Doris Kearns Goodwin in “Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream" writes of a man who became unhinged during his last year of office, refusing to acknowledge reality, and leading America on a disastrous course.
Of all things, two years earlier, in 1966, LBJ was on the cusp of leaving a legacy as one of the greatest Presidents in history. Dr Goodwin paints a picture of a man with an over-sized personality who enjoyed an unbroken string of political successes over a three-decade span. But she also mentions that behind the mask of success was a man with many insecurities, sometimes barely able to hold it together.
In 1968, he found himself unable to preside over a deeply divided nation, embroiled in an unwinnable war, his legacy in ruins. This time, he could not hold it together. He left office the next year a broken man, never to return to public life. He died four years later.
The 1972 Election Campaign
One of my personal heroes, George McGovern, died today. In the campaign against Richard Nixon, McGovern chose as his running mate, Thomas Eagleton, then was forced to dump him when news surfaced of his ECT years earlier.
It has been speculated that McGovern might have kept Eagleton as his running mate had only his depression been disclosed. Of all things, Joshua Shenk points out in “Lincoln’s Melancholy,” when Lincoln ran for President, his depression not only was public knowledge but was regarded as a character asset, as something he rose above, much like his modest roots.
Ironically, McGovern lost to Richard Nixon, a man with a highly successful first term, but in no mental shape for a second term. Woodward and Bernstein in “The Final Days” fully document an strange and erratic and ultimately very lonely man with his paranoia unleashed, finally forced to resign in disgrace.
Is Obama Too Normal?
Nassir Ghaemi in “A First-Rate Madness” makes a strong case for the right kind of crazy as a job requirement for leaders in a time of crisis. According to Ghaemi, “normal” leaders are for normal times. When crisis looms, the situation calls for people who thrive in dangerous circumstances, who think outside the box, display passion, make decisions, and rally the troops. Of all things, these people stay sane while everyone else falls apart. Lincoln and Churchill are two of his poster boys.
Nixon, of all things, was Ghaemi’s “normal” poster boy. It’s a paradox. According to Ghaemi, he faced stress and crisis as a normal person would: By adopting a defensive crouch and denying everything.
In his book, Ghaemi makes a passing reference to “No Drama Obama.” You would think that an economic crisis would call for a leader of unflappable temperament, right? Indeed, after the 2008 election, I made this very point in a post here on HealthCentral. According to Joe Joe Klein, writing of Obama in Time magazine: "His preternatural calm has proved reassuring ... "