There is no U.S. president that I have more mixed feelings about than Lyndon Baines Johnson. LBJ assumed the presidency in 1963 after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I was 13 at the time. He would remain president for most of my teenage years. I was approaching the age of 18, which at the time meant conscription, the draft, a possible unwanted tour of Vietnam. LBJ inherited that war but he perpetuated and escalated it. I hated him for it. At protest marches against the war we would chant, “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”
It took quite awhile for me to appreciate the things that LBJ did. His presidency included more landmark progressive legislation than anyone else I can think of. He signed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. During his administration Medicare and Medicaid were created, legislation was passed addressing fair housing, immigration reform, clean air and clean water.
The LBJ Museum and Library on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin addresses the enigma of LBJ, albeit in an ever so gentle way. The war is presented from the viewpoint of the president. More than once I saw the quote, “I can’t win it, and I can’t get out.” It’s the latter part of that sentence than many of us would take issue with.