KC Johnson

LBJ & Bill Moyers, 21 Aug. 1964

One of my favorite LBJ clips. President struggled with both ideological wings of the party in the run-up to his nomination at the Atlantic City convention. From Senate liberals,, the main problem came from Illinois senator Paul Douglas (a former economics professor at the University of Chicago) and Pennsylvania senator Joe Clark, who wanted a platform plank denouncing the Tuck bill, which sought to invalidate the Supreme Court’s one-man/one-vote ruling. Johnson fumed about the duo’s efforts in this call with Bill Moyers.

President Johnson: Why in the living hell they want to put it [a plank supporting the reapportionment decisions] in the platform, notify every little state. [Majority Leader] Carl Albert’s district [in Oklahoma] is put together and he’s abolished from Congress. Now who wants to do that to Carl Albert, when he’s the best instrument the liberals have for achievement in this town, since [former House Speaker] Sam Rayburn? Now, why would they want to abolish his district?

It’s not so bad if the Senate abolishes it, or the Court abolishes it. But it’s awful if he is asked—the [Democratic National] Platform Committee of which he heads—to abolish himself. That’s just cruel, inhuman punishment. Now, it looks like even a goddamned college professor could understand that.

Bill Moyers: All right.

President Johnson: Paul Douglas has got less sense than any man I know when judgment’s required. He’s always off chasing some damn balloon in the air.

Moyers: That’s right.

President Johnson: So . . .

Moyers: All right.

President Johnson: Bill, the pitch is this: they’re coming—the Congress hasn’t adjourned. It was due to adjourn; it didn’t adjourn. Does Dr. Douglas know that?

Moyers: I hope he does.

President Johnson: All right. Now, why didn’t they adjourn? What are they coming back for? They’re coming back to consider the Tuck bill, and the Dirksen bill, and the Mansfield bill.

Now, what they ought to do—if the liberals want a real plan of attack, [if New York Times reporter] Tony Lewis wants something to do, is get ten of them out here at a Georgetown house some night with [historian and former Kennedy aide] Arthur Schlesinger, and let ’em all agree that one of ’em will talk four hours and the other one will talk four hours. And that’s what they [the liberals] do best: is talk.

[Senate Majority Leader Mike] Mansfield won’t run after 6.00. They’ll do that for two weeks, and the show will be over. The Tuck bill will be dead. The Supreme Court will be riding high. That’ll be it—period. That’s simple. You don’t have to be smart to know that. Hell, I knew that before I left Johnson City. [Snorts.]

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