An American Tragedy
Time’s 1967 Man of the Year featured a grotesque caricature of Lyndon Johnson as Lear. His Presidency was coming apart at the seams and he was beset on every side from opposition within his party and without. “How the mighty have fallen” best sums up his unforeseen collapse.
LBJ became the thirty-sixth President of the US following the assassination of JFK. A year and a bit later, he assumed office in his own right, with the largest mandate in history up to that time. In his early days, he ushered in sweeping and unprecedented civil rights reforms, as well as an ambitious agenda to eliminate poverty. He was on his way to becoming the greatest President since Franklin Roosevelt.
But he over-reached by sending more than a half-million troops to Vietnam. As the war dragged on and US casualties mounted, the normally ebullient Johnson sunk into depression, at a loss to fathom why Ho Chi Minh didn’t just quit. Meanwhile, public attitudes polarized into the worst division of opinion since the US Civil War. A generation of youth who had followed JFK’s call to serve their country became disillusioned. Their parents, who had taken up arms when asked to do so, over time would also suffer a crisis of faith.
LBJ had bitten off way more than he could chew. His vision and moral compass and over-sized personality, which had served him so well in the early days of his Presidency, this time became his undoing. Three months after the Lear cover, Johnson announced he would not seek re-election. There was little left for him to preside over other than the death of the liberal and idealistic values he so cherished. The stage was set for four decades of unmitigated conservatism and cynicism.
Sometimes bipolar can be a disaster for everyone.