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Presidents Kennedy and Johnson



     Tor Guimaraes echoes my concern about the media and says:
     Since this is a very broad topic which needs dissection before analysis, I suggest the group address issues such as: Has the media always been so entertainment oriented rather than informational? Should societies guard more carefully media ownership to ensure its information value lest special interests buy it to promote their own ends and undermine democracy?
     Well, here is a start: C-Spanīs "American Presidents" series dealing with Lyndon B. Johnson opened with a replay of a program chaired by John Chancellor (now deceased) in which he and some dozen "reporters" (White House correspondents) recalled the president. Both he and they came off very well. The correspondents were intelligent, well-informed, balanced, and witty. I plan to circulate a posting proposing that these "faction writers" be eligible for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
     Johnson came across as genuinely devoted to creating a great society. Had it not been for Vietnam, he would have gone down in history as a great president. His problem was that he was essentially a crude country boy. He felt that the Harvard people left over from the Kennedy regime scorned him, and indeed they did. This was true of Kennedy himself and his brother Bobby, whose hope of being his vice-presidential running mate he rejected.
     This has changed completely. In the old days, Easterners despised anyone not from the East. Harvard is not now in a class by itself. When I went there after World War II, the old genteel dinner customs had disappeared, replaced by typical American cafeteria mores. We at Stanford of course look down on Harvard, and Texas has the right to stare Harvard in the eye.
     All the reporters agreed that Johnsonīs week point was his lack of understanding international affairs. Flying back from the Far East on Air Force One, he said to the reporters: "Ya know, I just don't understand these foreigners." He shocked the world when he did not attend Churchill's funeral. He said "Why should I attend another funeral?" These are just two of the stories with which the reporters regaled the audience.
     The C-Span program on President Johnson forced me to re-evaluate my comparison between him and Kennedy. Certainly Lady Bird, who was watching from a hospital, is regarded by all as a better person than Jackie, who was obsessed with money. She allegedly gave glamour to the Camelot White House, but it was largely tinsel. Kennedy's pronouncements did not ring quite convincingly. The crowd applauded when he made his famous remark "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country..." If he had continued "I therefore find it necessary to impose a special tax to meet the country's needs...", the response would have been quite different. Although not spoken with a Harvard accent, Johnson's expressions of concern for the poor could not have been more sincere. Judge a book by the contents, not by the cover.

Ronald Hilton - 11/16/99


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