Could a 'White Southerner' Lead the U.S. in 1964?
Tapes Reveal LBJ's Self-Doubt

Former President Lyndon B. Johnson Former President Lyndon B. Johnson talks on the phone in this Jan. 10, 1964 White House photograph (AP Photo)


I think people have a mistaken judgment. They think I want great power. What I want is great solace, a little love. That's all I want.
Lyndon Johnson, Summer 1964



LBJ on doubts about his ability to lead the nation
LBJ on doubts about his ability to lead the nation
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On not wanting
On not wanting "the power of the bomb"
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On his lack of support in the South and the North
On his lack of support in the South and the North
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By Evan Schuman
Special to ABCNEWS.com
As the Democratic National Convention was about to convene in the summer of 1964, Lyndon Johnson was so full of doubts about his ability to run the country that he said even GOP nominee Barry Goldwater might make a better president.
    
Newly released tapes of phone conversations between the former president and associates show that Johnson, at least briefly, did not think he could lead a country bitterly divided over the burning issues of race and the U.S. military presence in Vietnam.
     In a conversation, Johnson was told that if he decides to not seek re-election, he would be making Goldwater the next president. "Well, that's all right. I don't care," Johnson said. "I think he can do better than I can."
     "I have a desire to unite people," the president went on, in one of many taped phone conversations released Friday by Johnson's presidential library in Austin. "The South is against me and the North is against me and the Negroes are against me and the press doesn't really have any affection for me. I don't think a white Southerner is the man to unite this nation in this hour."
     In the tapes-which dealt with Johnson conversations from July 1 through Aug. 21, 1964-Johnson spoke passionately about his not wanting to bear the weight of the presidency. "I don't want this power of the bomb. I just don't want these decisions I am being required to make. I don't want the conniving that is required," he said. "I don't want the disloyalty that's around. I don't want the bundling and the inefficiencies of our people. All of them talk too much."
     "There are just bound to be a lot of people who don't have these doubts and these angers and these barnacles and these things I have to carry. The nation ought to have the chance to get the best (president) available," he said. "That's who I want my children to have and I know I'm not."
     Ultimately, it was a letter from Lady Bird Johnson that convinced him to accept the nomination.
     Many of Johnson's concerns revolved around his inability to rally support from black communities.
     "I am very convinced that the Negroes will not listen to me. They're not going to follow a white Southerner and I think that the stakes are too big to try and compromise," he said, adding that he also doubted that he "could ever satisfy the Northern Jews and Catholics and the union people."
     Other than the intensity of his dislike of the presidency, little new information was revealed with the release of these tapes, said Linda Hanson, a Johnson archivist.
     Indeed, many of the released tapes were illustrations of Johnson's legendary political skills. In one conversation, for example, Johnson was speaking with an unidentified member of Congress about his poverty bill and wanting to know whether military action would help.
     "What effect is our asking Congress for a resolution to support us in Southeast Asia and bombing the hell out of the Vietnamese tonight, " he said. "What effect will that have on this bill? Will it kill it or help it?"
     Johnson even showed a rarely-seen, but intense, need to be liked. "I think people have a mistaken judgment. They think I want great power," he said. "What I want is great solace, a little love. That's all I want."







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