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Nation: Multiple Exposure

4 minute read

Waiting in the Garden for the President last week were officials from the National Forensic League who were resolved to make the President an honorary member. This was eminently fitting, for if Lyndon Johnson isn’t the best forensicist around, he will do until a better one comes along.

For the Forensic officials, he had a little story. “I think the greatest disappointment that I ever experienced was not in being defeated in a political campaign, but in losing a state championship of Texas the first year that I coached debating. I always attributed the loss to the fact that I drew the wrong side of the subject instead of the right side. We had a subject: Resolved, that the jury system should be abolished. My team drew the affirmative, but the people weren’t ready to abolish the jury system, although it was wavering for a while when my speakers were attacking it. When they brought in the votes, the first vote was affirmative, and that pleased me. The next one was negative, the next vote was affirmative, the next one was negative, and there was a great deal of suspense there for a moment. The next vote was negative—and I got sick at my stomach.”

The Open Road. The President also delivered a rousing speech to a meeting of the Alliance for Progress ambassadors (see THE HEMISPHERE), and buttonholed a group of businessmen on the subject of civil rights and equal employment. For the businessmen he had a joke, although its relevance was not quite clear. “I heard the story last night of a woman who telephoned her bank,” he said. “She wanted to arrange for the disposal of a $1,000 bond. The clerk asked her, ‘Madam, is the bond for redemption or conversion?’ There was a long pause, and the woman said, ‘Well, am I talking to the First National Bank or the First Baptist Church?’ ”

To a visiting contingent of farm editors, the President had words of encouragement for the farming community, made it a point to slip in a reminder that the farmers have one of their kind in the White House. “I never forget,” he recalled, “the road of opportunity. I have walked from my father’s tenant farmhouse, where I was born 56 years ago, to the White House, where I am today. I want to keep that road open for children today, whether they live on hard-rock farms along the Pedernales River, or whether they grow up on hard, concrete sidewalks.” Whereupon he invited the editors on a tour of his private quarters, exhibiting his green pajamas and dressing robe laid out on his bed, and Lady Bird’s own bed, without a spread on it. All the while, he rambled on, mostly about beef prices. “I’ve got a good many more registered bulls than I can sell,” he complained. “I hate to be feeding them all year.”

Free Advice. And then he was out in the Garden again to present the William Randolph Hearst Foundation’s annual intercollegiate journalism awards to some budding newsmen.

“I was a college editor once,” said Lyndon. “But as you can see, I did not do as well as you have done, so I did the next best thing and went into politics. William Allen White once said that the newspaper is the embodiment of democracy. I guess this explains why newspapermen are so free in their advice about how to run the country. Someone said the other day that I was seeing the press so much that they were worried about my overexposure. I am not sure whose overexposure they meant—mine or the press’s. I enjoy seeing the press. I learn much from reporters. In the White House press corps alone, there are at least half a dozen experts already on animal husbandry. It was Wendell Phillips who said that we live under a government of men and morning newspapers. Mr. Phillips apparently lived before there were afternoon newspapers.” And—he might have added—before the Administration of Lyndon Johnson, who knows how to get his name in the papers all day long.

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