Looking Back at LBJ

White House Politics in a New Light

Mitchell B. Lerner, ed.

Lyndon Baines Johnson ascended to the presidency in the wake of tragedy to lead the United States through one of its most violent and divisive decades. His troubled presidency was marked by endless controversies over civil rights, the Vietnam War, foreign policy, and law-and-order issues, among others. Nearly four decades later, its now possible to reexamine those controversies to illuminate as never before the achievements and failures of one of the nations most misunderstood presidents.

Drawing upon a wealth of new sources, including recently released phone conversations, these authors shine a bright and probing light on LBJs beleaguered White House tenure. Collectively, they reinforce the image of Johnson as a highly complex president whose very real achievements have been overshadowed by character flaws and events well beyond his control.

“A sophisticated, readable account of a presidency crippled by an affliction largely of its own making.

—Cold War History

“Lerner has brought together a diverse grouping of scholars who have mined the archives and written on previously ignored aspects of the Johnson presidency. . . . This collection offers a number of nimble writers who are at the vanguard of twentieth century American political, diplomatic, and social history.

—History: Reviews of New Books
See all reviews...

Four chapters focus on LBJs foreign policies, including a positive appraisal of his handling of the 1964 Panama Crisis, but less favorable assessments regarding the downhill slide into Vietnam, the Six Day War, and policies toward the communist bloc. Yet the authors generally depict a president who, contrary to conventional views, did not allow his domestic agenda to overshadow his efforts as chief architect of foreign policy.

Five other chapters focus on aspects of LBJs domestic policies that have been largely neglected: womens rights, Native Americans, agriculture, civil disorder, and fiscal policy. Whether responding to urban riots or balancing different versions of the 1964 Farm Bill, Johnson emerges as a president who never lost sight of the political ramifications of his actions and whose legacy is often more complicated than is usually recognized.

All of these writings attest to the complexities of Lyndon Johnson, a larger-than-life leader whose guiding principles cant always be reduced to the catch-phrases he himself and others have employed. The new perspectives and revelations they provide point students, scholars, and presidential buffs alike toward a much more enlightened view of this fascinating figure.