Robert Dallek’s “Limited Hangout” Revelations on LBJ’s Intrinsic Dishonesty and Duplicity

And Some Rare Glimpses of Truth and Honesty from Bill Moyers

Some excerpts from Robert Dallek’s 1998 article “Three New Revelations About LBJ” in The Atlantic magazine

Robert Dallek Describes How LBJ Agonized About Vietnam

The first sentence of Robert Dallek’s article over two decades ago must have startled many readers: “URINATING in a sink, inviting people into his bathroom, showing off his abdominal scar, exposing his private parts: after a while nothing surprises a biographer of Lyndon Baines Johnson.”

Dallek’s opportunity to promote his second book on Lyndon Johnson facilitated by his fealty to official guidelines drawn by the politically-correct tinkers at the “Deep State” HQ was used to whet the appetites of potential readers of the book titled “Flawed Giant.” That title was undoubtedly chosen to suggest that it would titillate the reader into thinking that this book would finally reveal the darkest secrets about Lyndon B. Johnson which everyone knew existed, though few could imagine just how dark they actually were.

And that book did venture farther down that path than most previous biographers had gone. At least it actually mentioned the name “Billie Sol Estes,” LBJ’s close partner in criminal frauds against the federal government unlike most other purported “biographies” on the 36th POTUS. Unfortunately though, the details of their crimes were omitted and Estes who in 1984-85 merely wanted to atone for his transgressions and redeem his personal reputation was dismissed as having “no more credibility than all the rumors about Johnson and Estes; the FBI’s investigation of these charges turned up nothing”[1] (Which was not unlike so many of the other Hoover-era FBI’s so-called “investigations,” including the infamous one on JFK’s assassination which was replete with fabrications and deletions, while ignoring credible witnesses yet including many who were distinctly non-credible ditto those of the RFK and MLK murders as well).

The excerpts presented below illustrate some of the “limited hang-outs” Dallek did reveal regarding LBJ’s personal excesses and tormented psyche:[2]

Johnson had “an unfillable hole in his ego,” [Bill] Moyers says. Feelings of emptiness spurred him to eat, drink, and smoke to excess. Sexual conquests also helped to fill the void. He was a competitive womanizer. When people mentioned Kennedy’s many affairs, Johnson would bang the table and declare that he had more women by accident than Kennedy ever had on purpose.

Acknowledging the failure of a policy that by 1969 had cost 30,000 American lives was more than someone with so fragile an ego could manage [ . . . ] “It was a pronounced, prolonged depression,” Moyers adds. “He would just go within himself, just disappear — morose, self-pitying, angry…. He was a tormented man,” who described himself to Moyers as being in a Louisiana swamp that was “pulling me down.” “When he said it,” Moyers remembers, “he was lying in bed with the covers almost above his head.”

I asked Moyers if others in the White House were as troubled by Johnson’s behavior as he and Goodwin. Yes, Moyers replied, and “when they were deeply concerned about his behavior, they would call me Cabinet officers and others. Rusk would call me and tell me about some exchange he just had with the President that was very disturbing, and he would say that he seemed to be very depressed.”

Top Aide – Sychophant Moyers with LBJ

As far as it goes, within these excerpts, Moyers did provide some troubling insights into what was going on in the White House during LBJ’s reign, undoubtedly triggered, in part, by the “unpatriotic” protesters across the street chanting “Hey, Hey, LBJ, How Many Kids Did You Kill Today?”

But there were limits to Moyers’ candor, as when Dallek posed a logical follow-on question as to the inevitable implications of a psychotic president’s decision-making abilities:

I asked Moyers if Johnson was so continually depressed as to be incapable of rational judgments on Vietnam. No, he answered. Johnson was erratic. One day he would be down and the next he would be upbeat. “But always when he returned to the subject of Vietnam, this cloud in his eyes and this predictably unpredictable behavior” would recur.[3]

The contradiction between Moyers’ first sentence with the next, where he acknowledged that “the subject of Vietnam” triggered “this predictably unpredictable behavior” is stunning and should be interpreted as conclusive proof of Johnson’s paranoia and bipolar disorder. But his willingness to ignore the obvious danger to the nation it posed can only be understood in the context of his intrinsic subservience to his master: The youthful and impressionable Moyers so dedicated to serving as Johnson’s sycophant, without regard to the niceties of the legality, morality or even the rationality of his dictates was rewarded by becoming press secretary to the POTUS at age 29; by the time he turned 30, he was working at the highest-level position within the White House, directly under President Johnson.

It came immediately after Walter Jenkins’ forced resignation in October, 1964, according to Wikipedia. And in the words of Robert Dallek, Moyers: “acted as the President’s informal chief of staff from October 1964 until 1966.” Though the term “chief of staff” was never formally stipulated in a job title, Moyers was acting as the top-most aide to LBJ all during the exact same time that the Vietnam “fiasco” was conceived, delivered and grown to maturity starting in the first quarter of 1965, right after Johnson was sworn in for his own single term. Contrary to Moyers’ later ruminations about that enormous national disaster how he came to regret his role in facilitating the manic President’s hideous obsession clearly, for at least three years, he managed to ignore those misgivings.

The article goes to great lengths using ostensibly plaintive quotes from both Moyers and “Lady Bird” to portray Johnson as being oh-so tortured by the Vietnam quagmire which he had (supposedly) “inherited.” That was always a lie, since they both must to have known that he used a fabricated “false flag” excuse to insinuate himself, and the country itself, into the Americanization of their civil war. And because they also had to have known how he had begun planning through McGeorge Bundy, just weeks after his ascension to the Oval Office the phantom attacks by ghost North Vietnamese gunboats on U.S. destroyers to occur precisely three months before the 1964 presidential election; his shrewd planning of this key event was to assure that he could exploit those “attacks” to demonstrate how valiantly he had restrained himself from immediately responding “in kind.” Thus ensuring his victorious election twelve weeks hence.

And they must have known axiomatically, given their respective positions, they had to know about Johnson’s ancillary motives, known to his closest friends who were similarly invested, financially, in companies guaranteed to benefit from his war. It was also known to his closest aides, including his military briefer Colonel John Downie: In Downie’s last session with Johnson in 1966, after having long warned him about the futility of ever winning that war, he again “urged him to get out of Vietnam . . . a frustrated LBJ pounded the table and exclaimed, ‘I cannot get out of Vietnam, John, my friends are making too much money.’”[4] It was during this same time frame that Johnson had repeatedly assured the American people how well things were going there, though he admitted that they would have to carry “perhaps for a long time the burden of a confusing and costly war in Vietnam.”

By the End of His Essay, Dallek (Unwittingly?) Repudiates LBJ’s Purported Ruminations

So paranoid about ensuring that his Vietnam program would continue on, Johnson decided to undermine Vice President Hubert Humphrey’s presidential campaign, and worked instead to assure that his long-time political nemesis Richard Nixon would become the next president. Johnson was blatantly antagonistic towards his vice president. As Dallek noted, he had ordered wiretaps on Humphrey’s telephones shortly after he had been sworn in as vice president:

After Humphrey had become Vice President and expressed doubts about the war, the White House, according to a Humphrey aide, Ted Van Dyk, had arranged for wiretaps on Humphrey’s office phones. Van Dyk learned this from two Secret Service agents on the vice-presidential detail. Neither Van Dyk nor Humphrey was surprised. Though Johnson in principle disliked taping and wiretaps, he secretly taped more than 7,500 of his own telephone conversations as President. Moreover, during the 1964 campaign, after a visit to the White House, Richard Russell wrote, “Hoover has apparently been turned loose and is tapping everything…. [Johnson] stated it took him hours each night to read them all (but he loves this).” The speed with which Johnson had information about Humphrey’s presidential campaign suggested to Van Dyk that the White House was still tapping Humphrey’s phones in 1968. Johnson apparently wanted the taps to gain advance notice and a chance to dissuade him should Humphrey decide to break away on the war.[5]

Dallek’s article ended with passing references to such other points as LBJ’s managing role in planning the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and how after Hubert Humphrey hinted that he would make a quick end to the war Johnson tried to come back into the presidential race and arrange a draft for himself at the Chicago convention.

That story in the magazine article only hinted at the larger picture Dallek described in the book regarding how Johnson wanted to personally attend the convention, and be presented as the “White Knight Savior” who would win the nomination by acclamation, as the only possible candidate who could beat Richard Nixon. It unfolded during the lead-up to the August convention which conveniently followed the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.

Had he succeeded in his effort to insinuate himself back into place as the nominee, he would have accomplished what must have been his original goals: Taking himself out of the picture as a possible suspect in the two major assassinations that Spring while simultaneously avoiding further embarrassments of being defeated in any more state primaries then returning just in time to be nominated by consensus at a deadlocked convention. He must have seen this as his ultimate vindication, his moment in history (perhaps he had already made arrangements to arrive there wearing a big white Stetson, riding a large white horse into the arena as well).

As it was, at the 1968 convention as the sitting president, his name was rarely mentioned, at least from the podium, though probably countless times in curses from the floor. Even four years later, at the 1972 convention only five months before he died suddenly in January, 1973 he was nearly completely ignored again by party leaders. They even omitted displaying his photograph among the picture display of former Democratic Presidents.

After the 1968 convention, Johnson lamented his tragic fall: “I’ve never felt lower in my life . . . How do you think it feels to be completely rejected by the party you’ve spent your life with, knowing that your name cannot be mentioned without choruses of boos and obscenities?”[6]

Dallek’s final lament in the Atlantic essay was an unfortunate attempt to suggest that, had Johnson been reelected in 1968, the nation might have been better off: “How different our national perspective would be had Johnson, rather than Nixon, served from 1969 to 1973.” It is truly unfortunate that a noted professor of history, having studied the 36th POTUS at length, would have us believe that four more years of LBJ might have been less disastrous than the 37th’s, whose crimes paled in comparison to those of his predecessor.


END NOTES:

[1] Dallek, Robert, Flawed Giant, 1998, p. 40

[2] Dallek, Robert, “Three New Revelations About LBJ,” The Atlantic, April 1998.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Pepper, William F., The Plot to Kill King, p. xxxiv

[5] Op. Cit. Dallek, “Three New . . .”

[6] Achenbach, Joel, “A Party That has Lost Its Mind: In 1968 Democrats held one of the the country’s most disastrous conventions” The Washington Post, August 24, 2018

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