Monday, April 30, 2018

LBJ's 1968: Power, Politics, and the Presidency in America's Year of Upheaval by Kyle Longley

LBJ's 1968 by Kyle Longley caught my interest right away. I have been reading about President Johnson ever since Doris Kearns Goodwin's book LBJ and the American Dream came out.

LBJ has fascinated me for the complexity of his character. He was a truly empathetic man who strove to better the lives of Americans. He understood power and how to use it. He could be cruel and undignified. And he was blind to his own flaws.

While contending with one crisis after another, Longley shows how President Johnson's strength under pressure and thoughtful consideration helped him deal successfully with the U.S.S. Pueblo while his fatal flaw, a prideful lack of self-examination and denial of error, led to his failure to end the war in Vietnam.

LBJ abused his power regarding Supreme Court nominations, which the Republicans would not approve, setting a dangerous precedent. Johnson was unwilling to give over party leadership, negatively impacting the Democratic platform and Vice President Humphrey's campaign.

But he also responded to the death of Rev. King and the resulting rioting across the nation with empathy and understanding, pushing the 1968 Fair Housing Act.

LBJ had supported gun control ever since the assassination of President Kennedy. In February 1968 he submitted the Safe Streets and Crime Control Bill. He wanted to ban mail order sales, interstate sales, sales to prison inmates, and sales to minors--but the NRA opposition squashed the bills. And a few weeks later, RFK was shot. The president proposed a commission on violence.

"My fellow citizens, we cannot, we just must not, tolerate the sway of violent men among us. We must not permit those who are filled with hatred...to dominate our streets and fill our homes with fear...Let us put an end to violence and to the preaching of violence. Let the Congress pass laws to bring the insane traffic in guns to a halt, as I have appealed to them time and time again to do. That will not, in itself, end the violence, but reason and experience tell us that it will slow it down; that it will spare many innocent lives."

The Gun Control Act of 1968 did end mail order sales, sales to minors, and importation of guns but failed on licensing and registration.

When the Nixon camp secretly worked to stall Johnson's peace talks, Johnson elected to suppress the evidence rather than create a crisis if the president-elect was outed as treasonous. As Longly points out, that crisis was only delayed until the Watergate break-in was discovered.

As if the Vietnam war and problems of Communist China were not enough, LBJ had to respond to the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Every issue we deal with today can find its twin in 1968. I enjoyed both the in-depth story of 1968 both as history and as a revelation of how we "got to here."

The Republican response to Civil Rights, Environmentalism, and the Great Society was immediate; the dismantling Johnson's legacy, even the publicly popular programs, continues to this day. We have a renewal of racial tension and hate groups. We still struggle with Southeast Asia, China, and the Soviets.

I found LBJ's 1968 to be an emotional as well as intellectual read, as both a snapshot in time and informing today's political scene. I would recommend it to those interested in American history, presidential history, and also to those of us who grew up during this time period.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

LBJ's 1968: Power, Politics, and the Presidency in America's Year of Upheaval
by Kyle Longley
Cambridge University Press
Publication April 1, 2018
ISBN 9781107193031
PRICE $29.99 (USD)

Getting Personal

I voted for LBJ in a junior high mock election after a classmate told me about the Great Society. A few years later my peers were chanting LBJ, how many kids did you kill today.

1968 was such a tumultuous year that I spent years trying to encapsulate it in a short story, 16 in '68. I was still fifteen at the time of the assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr and Robert F. Kennedy. I returned from school to televised images of the war in Vietnam and body counts.

My husband vividly remembers watching President Johnson announcing his withdrawal from candidacy for reelection.

My mom and I watched the 1968 Democratic Convention together on our black and white television.

In the meantime, my family was dealing with a health crisis, mom hospitalized for weeks while I 'held down' the fort at home for my little brother. And between the assassinations of public leaders, a boy at school sat in a car in his family garage, door closed, with the engine running.

Both my personal world and the public world were overwhelming.


On my first wedding anniversary, we learned that on the day we were being married in a quaint, New England style church surrounded by red rose bushes, President Nixon's 'plumbers' were planning a break in that night.

Reviews

'Countless historians have picked apart 1968, but Kyle Longley is the first to go inside the head of the man who, more than anyone else, defined that year - and with a style and precision that somehow makes an account of a terrible time a joy to read.'
Clay Risen - The New York Times

'1968 was a turbulent year in our country and a year when President Lyndon Johnson encountered what seemed like an endless series of crises. Kyle Longley has depicted the tone of the times and captured the dilemmas and decisions of LBJ in this compelling book that should be read by any student of that eventful year.'
Larry Temple - Special Counsel to President Lyndon Johnson in 1968, Chairman of the LBJ Foundation

'Like King Lear, Lyndon Johnson gave away his power before the end of the play. Kyle Longley's Texas-size epic reveals the tragedy, comedy, pathos, and heroism in the extraordinary events that followed that fateful year, 1968, as seen through the eyes of an American giant.'
Elizabeth Cobbs - author of American Umpire

'From the Pueblo crisis to the Chennault affair, 1968 was a year like no other, and Kyle Longley's fast-paced, richly detailed narrative splendidly captures the ups - and mostly downs - from the vantage point of LBJ's White House.'
George C. Herring - author of The American Century and Beyond

'Kyle Longley has penned a vivid and insightful portrait of one of the most tumultuous and significant years in American history.'
Randall B. Woods - University of Arkansas

'Kyle Longley offers an insightful portrayal of arguably the most complex American president of the Cold War era. What emerges is a fresh appraisal of Lyndon Johnson, a tragic figure contesting the forces of history. In an innovative biographical approach, Longley takes us inside LBJ’s White House during the tumultuous year of 1968. An outstanding work by a master storyteller.'
Gregory A. Daddis - Chapman University, California