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U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson Description and Personality Part 2

About the U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, his physical and description and personality and behavior.

36th President

LYNDON BAINES JOHNSON

The one form of relaxation that he thoroughly enjoyed won him some bad publicity during the early days of his presidency. At the LBJ Ranch, Johnson kept a tan Lincoln Continental, and he loved to get behind the wheel and burn up long stretches of Texas highway at speeds of over 90 mph. Once he took a number of female reporters along with him on one of his joyrides. They began to gasp as the car accelerated, so LBJ chortled and covered the speedometer with his hat. Passing on a hill, the President blithely forced an oncoming car onto the shoulder. He also enjoyed driving out among the placid cattle on his ranch, honking his horn, and bearing down with his speeding car until the frightened animals scattered in every direction.

A key element of LBJ's leadership was the famous "Johnson treatment." No president has been so celebrated for his powers of persuasion in face-to-face confrontations. A combination of flattery, cajolery, logic, sentimentality, and threats, the Johnson treatment also included a measure of physical assault. As one victim recalled: "Lyndon got me by the lapels and put his face on top of mine and he talked and talked and talked. I figured it was either getting drowned or joining." In Johnson's gentler moments, a visitor in his office might find a massive hand suddenly grabbing his knee or slowly massaging his shoulder in order to bring him around.

Johnson often shocked official Washington with his public displays of cruelty to his aides. He once publicly addressed his press secretary, George Reedy, as "you stupid son of a bitch." The most loyal member of Johnson's staff was jack Valenti, about whom it was said, "If LBJ dropped the H-bomb, Valenti would call it an urban renewal project." The loyalty only seemed to invite Johnson's humiliating public rages. On one occasion he shouted, "I thought I told you, Jack, to fix this fucking doorknob!" Once when Valenti walked into the Oval Office, he was greeted with "Where the goddam hell ya been? How many times have I got to tell you not to leave your desk without telling me where you're going?" The President's discourtesy was extended even to low-ranking White House employees. In May of 1964, a minor secretary with a messy desk got a note from the President: "Get this desk cleaned up right away or else I'll come back tonight and do it myself." Johnson also upset aides with his habit of adjourning a conversation to the bathroom when the need arose. Those who were reluctant to follow him to the toilet were a source of great amusement to him. He frequently recounted a story about "one of the delicate Kennedyites who came into the bathroom with me and then found it utterly impossible to look at me while I sat there on the toilet. You'd think he had never seen those parts of the body before. For there he was, standing as far away from me as he possibly could, keeping his back toward me the whole time, trying to carry on a conversation. I could barely hear a word he said. I kept straining my ears and then finally I asked him to come a little closer to me. Then began the most ludicrous scene I had ever witnessed. Instead of simply turning around and walking over to me, he kept his face away from me and walked backward, one rickety step at a time. For a moment there I thought he was going to run right into me. It certainly made me wonder how that man had made it so far in the world."

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