Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Lying Bastard Johnson

In summer 1964 during one of my family’s visits to Euclid Beach, an amusement park in Cleveland, Ohio, cotton candy and roller coasters had to compete with politics for the attention of the patrons. Senator Edward Kennedy was present to do his democratic duty by supporting Lyndon Johnson in that year’s presidential race. The uncouth Texan inherited the presidency the previous November after Edward’s brother, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated. On that day at Euclid Beach, Kennedy scribbled his indecipherable autograph for me, and I also got a white Stetson made of hard plastic with an LBJ campaign button attached to the headband. Setting the button aside, I often wore the hat in the years ahead, but I would imagine myself as John Wayne or Clint Eastwood when playing cowboy, not LBJ. Who would want to be him? Wayne and Eastwood did their own shooting even if they only used blanks on a movie set. LBJ used real bullets, but let others pull the trigger for him, not only in Vietnam, but, if a new book is to be believed, much closer to home.

“Lyndon and I both wanted to be president,” a tipsy Richard Nixon told political consultant Roger Stone, “but only he was willing to kill for it.” And he did kill for it, at least according to Stone whose book, The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ, was discussed one recent night on Coast to Coast with weekend host John B. Wells.

“Oh boy,” Wells repeatedly said as Stone shared one awful anecdote after another concerning the vile, despicable man who succeeded JFK as president. Johnson owed his political career to bribes, blackmail, threats, and murder, reaching the highest office in the land by engineering the assassination of the man he reluctantly served as vice president. You’ve seen the photo of LBJ being solemnly sworn in next to a shaken Jacqueline Kennedy. But have you seen the other picture, snapped seconds later, when a grinning LBJ winks conspiratorially at a friend in the rear, as if to say, “We pulled it off”?

Sure, he probably did more than any president in promoting civil rights, but, as Stone reports, Johnson was a nasty bully who abused his family, his friends, his associates, and even his dogs. A photo of LBJ picking his beagle off the ground by its ears made the rounds in the ‘60s and still alarms animal lovers. This is the man who painted his republican opponent, Barry Goldwater, as a right wing maniac itching to press the nuclear button while portraying himself as a man of peace who would bring the troops home from Vietnam. After his landslide victory in November 1964, Johnson continued and even accelerated the war.

Johnson and his policies were responsible for much of the violence that tore the country apart in 1968, including the riots that disrupted that summer’s democratic convention. By then, he was so despised even by his own party that he didn’t have a prayer at the ballot box. Rather than risk a humiliating defeat, he went on TV to announce he would not seek or accept his party’s nomination. You could say we have Johnson to thank for Richard Nixon.

It’s certainly no surprise to think that Johnson had a role in JFK’s assassination. Until Stone, however, few regarded him as the key figure that set the plot in motion with his Texas cronies. It was Johnson who insisted that JFK visit Dallas, a trip that Kennedy was dreading. And it was Johnson’s equally devious pal, Texas Governor John Connally, who insisted that JFK take the route he did. The assassins were lying in wait, and another Johnson chum, Jack Ruby, was waiting to silence the alleged assassin, the “patsy,” as Lee Harvey Oswald described himself, two days later.

You won’t hear any of this on television during the week leading up to the 50th anniversary of that awful day in Dallas. Television is doing its part to drown out all conspiracy theories and to continue promoting the lie. On Nova, George Clooney lovingly narrated an account of television’s coverage of the tragedy, even depicting Walter Cronkite as some kind of hero. Bill O’ Reilly, the chinless twit of Fox News, has already done his part for the cover-up by putting his name on Killing Kennedy, a book that is the basis for a movie on the National Geographic channel that resurrects the long discredited lone gunman theory. All the other familiar talking heads will also serve their corporate masters by concealing and even mocking the truth. We’ll hear the standard line trotted out to address and quickly dismiss the conspiracy theories: “People just can’t accept that a nobody like Oswald could change the course of history and take out a president, especially one as glamorous as Kennedy.”

No, people just can’t accept a story that is contradicted, and quite dramatically at that, by the evidence. The Zapruder film, unseen by the public until 12 years after the fact, completely demolishes the lone assassin story. To accept the Warren Commission Report as the truth requires even more imagination than I had when pretending to be a cowboy in that stupid LBJ hat.

Brian W. Fairbanks


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