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tv   QA Julia Sweig Lady Bird Johnson  CSPAN  May 13, 2021 1:36am-2:39am EDT

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the coming weeks with symposia. you are we entered. airplane number one the first time there was a tv set on the common data was saying lyndon b.
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johnson now president of the united states there very narrow confined sublime jackie on his left her hair falling in her eyes, but very composed. landing and then i was only to write. judge shoes with the bible in front of him cluster secret service people congressman london took the oath of office. julia swag that is lady bird johnson reading her diary entry from november 2nd 1963 describing the scene after the assassination of john f kennedy. you've just published a new book based on her diaries a lady bird johnson hiding in plain sight. tell me as we start about these
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diaries. when did she start them? how many did she do and how did she record them? thank you very much for having me susan lady bird johnson began as we heard her very first diary entry recording her experience of the assassination on november 22nd. 1963 of john f kennedy. and she made this recording that we've just heard eight days after the assassination. she began with that moment and she continued throughout. the johnson presidency until the very end of january 1969 after nixon was inaugurated until the 31st of that month. her recordings and as we say she's dictating from a variety of sources that she's arrayed in front of her that she synthesizing and telling her story from so in a way this is her first draft of history. she's recording it.
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and for the most part isn't going backwards and rerecording. so what we're hearing is her first draft. how many did she do all together? well number of wise she did 850 depending upon how you count it. i've heard two different numbers, but approximately 850 a hundred and twenty three hours of recording you write in the book that both johnson's work. this is your phrase meticulous curators of their historical record lyndon johnson recorded all of his phone conversations lady bird johnson and her many diaries. why do you think they did this? what was their attitude about about the historical record versus the daily tug and pull of politics? no lady bird was a journalism and history major at the university of texas at austin. she was trained to have a predilection toward documenting and recording and she always kept these small spiral notebooks with her everywhere.
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she went and took notes in shorthand including on air force one going back. from dallas to washington dc. she was able to have the presence of mind to keep some notes that she then used to make that first recording. so i think she was very very devoted to keeping records from the very get-go. it was really in her dna in lbj's case. he shared that and he also had a very long political career. so by the time he gets into the presidency, especially as he becomes conscious of the the challenges and the controversy and the and the criticism of his presidency his his inclination is also to document so that down the road historians have some opportunity to to look back at his presidency in a documented way and make some some sense of it rather than very much in the moment. he also had you're talking about
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the lb those those secretly recorded tapes. he had massive distrust of the press and he want end of those around him his political adversely and he kept that record in order also to sort of be on the record himself and have some control over the historical record. so what does one learn about lady bird johnson from listening to her own voice recording her days that is very different from the public record or public persona that people solve her. the public persona that people saw of her was a bit more two-dimensional. that's an understatement than what comes out in her recorded diaries at the time in the 1960s. what we saw. well, i wasn't alive at the time but what was seen and the curated image of her that the white house press strategy and her press strategy put out was of a very conventional political wife.
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she had roles that went beyond those conventions, but we don't see that until we dig more deeply into her diaries. so her role and her influence on lbj and in shaping the course of the presidency is something that comes out very much so not in only in the diaries, but i would say also in the vast archival material that she left behind at the lbj library. we also see here somebody who's an excellent writer she writes about nature she writes. she's a great character. the study of characters she's very open about the difficulty and of of living with and supporting and being partners with such a complicated individual as lyndon johnson she writes about her own emotions. she's not somebody who we see a broad smile in her publicly, but privately she's confronting the process of aging she's confronting the controversy as a
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business administration of she's really becomes a total human being in these diaries to my ear. what's the backstory on this book? this is a very different project for you. most of your work has been in foreign affairs foreign policy issues. how'd you get interested in lady bird johnson? well the truth is that after working in washington dc and new york and traveling globally and working in foreign policy in a world where the gender imbalances very very pronounced. i got to a point where number one i had sort of maxed out on my intellectual curiosity about american foreign policy and latin america and number two. i wanted to get my arms around the topic of women and power and but i didn't have a subject. i needed the compelling character that lady bird johnson turned out to be and it wasn't until i discovered that she had kept this diary. she had published a huge portion. well a 780 page book which was a
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portion all that not a huge one of the diaries in 1970 and luckily for me when i started thinking about considering considering her as a topic. she's married to the man. of course, perhaps most identified with the concept of power in the presidency. twentieth century when i discovered this this that the diaries were existed that coincided with the lbj library also beginning to release them entirely to the public not just the transcripts but also all of the audio so there i discovered an incredibly compelling woman who lived through and documented and tells us her experience of the tumult and polarization of the 1960s, including three political assassinations and war and riots and the triumphs of the great society and civil rights. so it's it's all just drew me in and kept my attention almost as much as foreign policy had in the past. where did the title hiding in
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plain sight come from? that is twofold number one. it's a an effort to play with the idea that this is the person who's very significant influence on lbj on his presidency on shaping the arc of it who's very significant role as his political partner was primarily missed. and so that is the story that's been hiding in plain sight and the second thing. is that the source material for telling that story has been sitting at the lbj library and also largely sneezed over missed as well. so it's the two the sources and the story itself. given what the last spending the last few years of your life with lady bird johnson and digging so deeply into her archival materials and understanding her role these president johnson is possible for you to say how influential she was among a
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modern first ladies if you were to rank them, for example sure, and i know that that you'll probably have a view of this as well. susan given your own work on on first ladies. i see her i instead of rank ordering them i and we can do that too. i see her as the bridge between eleanor roosevelt and hillary clinton. she has the the commitment to developing a policy agenda that reinforces and elevates her husband's that eleanor had she has the public role not quite as broad because she didn't have a radio program. she didn't have a column that eleanor did but this was a woman who was out campaigning for her husband then working really hand in glove to elevate his presidency. er was in the white house obviously much longer than lady bird was but i see lady bird then coming in and modernizing the office of the first lady
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really the first person to do that since after world war ii in my view with a policy staff in the east wing with the communication strategy and staff in the east wing and really becoming part of the political operation of the west wing which of course brings to mind the office the way that hillary clinton operated when she was first lady as far as rank order. that's a tougher one for me to to answer but i do think she's one of the most significant certainly of the twentieth century first ladies that we've had in the book you tell us that she referred to it as our presidency. did she only do that in private and i guess i'm asking the question because hillary clinton of course faced criticism for the two for one concept. why did it succeed for lady bird johnson in this instance? well, she did it carefully only in retrospect. it wasn't something that she
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talked about while she was in the white house but in practice you know, i don't know if she had a security clearance but in practice she was in the room quite a bit the room being lyndon johnson's bedroom where he conducted business quite a lot west wing staff meetings not only in his bedroom, but also in the oval office the photo record tells the story but also so does lady bird where she's in and out of the oval office all day long or sending messages back and forth between the president and and the first lady and i think liz carpenters role and i know we'll talk about that is really key to that. liz carpenter was one of the texas in washington inner circle members of the johnson world for a couple of decades before they reach the white house and was perhaps closest to lady bird and linden of anybody in the white house and had the standing to to sort of broker and be the interlocutor between the east
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wing and west wing not just the basic communications but on political and campaign strategy so in practice it was more of an hour presidency than a his presidency, but she didn't say that because she was so very mindful of the times and very mindful as a woman of and conscious of the sort of amorphous role in the the call. she took caution to not step out in front of lyndon. even while she had a separate and independent but connected agenda to his a little bit of backstory on claudia alta taylor you told us that she was a graduate of the university of texas and austin on what degrees in journalism in history. what else should we know about her childhood that really affected the the woman she would grow up to be well, i think there are three elements that i would point to one. she was orphaned when she was five years old not orphaned. excuse me. she lost her mother when she was
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five years old and she was raised subsequently by her father and an aunt and by the staff of the household where she grew up who were descendants of enslaved people, but she was also she talks a lot about the solace that she took from nature she spent a lot of time by herself as a young girl and in nature and in the natural environment and became in her bones somebody who felt very connected to the way access to nature can shape all for the good who we are and make us will feel fully human. the second thing about lady bird's childhood is that she's from the south. she was her mother and father were both from alabama and she spent her summers going back to visit her family in the deep south in alabama. and so when she gets into the presidency with lyndon johnson and and before but especially as the civil rights agenda picks up
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she really has a deep feeling for the potential for backlash against the democratic party and against johnson among southern white voters. as you said she was essentially raised by black women in texas. there was another scene that in your book that similarly caught my attention and that is the trips that she used to take back and forth between washington dc and austin where she was helping to run the family broadcasting business often in the company meant of african-american staff members and experience firsthand. so the prejudice and the jim crow south of of that they face as they traveled do you think both of those experiences helped to influence her attitude towards the burgeoning civil rights movement? and i think without a doubt, you know, if if we think about the experience and she as you say was driving back and forth and
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and she and linden we know that linden talks about this a great deal. i think that when they came when she came into office she was very committed to leveling the racial playing field and there's two components of that from her formative years one is growing up in in alabama over the summers with her family members and being exposed to the the thickness of white supremacy there. the other one was as you say driving back and forth with her african-american staff and seeing the jim crow laws affect their lives so directly. year after year. lyndon johnson proposed right after he met her. why did she say? yes, what did she see in him? you know that was in 1934 and i think she saw. a charismatic ambitious sort of
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overwhelmingly a man that took up a lot of space but who saw her and elevated her. she always talked about the fact that he proposed to her on the day they met and that this took her back, but at the same time, i think it made her feel like her intellect was being recognized by a man of great ambition. he was a congressional aid at that point and i was surprised to read in your book that she actually begged him not to run for congress early on but then you said she became a full political partner. so there's a progression here in her thinking about politics. yes, i think that she initially didn't imagine herself in a married to a political animal the way linden was but then especially once they moved to washington dc she became a political animal herself. she absorbed through osmosis the
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the sort of you know, the ecosystem of washington dc which is constantly demands to build networks and raise finances and do the intelligence gathering that he was very good at and that she was very good at and so she she did evolve over time, especially by the 1940s before she had children when she wound up. running lyndon's office while he was in the pacific or in california during world war ii and then really ever since being a full partner to lyndon johnson. also meant managing his depressions and his black moods and his ongoing health problems. how did she approach her relationship with him in these areas? you know, she she really loved the man a lot because she appears to have devoted herself totally to using her incredible
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energies to boost him up. and the depression that he was prone to was something that you know, she wound up becoming quite sensitive to and and learn to expect and it had certain rhythms. often he would become depressed after a great achievement or at the end of some big push of adrenaline or political success or political failure. so she learned to to anticipate those for the most part in terms of his health. there's a turning point after his very significant heart attack in 1955. that's a heart attack that almost killed him and it's after that point that she becomes intensely vigilant over his smoking over his drinking over his eating and the two of them almost start to compete with one
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another in terms of of body and diet and nutrition and exercise and the specter of possible death looms over them really until he actually dies and it can it's very consuming for her. it's one of the reasons also that she managed she figures out a way to navigate. keeping something for herself too, right? i'm talking about a person who was totally devoted to him, but she also managed to keep some space and some solitude and keep herself healthy lyndon johnson. we learn and perhaps was reported on the time was what would be called today a philanderer. he really was unfaithful throughout their marriage. how did she reach accommodation with that aspect of lyndon johnson? well susan here. my answer is going to be based on what i'm able to surmise because this is a marriage of many many decades and i think
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anybody that's been in a marriage of many many decades really can't can can attest to the fact that outsiders can't really tell the whole story or even maybe part of the story. but having said that i'll say something else which is that question about his infidelities and philandering i think has been so present in shaping how we think of lady bird johnson, but it's almost diminished her of substance. i don't want to at all. excuse him for it, but simply to say that one of the things i've tried to do with this book is to show how much more to her and to their partnership there was in that but having said that it seems to me that she did make some sort of accommodation and that she was the first among equals she knew it and in the vast majority of cases she chose to ignore what he was doing at some level. and to be reminded that the
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increasing dependence that she felt that he felt toward her. was increasingly total and the fact that she was in the room where it happened in terms of policy and politics might clearly have compensated at some level for the the philandering. this thing i would say are perhaps it's the third thing is lady bird herself said something that that i think is very instructive when another person was writing a book about her. she said, you know, you're not gonna understand. either of us unless you understand how totally intertwined. our lives are with one another or were with one another. she said it when he was already dead. and i think that that goes to the point of the fact that this is a layered and complicated. marriage and relationship and partnership and that his his the philandering was an element of it but shouldn't be understood to color the whole thing at all.
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i'm going to jump ahead in history just to demonstrate the political partnership and go to one of those lyndon johnson phone calls that we talked about. this is from march 7th. 1964 a phone call between ladybird and lbj. let's listen and then have you talk about what it illustrates in their relationship. you want to listen for about one minute to my critique. would you rather wait to hear them? i'm well enough. i thought that you look strong firm and like a reliable guy you look for splendid the close-ups were much better than the distance ones where you can't get them good. well, i would say this they were more close up than the wood distance. during this statement you were little breathless and there was too much looking down and i think it was a little too fast. not enough change of pace. dropping boys at the end of sentence.
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there was a considerable pickup in drama and interest when the questioning began your voice was noticeably better and your facial expressions. noticeably better. are you about your answer on lodge was good? i thought you ants on vietnam was good. i really didn't like the answer on the gall because i think i've heard you say and i've put i believe you actually have set out loud, but you don't leave the auto out of the country this year. so i don't think you can very well say that you meet him anytime that's convenient to both people julia. so it is hard to imagine anybody speaking that candidly to lyndon johnson. what what are you hearing there? well, first of all, this is march of 1964, so they haven't been in the white house for very long and this is a time when lyndon and lady bird are both. thinking every day about the narrative that they're trying to create in terms of lyndon being
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somebody that can unify the country and they're both also aware that lyndon doesn't do so well in front of the cameras they do have a media company themselves, but he doesn't he's not a telegenic guy and his consciousness of that is what you hear is that they too are are as i are meticulous in monitoring how he's being read publicly and of course that directness that you hear that critique that you hear means that he trusts lady bird johnson totally her judgment as an advisor and the knowledge that she has his interests front and center is what you hear there. that was a press conference that she was talking about. it wasn't a speech and that press conference if you go you don't have to go read the transcript but i have in ways he sounds like he's reading the phone book. it's very dull and dry because he's announcing the appointments
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of lots of people into his administration different agency appointments and that sort of thing she was also by the way reading off of notes that she took on stationary from the office of the vice president, which i love because of course he was the vice president. she's using his stationary, but in 1964 to just reinforce this point about their partnership, there was no vice president. there wasn't a vice president until hubert humphrey was inaugurated in 1965. so what you hear there is lady bird stepping in and and listening not just on delivery but on substance and content and picking up his contradictions and and that is sort of to me essence of their partnership. so let me back up and spend a little bit of time on the 1960 campaign and the vice president see to talk about how involved she was in that campaign and and really what her contributions were to the ultimate success of that ticket. well in 1960. lyndon johnson, he did run in
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the balloting process at the at the convention in los angeles, but he lost in the first round of ballots. and there's a very well documented painful story about the process by which john f. kennedy asks lyndon johnson to join his vp. so the power dynamic flips right away. when as lady bird talked about how difficult it was. it was like a nettle in their throat that they didn't see a way not to accept becoming subordinate as vice president on the the kennedy ticket. once that happened by the summer of 1960. lady bird jumped in as surrogate to lbj and as surrogate to jackie totally and she traveled all around the country. jackie had been battling miscarriages for some time and she was pregnant during the 1960 campaign. so she didn't want to risk traveling and lady bird traveled by herself with jackie's sisters
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and sister-in-law and rose kennedy, especially in the south to try to and especially in texas to try to win the south for the democratic party for kennedy, which is the principal reason why they brought lbj on her her amount of travel seems very impressive. i'd say almost staggering the number of trips that she took during the campaign and even through the vice presidency. you you write that during the years of the vice presidency. she flourished while lyndon johnson's struggled with those that period why what was it about those years that she was able to do that. she hadn't perhaps as the wife of the senate majority leader. well as the way for the senate majority leader, she didn't have an international schedule much and although she was sort of queen of the senate spouses that was limited to washington dc once she moved into the position of second lady and as you said, the vice presidency for a man of
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who totally dominated the us congress and the legislative processes majority leader moving to the vice president. see was was you know, incredibly debilitating it stripped lbj of the the power and prerogative that he had become used to and under jfk. his portfolio was was not nearly as robust as he had the energy is to make it but lady bird in and so often he traveled abroad in lady bird went with him. and so that began a period of international travel that she really really enjoyed and also likewise back at home in washington dc ladybirds stepped in quite a bit for first lady jackie kennedy who wasn't the kind of political animal that lady bird was didn't love the rope line didn't thrive on so much ceremonial activity and lady bird stepped in for her. might have been in it was energizing to her. it was just energizing to her
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while lyndon was pretty much in a funk throughout the book. we see several episodes of her relationship with jacqueline kennedy. how would you describe the relationship between the two women? you know, it's a it's a very intimate and precious and complicated and emotional relationship and it has this arc that goes from from lady bird being the senior senate spouse when jack enters the senate she's already married to the majority leader and kind of bringing lady bringing jackie in doing it in a kind of gracious big sister way. she was almost 20 years older than jackie then moving to the campaign stepping in again for jackie and you know during the campaign there's a there's a scene in the book and also in our podcast where jackie is looking back and kind of trying to get her arms around the relationship between lady bird and linden. she says lady bird could sit on the couch in on one side of the room this one the two campaign
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teams met in hyannis talking with the sisters and jack's sisters and jackie, but keep her ear on the conversation that linden was having a cross the room and jackie at one point said, you know, it was a funny way of operating she was almost like a trained hunting dog. that was a of course not what she but they came from very different backgrounds and very different ways of operating in terms of the partnerships with their husbands. the assassination which we started with in this conversation kennedy's assassination. does for a time bring them together and the two of them together orchestrate. the most excruciating and and seamless transition in the 14 days between the assassination and when jackie and her two children move out of the white house on december 6th, 2000, excuse me, the 1963. so in that period of time i see
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a jackie lady bird relationship that's careful and respectful and jackie leaves many notes to that effect. trying to help lady bird ease into the the role of the white house first lady now, and we hear lady birds narration over several days of that process. but once jackie leaves, washington and moves to new york, then the distance really does begin to sink in and there's lots of public and private snubbing and rumors and and it it becomes more. tense and cold and it takes lady bird a while to feel like she's not walking. on eggshells in the white house herself and it sort of culminates in a very difficult powerful scene that lady bird narrates in 1968 at body kennedy's funeral in new york city after he has been assassinated and so really the
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two of them, i'm gonna round this out in a second don't recover. i think that intimacy and real love that. they felt for one another until the 1980s when they start meeting in martha's vineyard when both are there every summer and they begin to reconstitute that relationship. one of the documents that that you spend a good bit of time on in the book that seems key to many aspects of their relationship is the huntland's meadow a memo. excuse me huntland's memo and it all centers around the question of whether or not lyndon johnson having assumed the presidency would run in his own right in 1964. why did you see this particular document is so important to the story. the hotline strategy memo is a document that i found in the lbj library in a folder called campaign letters mrs. johnson to president johnson. and it's stated may 14 1964.
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it's much more than a letter and i like to call it a strategy memo because in fact it's lays out a strategy lady bird strategy whereby linden and it's a pro and con analysis of weather. linden should run in november of 1964 on his own right or whether he should step down and announce that he's not even going to run for a proper term himself. at that time in may of 64, that's what he was thinking about. he was doubting his ability to keep the country unified. he felt the pressure of vietnam the escalation pressure of vietnam and civil rights were stuck in congress. so in the memo what we see is lady bird being very very analytical laying out for him the consequences for not running or the alternative for running and winning and then one of the
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reasons i see this is so important is that she says in the memo i think you should run. and you'll probably win. and at that point you can try to have three years and several months of a great presidency and announce in february or march of 1968 that you will not be standing again for the candidacy of the president. and that is in fact precisely what lbj does he runs into 64 and on march of 1968, march 31st, he announces and it's a virtual secret to everybody but lady bird in a handful of others that he won't running again and the document itself has been barely written about although it's been in the archives since the night since 1970. but it really becomes significant susan when i tracked it against. the sweep of her diary entries because starting in the fall of 1967 especially but even before
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she starts writing about how she's going to get linden to focus on his exit strategy that they've already agreed to and we see over and over her recounting the two of them talking about it and a near opportunity that he doesn't take and then finally the lead-up toward the decision and the drafting of his statement, which is all so involved in and it's announcement. so i feel like the arc of the lbj presidency and the rationale for not running. a second term is is laid out way earlier than i think anybody ever assumed the assumption had been that it was vietnam and bobby kennedy and eugene mccarthy and and the the embattlement the embattled nature of his presidency as a whole that compelled him to walk away from power. but in fact, it had been a part of a strategy that they'd been executing for the previous four
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years earlier. we mentioned the name liz carpenter and as lady bird begins to establish herself in the role of first lady and tackle the big issues that were important to her. liz carpenter is part of that strategy. we have a bit of videotape from our archives of liz carpenter talking about her work for the johnsons and then we'll come back. i worked for president johnson. i was in dallas that dreadful day and the moment that changed everyone's life and ended up back in washington on air force one. i wrote those 58 words that the president delivered when he stepped off the plane at andrews air force base. this is a sad time for all people and so forth. and so then for five years i worked at white house as press secretary and staff director for lady bird johnson and sometimes funny speech writer for lbj when he was willing to use my gays.
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we worked very hard in the war on poverty while he was trying to subdue the war in vietnam, which got a lot more attention, but it's when head start was born the job corps respond when lady bird would go out to try to inspire people to make this planet cleaner. so julie swag how important was the partnership between lady bird johnson and liz carpenter during those five years. you live carpenters role as advisor and press strategist and operator. i mean their lady burden lives i think were a total team and it was incredibly important. in what way what did she bring to the partnership? well number one. she brought press savvy liz carpenter was a cub reporter. in fact going back to the 1930s. she was also from texas and she
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came to washington and began to cover a a eleanor roosevelt when eleanor roosevelt held her women's only keys which were really press avails for the first lady and female reporters in washington dc. so liz carpenter had a very long history of knowing how to operate with press in washington and she helped lady bird right away to establish a very direct communication with the female pressboard. these were the days when the gendered press coverage was such that it was by and large exclusively women who covered the office of the first lady and men by and large but not totally who covered the office of the president lives was very important in helping lady bird make the transition and establish her own independence identity separate from that of jackie kennedy. so very important on the press and very important in terms of political operations in the 1960
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campaign. and then in the 1964 campaign the civil rights component of the 1964 campaign is a place where liz carpenter really shined there was a moment in october in 1964. when liz and lindy boggs who is a very important. part of this story married to a congressman from louisiana go to the south and they organize with lady bird and four lady bird a stop tour through eight southern states over four days 47 stops, and it's liz carpenter who's generating the press material helping with the speeches and partnering with lady bird on the essential objective of trying to send a message to the south that the democratic party and its commitment to civil rights is something that southerners ought to embrace. i was a special issue lady bird johnson is most identified with
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something called beautification and the final pages of your book. you have her lamenting that as she calls them linden's boys managed to use the title of beautification to somehow diminish the overall impact of the work. what was her program all about really? it's a beautification is a word that she didn't like because she thought it was prissy and it was a euphemism that as you say and she said later kind of masked what she was a really about. she had a very ambitious environmental vision. which going back to her early childhood was premised on the idea that human beings can't be fully human without access to nature and it's true that we associate her with beautification of american highways and that was is part of her legacy and planting bulbs and tulips in the touristy and monumental part of washington dc, which is a very significant part of her legacy, but she was also in washington dc and also
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in american cities, but especially in the district of columbia trying to figure out how to bring together. civil rights and what we would call environmental justice today, and so she developed working with stuart udall secretary of interior with walter washington. who was the head of the national housing the national capital housing authority and then appointed as the first mayor of dc to and then with a very interesting landscape architect from california to develop ways to bring to desegregate access to nature in washington dc's most underserved neighborhoods was a black majority city at the time and with no statehood and very little representation of any in congress. so so it was a pretty radical vision in fact, but it was dressed up in this idea of beautifying and sometimes what happened and what did happen is that she was criticized for this
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ornamental approach at a time of major social cleavage and radical politics in the country and she was conscious of that and and tried and to to have that beautification idea shed and become more of a overt environmentalist by the end of her term backstage. there was a lot of hard knuckle politics involved in many of these issues you talk about interaction with the auto industry and also with the billboard industry, which was very lucrative certainly a lot of racial tension around some of the ideas for changing cities. how did she navigate those politics? kind of seamlessly. i mean she was a big tent operator. so when she first had these when the east wing first without a budget but withstanding convened these beautification committee meetings as you say she would
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have individuals from the auto industry from the petroleum industry the garden club. very very well known architects and landscape architects. she would have every but a sort of a big ten operation to try to get as much build a broader political coalition as possible and she had philanthropists who helped under right the financing of the planting or maybe the renovation of a school. playground over time and this we see it in 1965 though the pushback starts when she becomes associated in this, you know shades of hillary clinton. she becomes associated with something. that sounds kind of fluffy but really isn't which is this highway beautification act which starts as for poor bills, and then it comes together in 1965, but the the larger pressures that she's against have to do with the 1950s which when we saw
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the beginning of the interstate highway system that highway system us are under eyes and power that began to be constructed in the country was done with very little regulation very little attention for which neighborhoods were being destroyed as entrances and exits from cities were being constructed. certainly. no, i toured aesthetics and so the billboard industry and the automobile industry and a concrete industry are sort of all of apes and to have the first lady of the united states come in and try to regulate what one sees when one drives down a highway to get junkyard screened and the scale of billboards managed so that they weren't these hideous towering screeching ads. all of that was quite threatening and by the time that legislation passes there's the republican parties spokespeople
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in the congress are attacking her and attacking lbj for having a wife who's putting herself out there so much. another area of interest was women's rights. you describe, washington in 1963 and 64 as a city separated by both race and gender. how did she use her doers luncheons to advance the cause of women's rights. i i love this aspect of of lady bird johnson because it's it's it's not a very bold all caps approach. it's a quite subtle approach 1963 is when the feminine mystique by betty fordan is published and the women's movement is just beginning to pick up steam. she is from a different generation and this concept of doers luncheon is another way of kind of it's another euphemism for highlighting professional women and the first few people
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she has about not quite two dozen of these luncheons over the course of her time in the white house, but the first two people to me that she has to speak are very instructive. one of them is barbara solomon who at the time has begun to put together what we know as the schlesinger library at radcliffe today. she is a professor at harvard and she comes to the white house to talk about the importance of documenting one's history and keeping all of the material and ephemera, but keeping a record and a diary and of course lady bird has already started this and she does it with incredible discipline throughout her presidency, and it goes to lady bird's own ear and eye toward documenting the lbj presidency as a whole. so barbara solomon is the first the second is jane jacobs who is of course the the pioneering advocate in american cities in new york city for humane cities and jane jacobs comes and she
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lives invites her liz garbage or her and jane jacobs comes and speaks. lady bird calls her somewhat salty and somewhat controversial speaker, which she's talking about is her critique of the urban renewal projects all around the country that have really laid ways to poor communities in american cities and that is of course a seed that is planted with lady bird and one that she begins to follow and nourish in washington dc. we have about 15 minutes left and gosh there's so much to talk about but one of the she's stopped those luncheons because as you you divide your book chronologically the first two years full of accomplishments for the johnsons the passage of the historic civil rights act the head start and other programs being passed then of course the rising number of deaths coming out of the vietnam war and also the racial strife going around the country really polls started to drop and be
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being a champion for other issues really got superseded by this the troubles in the country in fact you write and she wrote in her diary linden lives in a cloud of troubles and there are boiling masses of humanity on the streets. i wanted to very quickly tell a story about her last viewers lunch and because it brings all of these together, she invited eartha kitt to the white house and have her talking about how that luncheon turned out from her perspective. i raise my hand to a point. she would recognize me and i said i think we've forgotten what the subject of this london is all about. and i recited what the subject was. and as one of the reasons why our boys are running away from the united states because they come to me wherever i am in the world and they tell me what they feel. our position in vietnam. they don't like we've been there long enough to realize we cannot win this war. it's a silly war. it's an unwinnable war and we don't want to go that that's not
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that we don't love america, but we don't want to be involved with that war. so i told her what the kids had told me the boys. suddenly the meeting was over i understand that she started to tear up. i don't know. i was not close enough to see that. but i was i had a car that they at the hotel at the white house had me to come there. but then all of a sudden now, i don't have a car. i'm walking around waiting for a car. and i had to he tried my way back to the timing for this was january 1968 lyndon johnson hadn't announced his intentions for the 68 campaign, but vietnam and civil rights were following the johnson's everywhere at this point. why is this luncheon an interesting point in time in that story? well, the the other aspect of what's following the johnson's everywhere our riots in american cities.
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beginning in 1965, but especially 1966 1967 the political uprisings we call them riots, but think of them as as of uprising against some of the very same issues that we're seeing raced the racial reckoning in this country around today police brutality lack of job opportunities housing discrimination. these are the issues that black americans are demanding get more resources. and so what eartha kitt does when she comes to the white house and this is a white house lunch and that's focused on crime the crime bill that lyndon johnson has just announced the night before at the state of the union address now, we're moving into a political election season and linda has and as you say and now that he's not going to run again yet, but the the law and order backlash is rising and we hear people like richard nixon and george wallace pushing on
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the johnson administration to take a stronger stand on this thing called law and order so fighting crime, which is one way of that. this issue was discussed is the theme of the luncheon and eartha kitt is invited by the white house to attend because she has been an activist for civil rights, but also in watson los angeles and in anacostia and washington dc to try to do what we would think of as like basic youth empowerment how to empower local kids to feel that. they actually have an opportunity and possibility and so she's putting her her wealth behind dance classes and training programs and she's testified before congress about it. so that's why she's invited to come. the what she does that is. treated with such controversy is a couple of things one. she says what we heard her say just now which is people are in the streets. she brings she brings a critique
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of vietnam into a discussion that's supposed to be about what's happening at home and in the white house, you know, you don't cross lanes like that if you're asked to speak about subject i used to speak about subject a you don't challenge the first family in the first lady on subject b, so that was one kind of line that she crossed the other line that she crossed had to do with kind of the choreography of the day and it got lyndon johnson had dropped by before eartha kitt and lady bird had their exchange and what just to say hello and he speaks for a few minutes and then as he's walking out eartha kitt. stands up and stops him at the podium. and this he seems totally fine with it. they have a little conversation, but it sets the tone then and creates this tension so that when lady bird does call on earth a kid an eartha kitt gives a very long statement bringing together crime and riots and the youth and vietnam into the the
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first family's home. the circle the wagons kind of dynamic in the room shifts and there are a couple of journalists there and they go out and they report. kind of inaccurately what was said what wasn't said and the whole thing blows up with the white house taking a very tough stance against eartha kitt and and basically like executing a smear campaign against her in the aftermath. that has a very long-lasting professional negative professional effect on her. with our time short, what did you learn in lady? bird's diaries about the incident that's useful to understand how she approached such things. well, she documented that incident in the usual way that she did which was she gathered lots of material together clips and statements and transcripts and news coverage, but i think in this instance, this is a and i and i did this with a lot of her diaries, i would go and
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check the accuracy of what she was reporting on in this particular instance. i think she got sucked into the spin. i think this is one of the lowest moments of lady bird johnson's presidency because she is very negative about eartha kitt and very unself reflective about her own. allowing the white house allowing liz carpenter to paint earth a kit in the aftermath of this incident. we have about five minutes left. i want to put one last piece of video tape on and that's lady bird johnson herself just to fast forward the story. we're already into 1968 lyndon johnson announces in march that he is not going to run for the presidency again, and it is one of the most momentous years in american modern american history martin luther king assassinated on april 4th, robert f. kennedy assassinated on june 5th the violence at the political conventions all the last year of the johnsons in the white house
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lady bird johnson reflected on why she thought it was important that he leave the white house in 1968. let's listen in the end. why did he quit my opinion is that he knew he didn't have. in case you won he didn't have four more years. of 16 hour days left in him. yeah, they were wearing thin and costing and just pulling up your spirits right out of your boots and and going on and you it was if he lived he would not be able to do the sort of job as president that he wanted to do and something that hony to us. was the picture of wilson woodrow wilson which was painted old such a shame after it had first stroke. and so we didn't want to reach that point.
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we wanted if we got sick. we wanted to be sick on our own time. not on the government's time. julie swag swag your reaction to her description. it brings together all of the elements that that in the actual time. she was in the white house she was talking about and and that the specter of him dying or becoming debilitated even worse while in office really did drive them. in the closing part of your book you write and you alluded to this before that lady bird johnson's legacy is so tied up with lg lbjs that the work of disentangling her contributions is complex. so after spending so much time with her what should people know about her singular contributions to american history. i don't think the johnson presidency would have been possible without lady bird. her singular contributions have
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to do with both that presidency successes around the war on poverty and civil rights and the great society and also the blinders that both she and lbj had when it came to vietnam. she also shaped. an approach to political partnership in the white house in the way. she used the platform of the east wing that i think is quite singular and really has not been fully appreciated and i hope until now can you give an example as we close? that environmental agenda. helped raise the public consciousness in a way that allowed what came subsequently under richard nixon the creation of the environmental protection agency the establishment of the
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redwood national forest the celebration in 1970 of the first earth day by the american public the the the second nature we now with which we now approach to keeping our our natural environments clean and beautiful and preserving it. all of that is something that lady bird johnson. put into the american consciousness with during her time in the white house. after spending this much time with lady bird johnson if you could have her seated right here and ask her a question, what would you want to know from her? i would like to know if she was as aware. i would like her to talk about her awareness of her influence on the lbj presidency in real time. she's such a modest person. she was so habituated to
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deflecting attention, but sometimes i wonder whether all of that documentation was a direct and conscious manifestation of her awareness of her influence or not. that's it for our time. julia swag. the book is called lady bird johnson hiding in plain sight. it's also available as a series of podcasts. that folks can find wherever they find their podcasts. thank you for spending an hour with c-span. thank you for having me susan. all q&a programs are available on our website or as a podcast at
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here karen tumulty your new biography of nancy reagan the triumph of nancy reagan says in the intro that she exercised in influence unlike any first lady before or since explain how


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