Ken Walsh: LBJ's Hundred Days

Roundup: Media's Take

... Lyndon B. Johnson had a specific objective in mind that guided his presidency from the start—to out-do Franklin D. Roosevelt as the champion of everyday Americans. LBJ got off to a fast start, but the very traits that made his presidency so promising in the beginning—his big ideas and ability to bend Congress to his will—proved to be the seeds of his political destruction.

"Throughout his presidency, Lyndon B. Johnson consistently measured his record against that of his political hero, FDR," writes Cambridge University historian Anthony Badger in FDR: The First Hundred Days. "In April 1965 he pressed his congressional liaison man, Larry O'Brien, to 'jerk out every damn little bill you can and get them down here by the 12th' because 'on the 12th you'll have the best Hundred Days. Better than he [FDR] did!"

That was actually after Johnson had been elected to a full term in his own right, in 1964, but it demonstrated his mindset. Johnson, serving as John F. Kennedy's vice president, actually had come into office by succession after Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963. He sought to capitalize on the Kennedy's murder by moving swiftly to continue Kennedy's legacy. He immediately pushed Congress to pass Kennedy's agenda to honor the martyred president but also by moving far beyond it and expanding federal power more than any president had done before, even Roosevelt....

In those first days in 1963, he succeeded in the all-important goal of boosting the nation's confidence. "By contrast with Mr. Obama," wrote historian Robert Dallek in the New York Times Jan 23, 2009, "Johnson had no mandate to govern except for being vice president. No one expected a Southern politician to suddenly replace the youngest man ever elected to the White House. . . . Johnson understood that his greatest initial challenge was to provide reassurance—to convince not just Americans but people around the world, who looked to the United States for leadership in the cold war, that he could measure up to the standard JFK had set as an effective president at home and abroad."...

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