KC Johnson

LBJ & Bill Moyers, 5 Sept. 1964

One of my favorite clips. LBJ struggles in articulating a positive economic program that would appeal to “frontlash” (socially liberal and economically conservative) voters.

President Johnson: [The speech should stress that] we have a right to wish what we want to, think what we want to, worship where we want to, sleep where we want to. Everything like . . . the basic fundamentals that—that Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, Constitution thing, wrapped up in one paragraph.

Do you remember the paragraph I’m talking about?

Bill Moyers: Yes, sir. I sure do.

President Johnson: But I want it elaborated on a little bit—“A mind to be trained, a child’s mind to be trained. A church to pray in. A home to sleep in. A job to work in.”

Moyers: All right.

President Johnson: Let’s get education, religion, free speech, free press—“read what he pleases”—that will round him out as a well-balanced, tolerant, understanding individual.

Moyers: All right.

President Johnson: Instead of one of these kooks.

Moyers: OK.

President Johnson: [chuckling] Do you follow me there, now?

Moyers: Gotcha.

President Johnson: I want that one paragraph so that I can have all the Johnson philosophy.

He [Reuther] said, “Now, you’ve got to speak some on poverty. You’ve got to speak some on education. You’ve got to speak some on Medicare.” Somebody’s told him it’s going to be a high level speech. And he wants it a party hack speech.

I said, “Well, I’m going to refer to all of them.” I want it in one paragraph—my philosophy. So that when you quote what I had in that Southwest Quarterly [article]—“I’m a free man, an American, and a senator, in that order, and so forth.” Do you remember?

Moyers: Right.

President Johnson: I want something that you can quote like this the rest of our lives. You can put it up in the preface of your book. “I see a . . . I have a vision . . . dash . . . a vision of a land where a child can [pauses for nine seconds] have a home to live in.”

[quickly] And then repeat what I just said to you.

Moyers: OK.

President Johnson: “Can read what he wants to, and can wish what he wants to, and can dream what he wants to.” Put in the words, “I have a vision.” Let’s get a little bit of this holy-rolly populist stuff. [voice rising] “I have a vision of a land where every child [pauses] can have training to fit his abilities, a home to protect him from the elements, a church to kneel in.”

Throw at least two biblical quotations in, that are very simple, that every one of them have heard—these working [men], these auto mechanics.

Moyers: All right.

President Johnson: It’s what you Baptists just pour to them all the time.

Moyers: [chuckling] All right.

President Johnson: Make it simple; don’t give me one of these long ones.

Moyers: Right.

President Johnson: Just go back and get me one of the commandments. These Baptists preachers—don’t get on that adultery one. Get some of these, “Thou shalt not [pauses] lie on thy brother.” [Chuckles.]

Moyers: All right. OK.

President Johnson: OK.

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