost invariably emerges as a scarcely credible, one-dimensional character, all sinner or all saint. Probably the best portrayal of Johnson the man is in a work of fiction, Novelist William Brammer’s The Gay Place. In it, he appears as Governor Arthur (“Goddam”) Fenstemaker of Texas, an earthy, explosive, consummately skilled politician whose credo comes across in three lines of dialogue:

Fenstemaker: Somethin’s better than nothin’.

Young Newsman: Half a loaf?

Fenstemaker: Slice of goddam bread, even.

Brammer was an aide to Johnson in his Senate days, and while the portrayal of

Fenstemaker is affectionate and admiring, Johnson and Brammer are no longer friends.

“I Cain’t Do It.” Most of Johnson’s friends despair of trying to explain him. “He doesn’t fit into any established mold or pattern,” says Governor Connally. After their first encounter, Lady Bird said of him: “I knew I’d met some thing remarkable, but I didn’t know quite what.” And Daughter Luci, 17, once declared with a helpless shrug: “I can’t ever tell what he is going to do. He can’t either.”

Johnson himself says: “People don’t understand one thing about me, and that is that the one thing I want to do is my job.” More than that, he wants to do it better than anyone before him, and he will spare no one, least of all himself, in the effort. With Johnson, everything has to be done yesterday and done right. “I’m always an hour late, a dollar short, and behind schedule,” he likes to say. As a young Congressman, Johnson handed out diplomas in a mythical “I Cain’t Do It Club” to anyone who had let him down. And, according to Lady Bird, when things were not done as quickly or as well as Johnson wanted, “he used to get a rash on his hands.”

If You Try . . . The presidency of the U.S. is enough to make anyone break out all over. Getting the ponderous machinery of the Federal Government to move is a task that would try Job, and Johnson is somewhat less patient. Harry Truman once described how it would be when Dwight Eisenhower replaced him. “He’ll sit there and he’ll say, ‘Do this! Do that!’ ” said Truman. “And nothing will happen.” In a memorable outburst, Franklin Roosevelt complained that it was tough enough getting action from the Treasury and State departments, but that “the Na-a-vy” beat the two of them hands down. “To change anything in the Na-a-vy,” grumbled Roosevelt, “is like punching a feather bed. You punch it with your right and you punch it with your left until you are finally exhausted, and then you find the damn bed just as it was before you started punching.”

Johnson, too, has tasted some frustration. Before the election, he phoned Arkansas Democrat Wilbur Mills, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, to request a favor. “Wilbur,” drawled the President, “I’ve just been looking through the polls here, and I’ve only got a few weaknesses, and the worst of them is that I’m not doin’ anything for the old folks. I need some help. How about medicare?” In other words, get the bill at least to the House floor. Mills’s answer was an un varnished no, and there was nothing Johnson could do about it-except keep trying. That he has done, and two weeks ago Mills announced that he would go along with medicare in the next Congress, if it is financed by a special payroll tax instead of by social security.

Plucked Rooster. Johnson means to be prudent and cautious, but he also wants to be an activist, “can do” President. Just since he took office, the population of the U.S. has grown by 2,500,000, and the question he asks most often of his idea men is: “How are we going to keep up with the times?”

Almost intuitively, he rejects as unsuited to the times the Whig notion of the President as an errand boy for Congress or as a chief administrator. During the presidential campaign, when Barry Goldwater complained that the office was becoming too powerful, Johnson had a folksy retort to that view. “Most Americans,” he said, “are not ready to trade the American eagle in for a plucked banty rooster.”

Even so, he also rejects Alexander Hamilton’s combative concept of the U.S. Government as a system of power as the rival of power. Johnson came to the White House with the most extensive congressional experience of any U.S. President, and to him the theory that the branches of the Government should be coordinate, not one subordinate to another, is a living reality. Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy all scrapped bitterly with Congress at different times, but that is one thing that Johnson wants desperately to avoid. “I don’t want to come up to this Congress and scare them to death,” he said recently, while discussing his 1965 program. Rather, he aims to use his considerable talents of persuasion to get his way, and few U.S. politicians have ever used that talent to better effect than Lyndon Johnson.

“The secret is, Lyndon gives and takes,” a fellow Senate Democrat once explained. “If you go along with him, he gives you a little here and there-a dam, or support for a bill.” While he was Senate majority leader, Johnson’s “treatment” became famous. In cloak room and corridor, in his baronial office or right out on the floor of the chamber, he would go to work on a colleague -squeezing his elbow, draping a huge paw over his shoulder, poking him in the chest, leaning so close as to be practically rubbing noses. On the phone (and he was seldom off it) he was equally effective. Hubert Humphrey once complained that the only way he could resist Johnson’s hypnotic persuasiveness was by not answering the phone.

Touching the Nerve. Of course, there is as much legend as fact in this image of Johnson, just as there is in his image as an overpowering arm twister. Johnson has a “treatment” all right, but its effectiveness is due neither to brute force nor to Svengalian hypnosis. Johnson simply is better than anybody else at finding and touching the most sensitive nerve a Congressman has-his own self-interest.

So successfully has Johnson restored communication between both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue that 1964’s congressional session was the most fruitful in a decade. He got 57.6% of his 217 specific requests, the best batting average since Ike got 64.7% of his 232 requests in 1954. Almost as important, he got it without alienating any sizable factions.

Johnson’s method, says veteran Democrat Jim Farley, who managed two of F.D.R.’s campaigns but disapproved of the way his boss handled Congress, “has produced both the harmony and the result that already identify it as the soundest approach in a century and a half.” Explains Farley: “He has already bestowed on the Congress the respect and consideration it has not received since Jefferson-and the Congress has fully responded in terms of the great respect it holds for the presidency. We shall have no paralyzing crises such as we experienced in the court fight of 1937 or the purge of uncooperative Congressmen in 1938.” Or, he might have added, in Kennedy’s last year.

New Pilot. In Lyndon Johnson’s eventful presidency, the gravest crisis of all was the first. No Vice President be fore him ever witnessed the assassination of a President; none ever had the presidency thrust upon him in such brutal circumstances. Johnson was shocked and staggered. But even as he sat in an anteroom of Parkland Memorial Hos pital in Texas, he took full command of himself and of the office for which he had been honing his talents all his life.

He advised Assistant White House Press Secretary Malcolm Kilduff to withhold news of Kennedy’s death until it could be determined whether a “Communist conspiracy”-those were Johnson’s words-was involved. With an eye already fixed firmly on the history books, he urged Lady Bird to take notes of everything that happened, had Kilduff scare up a Dictaphone for his swearing in, made sure that newsmen and a photographer were aboard the presidential jet to record the event. Only hours after the assassination, the idea of the Warren Commission occurred to him.

On the flight back to Washington, Johnson pondered the problems that history had bequeathed to him. “I sat in the plane,” he recently recalled, “and pictured it more or less as if something had happened to the pilot who was flying us back. We were very much in the same shape as if he fell at the controls and one of our boys had to walk up there and bring the plane in, flying at 700 m.p.h., with no plans showing how long the runways were, with no maps, no notes.

“I had grave fears about our future. I wasn’t sure how successful I would be pulling the divergent factions of the nation together and trying to unite everybody in order to get the confidence of the people and secure the respect of the world.”

Toward a Consensus. He really need not have worried, for one of his best, and most often misconstrued, talents is in smoothing off the rough edges of controversy, bringing antagonists together and achieving a consensus.

Repeatedly, he has been attacked as a mere wheeler-dealer for negotiating one compromise or another, but the fact is that the alternative to such controversial compromises as the 1957 and 1960 civil rights bills, which, as majority leader, he forcefully shepherded along, might have been neither half a loaf nor a slice of bread, but nothing at all.

“It is one of the great tasks of political leadership,” he said last spring at the University of Texas, “to make our people aware that they share a fundamental unity of interest, purpose and belief. I intend to try and achieve a broad national consensus which can end obstruction and paralysis and liberate the energies of the nation for the work of the future.”

Making the Mare Run. With his instinctive political sense, Johnson began seeking that consensus at once. His prime target was the nation’s businessmen, estranged from the Kennedy Administration by the battle with Big Steel. Johnson thought Kennedy had overreacted in that case, just as he thought that F.D.R. had blundered badly in attacking big-businessmen as “economic royalists” a quarter-century earlier. Johnson catered to businessmen at White House luncheons, flattered them, assured them that they were “what makes the mare run.”

Aware that businessmen almost reflexively equate Democrats with fiscal irresponsibility, Johnson set out to change that image. He succeeded by keeping his first budget under $100 billion and by halving the deficit. At the same time, he convinced key Congressmen-notably Senator Harry Byrd and Representative Millsthat he really aimed to keep a tight rein on federal spending. The result: the two men finally moved the $11.5 billion tax cut out of their committees, and Congress quickly passed it. Though Johnson’s techniques of persuasion and manipulation have inevitably changed somewhat in the transition from legislative to executive branch, they have lost none of their potency. After Congress killed a proposed $545 million pay boost for Government employees, he breathed life back into the measure with a few well-placed phone calls and an earnest talk with congressional leaders. He pointed out that Economist Walter Heller had gone $16,000 into debt during three years in Washington, added: “You can’t expect me to maintain this Government with underpaid men. I’m afraid that a lot of people will leave because they aren’t making enough money.” The bureaucrats got their pay raise.

“Stop Right There.” By preshrinking his foreign aid bill to a relatively modest $3.5 billion, he wound up with more money than Congress had given for the previous year’s program, though Kennedy had requested $1 billion more. A $375 million mass-transit program that had been stalled in a House committee for two years was passed. A conservation program was enacted along with a food-stamp bill. Then, of course, there was the poverty program.

Johnson admits that his “unconditional war” against poverty, fueled with an appropriation of $784,200,000, is no more than a start, but at least it is something. “I have no illusions,” he said, “that $1 billion or $10 billion will wipe out poverty. I don’t expect to see it in my lifetime. But we can minimize it, moderate it, and in time eliminate it.” Though his last request was cut by nearly $200 million, he may ask Congress for $2 billion for 1965.

To the President, the “most grueling ordeal” of 1964 was the threatened rail strike. In begging the railway brotherhoods to extend their strike deadline, he put on a convincing, if not especially ennobling, performance. “He pleaded beyond reason,” said a labor man afterward, “for a President of the U.S.” But two weeks later, with the final deadline only hours away, he was at his best. He sat down with the carriers to talk them into accepting the settlement, though he had heard that they were seven to two against it. When one management man began, “I’m just an old country boy . . .” Lyndon broke in. “Hold it, stop right there,” said the President. “When I hear that around this town, I put my hand on my billfold. Don’t start that with me.” Everybody roared, and the country boy declared: “By God, all I was going to say was that I’m ready to sign up.” Said Johnson afterward: “That broke the deadlock. Of course, I’ll never know what he was going to say when I broke in. I wonder.”

But it was civil rights, and not the rail dispute, that proved Johnson’s most exacting domestic test. Less than two weeks after Dallas, he was discussing his program at “The Elms,” the house he had occupied as Vice President. Several advisers told him the odds were 60 to 40 against passage of the Kennedy-sponsored rights bill, advised him not to risk his still uncertain prestige by pushing too hard for it. For a long moment, Johnson was silent, but then he asked: “What’s the presidency for?” Obviously, to command. With his determined driving, the Senate overrode the hard core of Southern Democrats with whom Lyndon had often voted in the past, and on July 2 the President signed into law the most sweeping civil rights bill since Reconstruction.

Murkier Waters. Though Johnson likes domestic politics best, there were times during the year when he found himself totally immersed in the less familiar and murkier waters of foreign policy. Less than two months after he took over, he had to cope with rioting in Panama over U.S. management of the Canal Zone, and in the weeks that followed, a succession of crises erupted to plague him-Cyprus, France’s increasing intransigence, African uprisings, a new coup in Viet Nam.

Fortunately, none of the crises was of the magnitude of the Cuban missile confrontation, and Johnson did well enough. Though he got off to a hesitant start on Panama, he showed toughness as well as restraint by offering to resume talks while refusing to yield any principle. “They were killing people, and some thought we should write a new treaty right off,” he has recalled. “But you can’t just say, Til give you a blank check’ when there’s a pistol at your head. All you can say is that ‘we’ll do what’s right.’ ” The principle established and the pistol withdrawn, Johnson agreed two weeks ago to renegotiate the Panama Canal Treaty, announced that the U.S. would eventually build a sea-level canal somewhere in Central America or Colombia.

Johnson showed similarly sound restraint when Cuba’s Fidel Castro cut off the water at Guantanamo. He avoided an unnecessary showdown, and eliminated a potential source of future conflict, simply by ordering the U.S. naval base to develop its own water supply.

Prosecuting Attorney. Trouble seasoned him. When North Vietnamese PT boats twice attacked Seventh Fleet destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin last summer, there was nothing impetuous about Johnson’s response. Like a prosecuting attorney, he kept asking his aides: “Are you sure we were attacked? How come they were such bad shots?”

Only when he was completely satisfied that the attacks were deliberate and unprovoked did he okay the retaliatory bombing of North Vietnamese torpedo boats and bases. Though some advisers hesitated about striking one big nest of boats dangerously close to Red China, Johnson specifically ordered a strike against that target.

But if the Gulf of Tonkin was a triumph, it was one of the few for the U.S. in Viet Nam. Unwilling to withdraw and fearful of escalating the war, Johnson has maintained a “more of the same” policy that pleases almost nobody and makes less sense with the passing of each day. All the while, the Saigon government has been stumbling from coup to coup. In the latest unhappy episode, the U.S. and the Vietnamese approached a parting of the ways. The U.S. was insistent about trying to sustain a group of civilian politicians against overthrow by a junta of disgusted young generals, has come close to a parting of the ways, with Vietnamese Commander in Chief Nguyen Khanh loudly denouncing U.S. Ambassador Maxwell Taylor and the U.S. muttering dire threats about curtailing or withholding aid to Viet Nam.

On several other occasions as well, Johnson’s diplomatic report card also was mixed. His decision to go ahead with the Congo air-rescue operation was diluted by its tardiness and by the fact that the mission was halted prematurely. To his credit, he attempted to restore peace to Cyprus, even though the prospects of success were slight. The effort failed, but only after Under Secretary of State George Ball gave the island’s Archbishop Makarios a dressing down worthy of Lyndon himself. “For God’s sake, Your Beatitude,” Ball scolded the archbishop, “this killing must stop!”

Unaccountably, Johnson allowed U.S. officials to press ahead with plans for a multilateral nuclear force for NATO long after it had become obvious that the West Germans were the only ones interested. Johnson, like his predecessor, remains convinced that nobody has come up with a better way to halt nuclear proliferation. But at year’s end, he advised U.S. diplomats to quit twisting the allies’ arms to make them accept MLF, pledged that no program would be adopted until it was first aired with London, Paris and Bonn.

At the Heart. Through the year, whether he was hoisting his beagles by the ears, bellowing through a bullhorn to invite campaign crowds to “a speakin’,” or roaring along a Texas road holding his five-gallon hat over the speedometer, Johnson made colorful copy and was copiously covered. Even when fear of getting too much news exposure induced him to try to get away from it all-as when he took a powerboat trip on Granite Shoals Lake last July-newsmen pursued him on foot, by boat and by plane, and photographers zeroed in from afar with telescopic lenses.

Yet, for all the verbiage, he remained hard to classify. He hates labels, and none will stick on him for long before he rids himself of it. “At the very heart of my own beliefs,” he once wrote, “is a rebellion against this very process of classifying, labeling and filing Americans under headings: regional, economic, occupational, religious, racial, or otherwise.” Back in 1958, he defined himself as “a free man, an American, a United States Senator and a Democrat, in that order,” and added, “and there, for me, the classifying stops.”

For a partial understanding of Johnson, one has to go back to the harsh hill country of west-central Texas where he was born in 1908. Historian Walter Prescott Webb describes it as a land of “nauseating loneliness,” whose inhabitants were “far from markets, burned by drought, beaten by hail, withered by hot winds, frozen by blizzards, eaten out by grasshoppers, exploited by capitalists and cozened by politicians.”

For all that, Lyndon speaks almost lyrically of the land. “It’s dry country,” he says, “but it seems there is always a breeze blowing. And there is always sun here. We don’t have dreariness. We don’t have those dull grey skies when you look up. Here you have birds singing, flowers growing, girls smiling.”

Rattle, Rattle. To Lyndon, who left the land to seek his fortune elsewhere and came back in style, the hill country now means mostly the 400-acre LBJ Ranch on the banks of the Pedernales.

It is an oasis of expensive Stetson hats and tailored twill trousers, herds of sleek Herefords, Angora goats and blooded horses, a fleet of Lincolns and a landing strip with a gleaming private plane, meals of venison steak, homemade bread and pecan pies, a heated pool and Muzak piping in The Yellow

Rose of Texas. And it is a galaxy removed from the granite and limestone land that Webb wrote about.

Just two miles up the road from the LBJ spread, though, is Emil Klein’s 167-acre ranch. There, a battered pickup truck sits in the driveway, wash hangs on the line, and an income of a few thousand a year is all that one can expect. In the grim days of the Depression and the Dust Bowl, the face of Texas that Lyndon knew best bore a close resemblance to Emil Klein’s pinched place, and so he cleared out.

At 23 he became secretary to Congressman Richard Kleberg, then co-owner of the King Ranch, and at 26 he was Texas Director of F.D.R.’s Na tional Youth Administration. Even then, he drove his people hard. “We’re gonna get this job done,” he exhorted his NYA staff on one occasion, his hands stuffed in his pockets. “I carry aspirin in this pocket [rattle] and Ex-Lax in this pocket [rattle], and we’re gonna get the job done.”

As a Congressman from 1937 to 1948, Johnson learned his politics from a couple of masters, Roosevelt and fellow Texan Sam Rayburn. Once, he wanted F.D.R.’s approval for an electrification project in his Tenth District, but found that every time he got into the oval office, Roosevelt dominated the conversation and waved him out before he had a chance to make his pitch. It is a technique that Johnson has since emulated with great success. In any case, Lyndon learned that Roosevelt was a sucker for photos of dams, brought along a batch of big glossy prints the next time he saw him. Sure enough, Roosevelt was entranced, picked up the phone while Johnson was still sitting there, and got the wheels moving. The resulting Pedernales Electric Cooperative became for a time the biggest in the nation, remains one of Johnson’s proudest achievements.

Burning Bush. By the time he reached the Senate in 1948, after a run-off primary that he won by a bitterly disputed margin of 87 votes out of 988,295 cast, Johnson had polished his political talents to a high gloss. He was Democratic whip in two years, minority leader in four. When the G.O.P. lost both houses of Congress in the 1954 midterm election, he became, at 46, the youngest majority leader ever.

With his gift for compromise, his powers of persuasion, and his wizardry at counting noses-aided, from 1955 on, by ubiquitous little Senate Majority Secretary Bobby Baker-it was not long before Johnson was absolute monarch of the place. He was the most influential Democrat in the nation, stood second in power only to President Eisenhower. According to one of the gags current during that time, a Senate page asked a door attendant, “Have you seen Senator Johnson?” The reply: “I haven’t seen anything but a burning bush.”

Johnson, in short, became a sort of Washington institution. Part of the institution, of course, was Lady Bird, whom

Lyndon married less than three months after they first met. “I’m not the easiest man to live with,” he admits, but Lady Bird has more than managed to live for three decades in the eye of the hurricane (they celebrated their 30th anniversary in November). Now 52, she is an extraordinarily versatile woman-wife, mother, business partner, campaigner, hostess-who can never utter the classic complaint of the American wife that her husband never tells her anything. Lyndon confides in her and admires her judgment enormously.

Inevitably, there was talk that Lyndon would one day be President-but he denied any such ambition. When, in 1960, he finally decided to go after the job, his Southern background proved his greatest handicap; no genuine Southerner had been elected to the White House since Zachary Taylor in 1848.*It was the geographical barrier that Jack Kennedy was talking about when he said, some time before his own nomination: “I know all the other candi dates pretty well, and I frankly think I’m as able to handle the presidency as any of them, or abler-all except Lyndon, and he hasn’t got a chance.”

Also the Edges. Only the crudest turn of fate gave Lyndon Johnson his chance, and so far he has made the most of it.

In the view of Political Scientist Richard Neustadt, whose Presidential Power was one of Kennedy’s basic texts, “Johnson is trying to be a ‘Rooseveltian Eisenhower’-trying to establish a rather Eisenhower like stance in the interest of rather Rooseveltian results.”

Like Ike, Johnson has worked at projecting himself as a “President of all the people,” excluding no group from his embrace-except, possibly, Goldwater Republicans. “Most people want what you would call a ‘prudent progressivism,’ ” says Johnson. “They want you to march forward, constantly going ahead, but never getting both feet off the ground at the same time. I hope I’m progressive without being radical. I want to be prudent without being reactionary.” That is a philosophy that not only straddles the middle but engulfs the edges as well, and most Americans obviously subscribe to it.

Over the Arm. Nevertheless, if he is to achieve Rooseveltian results, Johnson is aware that he will eventually have to risk losing some elements of the great consensus he has forged. “There will be times,” he has said, “when I’ll have to make difficult decisions between busi ness and labor. I know that. You have to do these things.”

Even when that time of decision ar rives, Johnson, being Johnson, has hopes of keeping everybody happy. “When I was a boy,” he says, “one kid would put his arm up between two other kids and say, ‘The one who spits over my arm first is bravest.’ And one would spit and hit the other one and then there was a fight. I try to avoid all that, just as I try to avoid saying ugly things about labor, industry, the farmer, any group in this country.”

At no time was Johnson’s unwillingness to spit over anybody’s arm better demonstrated than in November. He had just piled up the greatest popular vote ever, blurring party lines and dissolving traditional regional loyalties as he swept everything except Arizona and five Deep South states. Partly, the scope of his victory was due to his opponent’s narrow appeal, but his own strength in drawing 43 million votes was undeniable. He was proud of, and grateful for, his victory. Said he: “The people are pretty fair. They said, ‘He brought us through this, he landed this plane, he did a pretty fair job.'” He also declared: “I do not consider the election a mandate to embark on any reckless, dangerous, novel or unique course.”

“Bold New Steps.” Johnson does not intend to stand still, either. The major thrust of his activity is in domestic programs, and to complaints that he is ignoring foreign affairs in his intense preoccupation with America, he replies: “I must prove that I can lead the country before I can lead the world.” Already, he has had 15 or 16 task forces studying what “bold new steps,” in the President’s words, can be taken in such fields as urban renewal, trade, transportation, agriculture. In his Great Society speech at the University of Michigan last May, he addressed himself eloquently to the country’s problems.

“For half a century,” he said then, “we called upon unbounded invention and untiring industry to create an order of plenty for all. The challenge of the next half-century is whether we have the wisdom to use that wealth to enrich and elevate our national life, and to advance the quality of our American civilization.” He called upon the graduating class to move “not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society,” and he listed three places where they could begin to -“in our cities, in our countryside, and in our classrooms.”

If anything is to have a priority, it is the classrooms. Johnson’s mother was a teacher and he himself taught grade school for a year in Cotulla, Texas, to help pay his way through Southwest Texas State Teachers College, later taught public speaking in high school. He says he would like to be remembered as a great President who has really furthered the cause of U.S. education.

“The Great Society already is born,” said he recently. “It’s not a long way off. But it’s got to be improved as we go along. The big job is education.”

Getting Things Done. Above all else, Johnson believes that the surest way to move forward is one step at a time, achieving agreement at every step along the way, pausing to consolidate, then stepping out once more. It sounds dull, but it minimizes conflict and it gets things done, and as Dean Acheson once said of Johnson: “He understands that government is not a matter of posturing but of getting things done.”

Once, when scolded by an unhappy supporter for not reshaping the country fast enough, Thomas Jefferson offered a well-reasoned rejoinder. “When we reflect how difficult it is to move or to infect the great machine of society,” he wrote, “we see the wisdom of Solon’s remark that no more good must be attempted than the nation can bear.”

The 36th President of the U.S. has reached much the same conclusion.

“Let’s keep our eyes on the stars,” he once said, “and do the possible.”

*Tennessean Andrew Johnson never was elected in his own right; Virginia-born Woodrow Wilson left the South at 26; Texas-born Ike, as a career soldier, never really had a home, but gave Kansas as his address.

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