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A Lady Bird and family, 1948 LBJ Library collection “condoned them.” A taped phone conversation Russell listened to caught Bird saying to Douglas, “I like for women to like him, and I like him to like them.” Lyndon was a bully and abused people. “Ours was a compelling love,” Bird told Russell on her porch in Austin. “Lyndon bullied me, coaxed me, at times even ridiculed me, but he made me more than I would have been. I offered him some peace and quiet, maybe a little judgment.” Bird is also quoted: “He would sometimes say cruel things to me. I had more calmness and justice than he did at times.” One evening in the late thirties the Johnsons went to the movie, The Grapes of Wrath. In the darkness Bird heard Lyndon sobbing loudly, and took his hand and squeezed it. “He always wanted me to be lively and healthy and in good spirits and have my lipstick on,” she said. “That’s what I tried to be.” Russell quotes her staffer Ashton Gonella: “She always believed in him. I think the fact that she just always had a smile on her face, was always glad to see any friend that was his friend at any hour of the day or night she was not a complaining-type female.” Bird served Lyndon coffee along with the morning paper in bed every morning, took care of his clothes, paid the bills. When Russell asked her if she resented doing any of this she replied, “Heavens no, I was delighted to do it. I adored him.” Concerning Lyndon Johnson’s attitude toward women, George Reedy told Russell: “Johnson really did identify with poor people and with blacks and Mexican Americans…. But the idea of a really liberated woman was beyond him. He thought the way to liberate women was to get them married and to give their husbands good jobs. The rest of it pretending to take women seriously that was just snake oil.” Concerning Lyndon’s attitude toward men, Nancy Dickerson, the NBC correspondent, interviewed him in 1960 when he was angry and despondent because Kennedy had just won the presidential nomination, and what Johnson told her, quoted by Russell from Dickerson’s oral history transcript, is sobering. “I am like a wild animal,” he said. “I keep myself on a very tight leash. My instinct is always to go for the jugular. Sometimes I have an uncanny way in life to be able to hit the jugular of most men, but I keep myself on a tight leash.” Lady Bird’s role as First Lady, beautifying Washington, D.C. and fostering the planting of wildflowers, really flowed from her husband’s assignment of her to do “beauty.” She threw herself into it causing two million daffodil bulbs to be planted, rebuilding the hike-and-bike trail along Austin’s Colorado River, founding the Wildflower Research Center nearby accepting and fulfilling another of the roles her husband assigned her. Jan Russell is a Baptist from East Texas, but also a feminist, and she judges Lyndon and Bird in both Baptist and feminist terms. She writes of Lyndon’s “sexual betrayal,” his inability to give Bird loyalty, his “hypersexuality”; she quotes an unnamed aide describing him as a “sexual gorilla.” Nadine Brammer told her that one day Johnson was helping her get out of the back seat of the car, and “as I leaned over to get out, he took the opportunity to feel me up it happened so fast I didn’t even have a chance to complain.” Russell asks about this: “Why did female staff members put up with such treatment?” Finally, she asks wonderingly why Lady Bird never left Lyndon. I am impelled by these judgments to reflect that we need to re consider all the categories of judging in sexual matters. We need to devise new and subtler ways, which should start, I think, on the foundation of what the French say, when they are discussing the sexual behavior of others: “I wasn’t holding the candle.” On the evidence of what she told Jan, I believe Bird never left Lyndon because she loved him. Jan recounts a story from the fifties that Reedy told her: “Late one evening, Reedy saw Lady Bird and Lyndon walking down a road near the Pedernales River on the ranch. Lady Bird was holding his hand and had the most blissful look on her face. It was clear to Reedy how devoted Lady Bird was to him, despite his ill treatment. She seemed content to have him home, away from Washington.” After giving Lyndon a critique of his 1968 State of the Union address, Bird said before hanging up the phone, “And I love you very much.” Busby told Russell that not long after Lyndon died Bird told him at the ranch, “You know what I miss most? He was so funny, so very funny, and I miss the way he made us all laugh.” Lady Bird Johnson was born in a cage and flew into another one, before feminism came to us all with its mission and work to liberate half the human race. She stood by her husband, doing as he told her and championing his causes, as he became the most liberal President in domestic policy since Franklin Roosevelt. On Vietnam, as on everything in public, she followed out his script in total loyalty, joining, for example, in his public abuse of the demonstrators against the war. She later told her staff, Russell reports: “I couldn’t handle the war in Vietnam. I wasn’t big enough.” Jan asked Bird if she believes in heaven. “Oh, yes, I do,” Bird said. “I do know that there is something hereafter, because all this has been too significant, too magnificent, for there not to be something after. Heaven, to me, is a mystery, a place I’ll know what all this the events of my life meant.” That would be heaven indeed, and I hope if it’s there she makes it. Would she find Lyndon there? I wasn’t holding the candle. [1] Ronnie Dugger was the founding editor of the Observer, is the national co-chairman of the Alliance for Democracy, and the author of The Politician: The Life and Times of Lyndon Johnson, and other books. He can be reached at [email protected] . 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER OCTOBER 1, 1999