The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 107, July 2003 - April, 2004 Page: 70
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
There is no doubt that much of this claim is accurate. LBJ's Texas
background affected him in ways that deeply influenced his political
career, especially after the assassination of President John Kennedy,
when the stark contrast between Johnson's own past and that of the man
he was replacing was so clearly on display. It was "the Hill country of
Texas," wrote one biographer, "that gave him a sense of identity, that
served as a refuge and at times as a source of strength, [but] also nour-
ished a sense of inferiority." Accordingly, LBJ longed for any evidence
that he had been accepted by those who, like the Kennedys and their
advisors, seemed to have been born to lead. "His envy for the glamour
that surrounded the Kennedys in life and the adulation that attended
them in death was Shakespearean," recalled advisor Joseph Califano.
"He yearned for appreciation from the Ivy League intellectuals whose
ideas he had turned into law." And yet, it was an approval that would
prove elusive. "The greatest bigots in the world," Johnson later com-
plained to his friend Harry Middleton, "are the Democrats on the East
Side of New York ... I don't think any man from Johnson City, Texas,
can survive very long."
Despite the self-pitying tone of LBJ's lament, it should not be dismissed
as mere sour grapes. Many of his contemporaries, and many subsequent
historians, have embraced this notion of LBJ the Texas gunslinger, a man
whose lack of education, sophistication, and training, placed serious con-
straints on his abilities as president. Such a perception has shaped the
contours of the debate about his policies, especially those in the interna-
tional realm. The fact remains that thirty-five years after he left office,
Johnson's foreign policies are greeted with much derision by both the
historical community and the public at large. Although no overwhelming
consensus has emerged, historians have generally found much to praise
in Johnson's domestic policies, but have castigated his work overseas. A
1996 New York Times survey, for example, led to Arthur Schlesinger Jr.'s
conclusion that LBJ was a difficult president to evaluate, because scholars
found his "domestic and foreign record so discordant."4
Although the disparaging conclusions have remained largely con-
stant, the specific critique of LBJ the diplomat has evolved over time. In
the earliest versions, the president was usually seen as being simply
Conkin, Bag Daddy from the Pedernales, xi (1st quotation); Joseph Califano, The Triumph and
Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991), 341 (2nd quotation); and
Lyndon B. Johnson to Harry Middleton, "Reminiscences of President LBJ," Aug. 19, 1969, tran-
script (Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, Austin, Texas; hereafter cited as LBJ
Library) (3rd quotation). Dean Rusk agreed, telling Glenn Seaborg m 1986 that much of the
doubt about Johnson's foreign policy abilities stemmed from, "A sort of snobbishness that a
number of people on the Northeastern seaboard had toward LBJ." See Glenn Seaborg, Stemming
the Tide (NewYork: D C. Heath, 1987), 14.
4 "The Ultimate Approval Rating," New York Tzmes Magazzne, 6 (Dec. 15, 1996), 48.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 107, July 2003 - April, 2004, periodical, 2004; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101224/m1/88/: accessed November 21, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.