The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 107, July 2003 - April, 2004

Four Years and a World of Difference: The
Evolution of Lyndon Johnson and American
Foreign Policy
MITCHELL LERNER*
IT DON'T BELIEVE THAT I'LL EVER GET CREDIT FOR ANYTHING IN FOREIGN
affairs no matter how successful it is," LyndonJohnson once told jour-
nalist Hugh Sidey, "because I didn't go to Harvard." It is classic LBJ, a man
who, despite a myriad of abilities and accomplishments, longed for the
approval of the Eastern establishment. Not just a native Texan, but a native
Texan from a poor, sparsely populated region, Johnson had been raised by
parents with deep historic and emotional ties to the state. When he made
his mark on the national political scene, he found it impossible to escape
the popular images that accompanied such a background. For the rest
of his political life, he confronted a simplistic image of himself rooted
in the picture of the classic Texas gunslinger: aggressive and unyield-
ing; committed to the defense of good against evil; unable or unwilling
to recognize the subtle nuances of the world around him; and, of
course, prone to violence. "As a Texan," wrote historian John Milton
Cooper, "he evoked images of the South and the West. He alternately
cultivated and cursed those images, according to whether they helped
or hurt him politically. But he could not escape them. His frequent pri-
vate invocations of a heroic Texan heritage, particularly the Alamo leg-
end, indicated how faithfully his outward appearance as a nonmetro-
politan, nonsophisticated, nonfashionable figure reflected inner reali-
ty." This background shaped him, and the perception of him by others,
for the rest of his political career. "People," wrote historian Paul
Conkin, "viewed him as a Texan, and filled in all the images that they
associated with that identity."2
* Mitchell Lerner is an assistant professor of history at the Ohio State University.
' Thomas Schwartz, "Lyndon Johnson and Europe," in H. W. Brands (ed.), Beyond Vietnam
(College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1999), 38 (1st quotation); Paul Conkin, BzgDaddy
from the Pedernales (Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1986), viii (2nd quotation).
2 Conkin, Bag Daddy from the Pedernales, 8.
VOL. CVII, No. 1 SOUTHWESTERN HISTORICAL QUARTERLY JULY, 2003

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 107, July 2003 - April, 2004. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101224/. Accessed August 22, 2014.