Tapes show different sides of LBJ
October 12, 1997
Web posted at: 7:45 p.m. EDT (2345 GMT)
From Correspondent Bruce Morton
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- More than three decades after they were
recorded, audio tapes made by Lyndon Johnson during his
presidency reveal several different Johnsons.
There is Johnson the wheedler, getting a barber to come down
from New York to cut his hair. There is Johnson the bully,
castigating press secretary George Reedy after a TelePrompTer
And, in a poignant exchange, there is Johnson the father,
talking parent-to-parent with Jacqueline Kennedy about his
daughter Luci, who wanted a unique birthday present -- a day
without the Secret Service.
"Did you arrange it?" Mrs. Kennedy asked.
"Oh, yeah, I arranged it," Johnson said. "Good work," she
"What do you reckon happened?" Johnson said.
"I'd hate to think, and don't you," she said.
The issue that came to consume the Johnson presidency was the
Vietnam War. On tape, the late president laments that the
United States was getting into another Korea and "it just
worries the hell out of me."
"Of course, if you start running from the communists, they
may just chase you right into your own kitchen," he said.
||Johnson the President
The situation in Vietnam
"It just worries the hell out of me ..."
AIFF or WAV
(101 K / 5 sec. audio)
"They just chase you into your own kitchen ..."
AIFF or WAV
(105 K / 5 sec. audio)
||Johnson the Dad
Speaking with Jackie Kennedy
"A special birthday present ..."
AIFF or WAV
(478 K / 22 sec. audio)
As seen on CNN
There are also affectionate moments on the tapes between
Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird. On one occasion, as Johnson
was about to announce that he had ordered the first bombing
of North Vietnam, she called "merely to tell you I loved you.
At the 1964 Democratic Convention, Johnson can be heard in a
conversation in which he discussed whether to tell the
delegates that he wouldn't run for another term. "I don't
want these decisions I'm required to make, and I don't want
the conniving that's required," he said.
Concerned about the country's divide over civil rights, he
laments that he had lost the support of white Southerners
while, at the same time, blacks would not listen to him
either. "They're not going to follow a white Southerner, and
I think the stakes are too big to try and compromise," he
But Johnson did run in 1964 and won in a landslide. During
the next four years, under his leadership, civil rights and
voting rights legislation did pass.
But in the end, what he couldn't figure out was a way out of
the war that gnawed at him and which finally destroyed his
Looking back over that history, his taped words on the
subject from years before seem almost prophetic: "What is
Vietnam worth to me?"