LBJ with Sen. Everett Dirksen Y. R. Okam o to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, the secretary of state, and the secretary of defense. At about the same time, after my duties on the Kerner Commission had ended, I was asking the same questions and getting the same disturbing answers. I left the ranks of those supporting the war. Johnson did not take kindly to my defection. But at the last, on the Saturday before Richard Nixon’s inauguration, I went down to the White House to see Johnson and bid him farewell. We talked for a leisurely hour or so, as, outside, boxes were being filled with files and personal effects and carted away. Once, we were interrupted by an aide who said that Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall was outside and wanted to see’ -the President about signing a paper to create a new national park. But Johnson would not see Udall. “Fred, everybody is wanting me to sign something at the last minute,” the President told me. “They should have thought of it earlier. Hell, if I signed some of the things people have pushed at me, I’d .go to the penitentiary. I’m just not gonna do it.” Johnson told me, then, that his main regret as president was that he had not been able to pick his own cabinet members at first. He envied Richard Nixon’s freedom to do so. “But,” he said in his characteristic, somewhat embarrassing style, “John Kennedy would have looked down from heaven and would never have forgiven me if I had turned his people out.” Then he added a comment which I thought made more sense: “I had to keep his cabinet in order to maintain some continuity.” Back home Johnson repeated that same thought to me when I visited him at his Texas ranch in April, 1969. I was by then chairperson of the Democratic National Committee. He agreed to see me only on condition that the meeting be kept secret; he did not want the press to write that he was trying to interfere in political or party affairs. We spent the whole day together, driving around the ranch in his yellow Lincoln convertible, with the top down, visiting his birthplace, touring his home, and just sitting around, having a cold beer, and eating lunch. The President knew the history of each kind of deer that roamed his mesquite-grown acres. “Now, you see that deer there; that’s one that Prince Sihanouk sent me from Cambodia,” he would say. He had detailed knowledge about everything and everybody on the ranch. Once he stopped as we passed a young chicano boy. “Manuel,” the President said, “are you still trying to sell that pony?” The boy said he was. “What are you wantin’ 20 The Texas Observer for him?” When the boy named a figure, the President said, “Too much.” Later, we stopped at a grain drill being worked on by one of the ranch employees. “Are you going to have enough pasture mix to finish out the field?” Johnson asked the worker. The man said he didn’t think so. “Finish the rest out with oats, then,” Johnson said. The President was proud of his Texas home, and he took me through it, acting as a tour guide. “Now this is Bird’s bedroom,” he said, as we entered a spacious, airy room with a king-sized bed. Lady Bird could be seen through the glass doors, out in the yard by the swimming pool, working on some papers or correspondence. Johnson picked up some loose pages from her bed. “Now, look at this,” he said. I believe the date on the page he showed me was for some time in March, 1967. “Bird’s working on her diary, and it says right here that she is looking forward to a year from this day, when we can announce we will leave the White House.” Indeed, the entry did state something like that. I was aware that this was a big point with Johnson; he wanted it known that he had voluntarily left office that he had not been driven out. He took me into his bathroom. “Look at this mirror,” he said. “Have you ever seen anything like that? It magnifies everything and makes it easy to shave.”‘ He made me try the mirror, and he was right. We went into his walk-in closet, where there was a long row of boots and shoes and a long rack of shirts and suits. Hanging on a stand in the corner were a large number of ties, already tied. “Now, let me show you something,” Johnson said, picking up one of the ties and demonstrating as he talked, sliding the knot of the tie up and down. “When you take off your tie, just leave it tied, and it’ll be ready the next time.” I tried to joke with him, saying I was reminded of the way I had first gone off to college, taking two ties my dad had pre-tied for me because I didn’t know how to make the knot. “Saves a lot of trouble and time,” Johnson said, unimpressed with my humor. “But you’ve got to remember always to slip the knot back up after you take the tie off; otherwise, it’ll leave a wrinkle.” The President told me that he had sold all the assets he , didn’t need and borrowed all the money he could borrow, because he was sure that Nixon was going to bring on a recession. “I know the bankers that backed him, and the first sign of the coming recession is gonna be high interest rates,” Johnson said. He asked me not to quote him on this, because he hoped he would prove wrong, and he didn’t want to cause a panic by anything he might say. Johnson was hurt about Clark Clifford. Townsend Hoopes had just published a book in which he detailed how Clifford, a hawk before he had become Johnson’s secretary of defense, had been the main force in causing the President’s latter-day bombing halt in Vietnam, which got peace talks going. President Johnson felt constrained to deny that Clifford had played such a key role. I thought his protest too strong. “Clark Clifford and one or two others have been running to The Washington Post, leaking like a sieve, saying they were the ones that changed my mind on the war,” Johnson said, and he obviously felt strongly, very strongly, about the subject. “Why, Clark Clifford didn’t even know what I was going to say in that last television speech Ithe one in which Johnson announced a partial bombing halt and said that he would not run for re-election] until he heard me say it. Tom Johnson [an aide] and I were just going over the cabinet minutes today, working on my book, and it was Dean Rusk who made the motion for the bombing halt. Dean Rusk is the best man I ever had.” I didn’t see him again until about a year before his death, when he came to Oklahoma to dedicate yet another reservoir that was part of Senator Kerr’s Arkansas River navigation project. Lady Bird was with him. Both of them were relaxed, and seemed to enjoy themselves. At a small, private luncheon outdoors, LaDonna and I had a light and enjoyable conversation with them. Johnson’s gray hair was long and wavy in the back. There was a built-in hearing aid in one earpiece of his glasses. “Luci has always been crazy about that dog, Yuki, and she’s writing an article for Ladies’ Home Journal about him,” the
You May Also Like
The Texas Rangers are tasked with investigating corruption and crimes by public officials. Those officials are rarely held accountable.