Lyndon Johnson was an extraordinary man -- of that there can be little doubt -- but like many ambitious political leaders,...


THE VANTAGE POINT: Perspectives of the Presidency 1963-1969

Lyndon Johnson was an extraordinary man -- of that there can be little doubt -- but like many ambitious political leaders, his methods curdled his basic decency and to many he became a monster in his own time. This historic memoir -- must reading for anyone with pretentions to understanding the Johnson years illuminates the enormous gulf between the simple virtues Johnson the man espoused and the conspiratorial politics Johnson the president employed. Tragedy shadowed his flawed presidency and it hovers over this dignified, self-serving ""perspective"" like an old crony: the highest office was achieved by the cruelest circumstances, so bizarre that an aide could only say, in the wake of presidential assassination, thank God the Governor of Texas was hit too; and the contemporary struggle for legal and moral equality for blacks, tire poor, the under-educated was joined as never before by a man who put away or outgrew his sectional heritage only to have the greatness of that achievement defoliated in Vietnam. But Johnson puts the best face on it he can; early on he disavows any effort at ""pamphleteering"" but always his heart's eye is on history. For instance, he is effusive about his loyalty to John Kennedy, then deftly attempts to pin the Vietnam rap on him: ""I made a solemn private vow: I would devote every hour of every day during the remainder of John Kennedy's unfulfilled term to achieving the goals he had set. That meant seeing things through in Vietnam. . . ."" There are also many postures and many fatuous maneuvers here, so characteristic of the LBJ legerdemain -- he reproduces letters from little old ladies applauding his war policy; he wallows in twisted pride at having fooled Tom Wicker and the press establishment about running in 1968. It would be easy to ridicule this beset man who so craved adulation and acceptance but most of all atonement for real and imagined guilts: those two scarred regions, the American South and Vietnam, dominate this personal history; the Kennedy murder envelops it. Many will read this for new revelations and there are some, however minimal, e.g., a confidential memo from Lady Bird advising him to seek a full term in '64 even though ""You may die earlier than you would otherwise."" Essentially however the meal of this summing up is found between-the-lines: the injury of Lyndon Johnson suffuses the wide cracks in this shrewd, defensive, telling autobiography of a failed presidency.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1971


Page Count: -

Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1971