U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson Psychohistory Part 2

About the U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, history and a psychological analysis or psychohistory.

36th President



As his presidential position became increasingly untenable, he came to place more and more blame on the intellectuals. This came out especially in his obsessive hatred of Robert Kennedy and his constant unfavorable comparisons of himself with John Kennedy. That this hatred stemmed at least in part from envy is revealed in his remark "My daddy always told me that if I brushed up against the grindstone of life, I'd come away with far more polish than I could ever get at Harvard or Yale. I wanted to believe him, but somehow I never could." As supporters began to fall away, he complained that it was "because I never went to Harvard...because I wasn't John F.Kennedy." When his position on Vietnam came under attack, he responded, "It's just perverted history to claim that it's civil war, just pure bad history manufactured by the Harvards and Galbraiths." His hostility toward the "impotent academics" took on the nature of a persecution complex during his last years. After completing his memoirs, he lamented, "All the historians are Harvard people... They'll get me anyhow, no matter how hard I try.. The reviews are in the hands of my enemies--The New York Times and the eastern magazines--so I don't have a chance."

His constant fear of losing his ability to act decisively, of failing to be in control of himself and the situation, expressed itself in a series of dreams beginning in early childhood. At age five, deeply disturbed by the presence of his paralyzed grandmother, he began having a recurrent nightmare in which he was seated in a large chair in the middle of the Texas plains. A herd of cattle stampeded toward him, and he found that he could not move. In the dream he called out frantically for his mother, but she never came. As an adult, his nightmares continued to be about powerlessness. In late 1967 and early 1968, as his administration came under increasing attack, he dreamed repeatedly that he was transformed into President Wilson, whom he had always considered a thinker rather than a doer. In the dream he was lying in bed, paralyzed from the neck down, listening to his aides fighting like a pack of dogs over the distribution of his power. During this period the image of the stampeding cattle returned, both in dreams and in his conscious assessment of his position. He explained, "I felt I was being chased on all sides by a giant stampede coming at me from all directions. On one side, the American people were stampeding me to do something about Vietnam. On another side, the inflationary economy was booming out of control... The whole situation was unbearable for me. After 37 years of public service, I deserved something more than being left alone in the middle of the plain, chased by stampedes on every side." Hard pressed from every direction and unable to escape, he dreamed he was caught swimming in circles in the middle of a river, unable to reach either shore. Very shortly after he had that dream, he decided to withdraw from the 1968 presidential election.

In the end it was his mother who was the dominant influence. Johnson wanted to be loved for his kindness and generosity even more than he needed to be respected for his toughness. Rebekah had raised him to expect that the whole world would accommodate itself to him if only he were "a good boy." During the last years of his life, he could never understand why so many in the nation had rejected him with such bitterness. "All I wanted," he told one confidant, "was just a little thanks. Just a little appreciation." His one remaining hope was "If the American people don't love me, their descendants will."

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