tv QA Julia Sweig Lady Bird Johnson CSPAN April 12, 2021 5:50am-6:53am EDT
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in the very narrow confines of the plane, where jackie on his left. her hair floating in her eyes but very composed. and then lyndon, and i was on his right. george hughes with a bible in front of them. they were secret service people and congressmen we had known a long time. lyndon took the oath of office. host: julia sweig that is lady bird johnson reading her dire -- her diary entry from 1963 describing the scene after the assassination of john f. kennedy. you've just published a new book based on her diaries, " lady bird johnson: hiding in plain sight." tell me about these diaries.
when did she make them? guest: thank you very much for having me, susan. her very first diary entry recording her experience of the fascination on november 22 1953. -- november 22, 1963 of john f. kennedy. she made this recording 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 in until the 31st of that month. her recordings, and as we say, she is dictating from a variety of sources that she has arrayed in front of her, that she is synthesizing and telling her story from. in a way this is her first draft , of history. she is recording it and for the most part, is not going backwards and rerecording. what we are hearing is her first draft.
host: how many did she do altogether? guest: she did 850 depending on how you counted. i have heard two different numbers. approximately 850. 123 hours of recordings. host: you write that post -- you write in the book that both johnson's were meticulous curators of their records. lyndon johnson recorded all his phone conversations. lady bird johnson and her many diaries -- why do you think they did this? what was their attitude about the historical record versus the daily tug and pull of politics? guest: lady bird was a journalism and history major at the university of texas at austin. she was trained have a predilection towards documenting and recording. she always kept these small spiral notebooks with her everywhere she went and took notes in shorthand, including on air force one going back from dallas to washington, d.c.
she was able to have the presence of mind to keep some notes, that she then used to make that first recording. i think she was very devoted to keeping records from the very get-go. it was in her dna. in lbj's case, he shared that and he also had a very long political career. by the time he gets into the presidency, especially as he becomes conscious of the challenges and controversies and criticism of his presidency, his inclination is also to document so that down the road, historians have some opportunity to look back at his presidency in a documented way and make some sense of it, rather than very much in the moment. he also had, you're talking
about the secretly recorded tapes. he had massive distrust of the press and of those around him -- his political adversaries, especially. he kept that record in order to also be on the record himself and have some control over the historical record. host: what does one learn about lady bird johnson from listening to her own voice, recording her days, that is different from the public record or persona of her? guest: the public persona that people thought of was a bit more two-dimensional. that is an understatement. then what comes out in her recordings. at the time, in the 1960's, what we saw -- well, i was not alive at this time, but what we have seen, curated image of her that her press strategy put out was of a very conventional political wife. she had roles that went beyond those conventions, but we do not see that until we dig more deeply into her diaries.
her role enter influence on lbj and in shaping the course of the presidency is something that comes out very much so not only in the diaries, but also in the vast archival material she left behind at the lbj library. we also see -- hear somebody who is an excellent writer. she writes about nature. she's a great character study. she's very open about the difficulty of living with and supporting and being partners with such a complicated individual as lyndon johnson. she writes about her own and emotions. she's not someone we see a broad smile in her publicly, privately she is confronting the process of aging, the controversies of the administration, she is a total human being in these
diaries, and meyer. host: what's the back story on this book? this is a very different project for you. how did you get interested in lady bird johnson? guest: the truth is, after working in washington, d.c. and new york and traveling globally, working in foreign policy in a world where the gender imbalances is very pronounced, i got to a point where, number one, i had maxed out on my intellectual curiosity about american foreign policy in latin america, and number two, i wanted to get my arms around the topic of women and power. but i did not have a subject. i needed the compelling character that lady bird johnson turned out to be. it was not until i discover that she had kept this diary -- she had published a huge portion -- a 780 page book, which was a portion, although not a huge one, of the diaries, in 1970. luckily, for me, when i started thinking about considering her
as a topic, she's married to the man, of course, most identified with the concept of power in the presidency in the 20th century. when i discovered that the diaries existed, that coincided with the lbj library beginning to release them entirely to the public, not just the transcript, but also all of the audio. compelling woman who lived through and documented and tells tumult of the 1960's, including three political assassinations and war, and the triumphs of the great society, and civil rights.
it drew me in. they kept my attention almost as much as foreign policy had in the past? host: where does the title, hiding in plain sight, come from? guest: it is an effort to play with the idea that this is a person whose very significant influence on lbj's presidency, on shaping the ark of it, whose very significant role as a political partner was primarily missed. that is the story that has been hiding in plain sight. the second thing is that the source material for telling that story has been sitting at the lbj library and largely missed. it is two, the sources and the story itself. host: spending your last few years of your life with lady byrd johnson and digging so deep into the archive and understanding her all, is impossible for you to say how influential she was among modern first ladies, if you were to rank them, for example? guest: i know you will probably have a view of this, given your
own work on first ladies, but i see her -- instead of rank ordering them, and we can do that too, i see her as the bridge between eleanor roosevelt and hillary clinton. she has the commitment to developing policy agenda that reinforces and elevates her husbands that eleanor had. she has the public role not quite as broad because she did not have a radio program, she did not have a column like eleanor did, but this was a woman who was out campaigning for her husband and working hand in glove to elevate his presidency. eleanor roosevelt was in the white house much longer than lady bird was, but i see lady bird then coming in and modernizing the office of the first lady, really the first person to do that since after world war ii in my view, with a policy staff in the east wing, with a communication strategy
and staff in the east wing. really becoming part of the political operation of the west wing, which of course rings to mind the office -- the way hillary clinton operated when she was first lady. as far as rank order, that's a tougher one for me to answer. i do think she is one of the most significant, certainly of the 20th century first ladies we had. host: in the book she refers to it as "our presidency." she only do that in private? hillary clinton faced faced criticism for the two-for-one concept. why did it succeed for lady bird johnson, in this instance? guest: she did it carefully, only in retrospect. it was not something she talked about while she was in the white house. but in practice, -- i do not
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 the oval office. the photo record tells the story but also does lady bird, where she is in and out of the oval office all day long or sending messages back and forth between the president and the first lady. i think liz carpenter's role is really key to that. liz carpenter was one of the texas and washington inner circle members of the johnson world for a couple of decades before they reached the white house and was perhaps the closest to lady bird and lyndon of anyone in the white house and had the standing to broker and be the interlocutor between the east wing and west wing. not on basic communications but on strategy.
in practice, it was more of an our presidency then a his presidency, but she did not say that. she was very mindful of the times. very mindful of a test as a woman and conscious of the amorphous role -- she took caution to not step out in front of lyndon even while she had a separate and independent, but connected agenda to his. host: a little bit of back story on claudia taylor. you told us she was a graduate of university of texas in austin. -- austin with degrees in journalism and history. what else should we know about her that really affected the women she would grow to be? guest: i think there are three elements i would .2. point to.
one, she was orphaned when she was five years old. not orphan excuse me. , she lost her mother. she was raised subsequently by her father and aunt and by the staff of the household where she grew up, who were descendants of enslaved people. she talks a lot about the solace she took from nature. she spent a lot of time by herself as a young girl and in nature and in the natural environment. she became in her bone somebody who felt very connected to the way access to nature can shape all for the good who we are and make us feel fully human. the second thing about lady bird's childhood is that she is from the south. her mother and father were both from alabama. she spent her summers going back to visit her family in the deep south in alabama. when she gets into the presidency with lyndon johnson -- and before, but especially as the civil rights agenda picks
up, she really has a deep feeling for the potential for backlash against the democratic party and johnson among southern white voters. host: you said she was essentially raised by lack women -- by black women in texas. there is scene in your book that similarly, intention. the trip she is to take back and forth between washington dc and austin, where she was helping to run the family broadcasting business. often in the accompaniment of african-american staff members and experience firsthand the prejudice of the dream crow south as they faced -- of the jim crow south they faced as they traveled. do you think she helps the burgeoning civil rights movement? guest: if we think about the experience she -- as you say, was driving back and forth, she and lyndon -- we know lyndon talks about this a great deal.
i think when she came into office she was very committed to leveling the racial playing field. there are two components of that from her formative years. one is growing up in alabama over the summers with her family members and being exposed to the sickness 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. host: lyndon johnson proposed right after he met her. why did she say yes? what did she see in him? guest: that was in 1934. i think she saw a charismatic, ambitious, sort of 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 aback, but at the same time, it made her feel like her intellect was being recognized by a man of great ambition. host: he was a congressional aide at that point. 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 is a progression here in her thinking about politics. guest: i think she initially did not imagine herself married to a political animal the way lyndon was. but then especially once they moved to washington, d.c., she became a political animal herself. she absorbed through osmosis the sort of ecosystem of washington , d.c., which is to build
networks and raise finances and do the intelligence gathering he was very good at and she was very good at. she did evolve over time. especially by the 1940's. before she had children, when she went up running lyndon's office while he was in the pacific or in california during world war ii. and really ever since. , host: it also meant managing his depressions and black moods and his ongoing health problems. how did she approach her relationship with him in these areas? guest: she really loved the man a lot. she appears to have devoted herself totally to using her incredible energies to boost him up.
the depression that he was prone to was something that, you know, she wound up becoming quite sensitive to and learned to expect. 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. she learned to anticipate those, for the most part. in terms of his health, there is a turning point after his very significant heart attack in 1955. that is a heart attack that almost killed him and it was after that point that she becomes intensely vigilant over his smoking, over his drinking, over his eating. the two of them almost start to compete with one another in terms of body and diet and nutrition and exercise. the specter of possible death
looms over them really until he actually dies and it is very consuming for her. it is one of the reasons also that she -- she figures out a way to navigate, keeping something for herself, too. i'm talking about a person who was totally devoted to him, but she also managed to keep some space and solitude in keep herself healthy. host: lyndon johnson we learn, and perhaps it was reported at the time, was what would be called today a philanderer. he was unfaithful throughout their marriage. how did she reach accommodation with that aspect of lyndon johnson? guest: here my answer is going to be based on what i am able to surmise. this is a marriage of many decades and anybody who has been in a marriage of many decades really cannot -- can attest to the fact that outsiders cannot tell the whole story or even
part of the story. having said that, i will say something else, which is that question about his infidelity and philandering has been so present in shaping how we think of lady bird johnson that it has almost diminished her of substance. i do not want to at all excusing -- excuse him for it but simply , to say 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 then -- there was in that. 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 increasing dependence she felt -- that he felt towards her, was increasingly total. 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 philandering. the second thing i would say is perhaps the third thing is, lady bird herself said something very instructive when another person was writing a book about her. she said, you will not 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 dead. i think that goes to the point of the fact that this is a layered and complicated marriage and relationship and partnership and that the philandering was an element of it but should not be understood to color it all. host: i will jump ahead in history to demonstrate the
political partnership. go to one of those phone calls we talked about. this is from march 7, 1954. a phone call between lady bird and lbj. let's listen and then have you talk about what it illustrates in their relationship. >> do you want to listen to one minute to my critique? >> yes, ma'am. >> i thought you looked strong, firm, like a reliable guide. -- a reliable guy. you looked splendid, the close-ups were much better than a distance ones. >> you can't get them good. >> i will say this there were , more close-ups than there were distance ones. during the statement you are a little breathless and there's too much looking down and i think it was a little too fast, not enough change of pace. dropping words at the ends of sentences. there was a considerable pick up and drama and interest when the
questioning began. your voice was noticeably better and your official expressions were better. i thought your answer was good. i thought your answer on vietnam was good. i really didn't like the answer on the because i heard you say in your said aloud, they do not believe the country this year. host: it is hard to imagine anybody speaking that candidly to lyndon johnson. what are you hearing there? guest: first of all, this is march of 1964. they have not been in the white house for very long. this is a time when lyndon and lady bird are both thinking every day about the narrative that they are trying to create in terms of lyndon being someone who could unify the country and they are both also aware that lyndon does not do so well in front of the cameras.
they do have a media company themselves, but he is not a telegenic guy. in his consciousness of that is what you hear and that is that they, too, are meticulous and monitoring how he is being read publicly. and of course, that's directness you here, that critique you here, it means he trusts her -- trusts lady bird johnson totally her judgment as an , advisor and the knowledge she has his interest front and center is what you there. that was a press conference she was talking about. it was not a speech. and that press conference, and you do not have to read the transcript, but i have. in some ways he sounds like he is reading the phone book. it is very dull and dry because he is announcing the appointments of lots of people into his administration, different agency appointments. she was also reading off of
notes she took on stationary from the office of the vice president. which i love, because he was the vice president. she is using his stationary. but in 1964, and this reinforces a point about their partnership, there was no vice president. there was not a vice president until hubert humphrey was inaugurated in 1965. what you hear there is lady bird stepping on and not just this thing on delivery but on substance and content and picking up his contradictions. that is the essence of their partnership. host: so let me back up and spend a little time on the 1960 campaign and the vice presidency and to talk about how involved she was in that campaign and what her contributions were to the ultimate success of that ticket. guest: in 1960, lyndon johnson ran in the balloting process at the convention in los angeles, but he lost in the first round of ballots.
there is a well-documented, painful story about the process by which john f kennedy asked lyndon johnson to join as vp. the power dynamic flips right away when, as lady bird talks about, how difficult it was. like a nettle in their throat, they did not see a way not to accept that appointment on the kennedy ticket. once that happens, by the summer of 1960, lady bird jumped in as surrogate to lbj and surrogate to jackie and she traveled all over the country. jackie had been battling miscarriages for some time and was pregnant during the 1960 campaign. so she did not want to risk traveling. lady bird traveled by herself with jackie's sisters and sister-in-law and rose kennedy,
especially in texas to win the south for kennedy, which is the principal reason why they brought lbj on. host: her amount of travel seems very impressive, i would say. almost staggering the number of trips that she took during the campaign and even during the vice presidency. you write that during the years of the vice presidency she flourished while lyndon johnson struggled with that period. what was it about those years she was able to do that she had not perhaps as the wife of the senate majority leader? guest: as the wife of the senate majority leader, she did not have an international schedule much. although she was queen of the senate spouses, that was limited to washington, d.c. once she moved into the position of second lady, and as you said, the vice presidency for a man who totally dominated the u.s. congress and the legislative
process as majority leader, moving to the vice presidency was incredibly debilitating. it stripped lbj of the power and prerogative he had become used to. under jfk, his portfolio was not nearly as robust. but lady bird -- and so often he traveled abroad and lady bird went with him. that began a period of international travel that she really enjoyed. and likewise back at home in washington, d.c., lady bird stepped in quite a bit for first lady jackie kennedy who was not the kind of political animal that lady bird was, did not love the rope line, did not thrive on so much ceremonial activity. lady bird stepped in for her quite a bit. it was energizing for her.
while lyndon was pretty much in a funk. host: throughout the book we see several relationships with jacqueline kennedy. how would you describe the relationship? guest: it is a very intimate and precious and complicated and emotional relationship and it this arc that goes from lady bird being the senior senate spouse when jack enters the senate. she is already married to the majority leader and bringing jackie in, doing it in a gracious big sister way. she was almost 20 years older than jackie then moving to the campaign, stepping in for jackie, and during the campaign there is a scene in the book where jackie is looking back and trying to get her arms around the relationship between lady bird and lyndon and said lady bird could sit on the couch on one side of the room when the campaign teams met talking with the sisters and jack's sisters and jackie and keep her ear on the conversation lyndon was
having across the room, and jackie at one point said it was a funny way of operating. she was almost like a trained hunting dog. that is of course not what she was, but they came from very different backgrounds and very different ways of operating in terms of the partnerships with her husband. -- with their husbands. the assassination, which we started with in this conversation, does for a time bring them together, and the two of them together orchestrate the most excruciating 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 6, 1963, so in that period of time i see a jackie-lady bird relationship that is careful and respectful
and jackie leaves many notes to that effect trying to help lady bird ease into the role of the white house first lady now, and we hear lady bird's narration over several days of that process, but once jackie leaves washington and moves to new york the distance really does begin to sink in, and there are lots of public and private snubbing and rumors, and it becomes more tense and cold and takes lady bird a while to feel like she is not walking on eggshells and the white house herself, and it sort
of culminates in a very difficult, powerful scene that lady bird garrett in 1968 at bobby kennedy's funeral after he has been assassinated, so really the two of them do not recover that intimacy and real love that they felt for one another until the 1980's when they start meeting in martha's vineyard when you both are there every summer and they begin to reconstitute that relationship. host: one of the documents that you spent a good bit of time on in the book that seems key to many aspects of their relationship is the huntland's memo that centers around the question of whether or not lyndon johnson having assumed the presidency would run in its -- in his own right in 1964. why did you see this particular document as so important to the story? guest: the memo is a document that i found in the lbj library in a folder called letters, -- campaign letters misses johnson to president johnson dated may 14, 1964. it is much more than a letter and i like to call it a strategy memo, because in fact it lays
out a strategy, lady bird's strategy whereby -- it is a pro and con analysis of whether lyndon should run in november of 1964 in his own right or step down and announce that he is not even going to run for a proper term himself. at that time in may of 1964, that is 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 analytical, laying out for him the consequences for not running for the alternative for running and winning and one of the reasons i see this as so important is she says in the memo, "i think you should run,
and you will probably win." and at that point we could 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 candidacy of the president. and that is in fact precisely what lbj does. he runs in 1964, and in march he announces that he will not be running again, and the document itself has been barely written about, although it has been in the archives since 1970, but it really becomes significant when i tracked it against the sweep of her diary entries, because starting in the fall of 1967 especially, but even before, she starts writing about how she is going to get lyndon to focus on
his exit strategy that they have already agreed to, and we see over and over her recounting the two of them talking about it and an opportunity that he does not take, and finally the lead up toward the decision and drafting of his statement and its announcement, so i feel like the arc of the lbj presidency and rationale for not running a second term is laid out way earlier than i think anybody ever assumed. the assumption was that it was vietnam and bobby kennedy and mccarthy and the embedded 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 had been executing for the previous four years. host: earlier we mentioned the name liz carpenter. 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 was an important part of that strategy. we have video of liz carpenter talking about her work for the johnsons and then we will come back. [video clip] >> i work 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. then for five years, i worked at the white house as press secretary and staff director for lady bird johnson, and sometimes funny speechwriter for lbj when he was willing to use my gags. we worked very hard on poverty while he was trying to subdue the war in vietnam, which got a
lot more attention, but it is when head start was born, the job corps was born when lady bird would try to go out to inspire people to make this planet cleaner. host: how important was the partnership between lady bird johnson at liz carpenter during those five years? guest: liz carpenter's role as advisor and press strategist and operator, lady bird and liz were a total team, and it is incredibly important. host: in what way? what did she bring to the partnership? guest: she brought press savvy. liz carpenter was a reporter going back to the 1930's. she was from texas and came to washington and began to cover eleanor roosevelt when it was
when -- when eleanor roosevelt held her press conference that called her the present for the first lady and female reporters and washington, d.c. liz carpenter had a long history of knowing how to operate with the price it washington and she helped lady bird right away to establish a very direct communication with the female press corps. these were the days when the gender press coverage was such that it was by and large exclusively who covered the office of the first lady and then by and large but not totally who covered the office of the president. liz was very important in helping lady bird make the transition and establish her own independent identity separate from that of jackie kennedy, so very important on the press and very important in terms of
political operation in the 1960 campaign and at the 1964 campaign. the civil rights component of the 1964 campaign is the place where liz carpenter really shines. there was a moment in october of 1964 when liz and lindy boggs, a very important part of this story, married to a congressman from louisiana, go to the south and they organized with lady bird and for lady bird. eight southern states over 40's, 47 steps. -- eight southern states, 47 stops. it is liz carpenter generating press material, and helping with the speeches, and partnering with lady bird on the essential objective of trying to send the message to the south that the democratic party and its commitment to civil rights is something southerners ought to embrace. host: as a special issue lady bird johnson is identified most with beautification. in the final pages of your book you have her lamenting as she
calls them lyndon'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? guest: beautification is a word she did not like because she thought it was prissy and a euphemism as you say, and kind of masked what she was really about. she had an ambitious environmental vision, which going back to her early childhood was premised on the idea that human beings cannot be fully human without access to nature and it is a truth that we associate her with beautification of american highways and that is part of her legacy and planting tulips and -- tulips in the monumental part of washington, d.c. which is a very significant part of her legacy, but she was also in washington, d.c. and 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 the secretary of the interior with the head of the national capital housing authority under the first mayor of d.c. and a very interesting landscape architect from california to develop ways to bring -- to desegregate access to nature in washington, d.c.'s most underserved neighborhoods. it was a black majority city at the time with no statehood and very little representation if any in congress, so it was a pretty radical vision in fact, but it was dressed up in this idea of beautifying, and somehow -- and sometimes what happens and it happened -- and sometimes what happens and what did happen
is she was criticized for this ornamental approach at a time of major social cleavage and radical politics in the country, and she was conscious of that and tried to at that beautification idea shed and become more of a more overt environmentalist by the end of her term. host: back stage there was hard knuckle politics involved in 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? guest: kind of seamlessly. i mean, she was a big tent operator, so when the east wing without a budget but with standing convened these beautification committee meetings, as you say, she would have individuals from the auto industry, from the petroleum industry, the garden club, very
well-known architects and landscape architects. she would have asserted a big tent operation to build as broad a political coalition as possible, and she had philanthropists who helped underwrite the financing of the planting or maybe the renovation of a school playground. over time, and we see it in 1965, the pushback starts when she becomes associated in the shades of hillary clinton, she becomes associated with something that sounds kind of fluffy but really is not, which is the highwood beautification act, which comes together in 1965, but the larger pressures she is against have to do with the 1950's, which when we saw the beginning of the interstate highway system, that highway system under eisenhower had
began to be constructed in the country was done with very little regulation, very attention for which neighborhoods were being destroyed as entrances and exits for cities were being constructed. certainly no eye toward aesthetics, and so the automobile industry and concrete industry are having a piece and so to have the first lady come in and having diversity of united states and regulate what one sees when one drives down the highway to get junkyards screened and the scale of billboards managed so that they were not these hideous towering screeching ads. , all of that was quite threatening. by the time that legislation passes, the republican party spokespeople in the congress are attacking her and attacking lbj for having a wife who is putting herself out there so much.
host: another area of interest was women's rights. you describe washington in 1963 and 1964 as a city separated by both race and gender. how did she use her luncheons to advance the cause of women's rights? guest: i love this aspect of lady bird johnson. it is not a very bold all caps approach. it is a subtle approach. 1963 is when the feminine mystique is published and the women's movement is just beginning to pick up steam. she is from a different generation, and this concept of the luncheons is another euphemism for highlighting professional women, and the first few people she has -- not quite two dozen of these luncheons in the course of her time in the white house, but the
first two people to meet she has speak are very instructive. one of them is barbara solomon who at the time and started to put together is the library at radcliffe. she is a professor at harvard and comes to the white house to talk about the importance of documenting one's history and keeping all of the material and ephemera by keeping a record and diary and of course lady bird has started this and she does it with incredible visit with about the presidency, and it goes to lady bird's own ear and eye and documenting the johnson presidency as a whole. so barbara solomon is the first. the second is jane jacobs, who is of course the pioneering advocate in american cities and new york city for humane cities and jane jacobs comes and speaks.
lady bird called her a somewhat salty and controversial speaker. when she is talking about is her critique of the urban renewal projects all around the country that had really laid waste 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, d.c. host: we have about 15 minutes left and there is a much to talk about. she stopped those luncheons. you divided your book chronologically. the first years for of accomplishments in the passage of the civil rights act, headstart, and other programs being passed, and the rising number of deaths coming out of the vietnam war and also the racial strife going around the country, polls started to drop and being a champion for other issues got superseded by the troubles in the country. she wrote in her diary lyndon
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 luncheon because it brings all of these together. she invited ursa to the white house. we have are talking about how this turned out from her perspective. [video clip] >> i said i think we forgot with -- we have forgotten what the subject of all of this lunch it is all about. i recited the subject. she said one of the reasons our boys are running 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 do not like it. we have been there long enough to realize we cannot win this war. it is a silly war, an unwinnable war and we do not want to go. it is not that we don't love america, but we do not want to be involved with that war.
i told her with the kids told me. suddenly the meeting was over. >> i understand she started to tear up. >> i do not know. i was not close enough to see that. i had a car the hotel desk at the hotel the white house and sent for me but now all of a sudden i do not have a car and all of the sudden i'm walking around waiting for a car. i had to hitchhike my way back to the hotel, so to speak. host: the timing was january, 1968. lyndon johnson had not announced his intentions but they are following the johnsons everywhere at this point. why is this luncheon an interesting point in time in that story? guest: well, the other aspect of what is following for johnson's everywhere are riots in american cities, beginning in 1965 but especially at 1967. the political uprisings against
some of the very same issues we are seeing the result reckoning around today, police brutality, lack of job opportunity, and housing discrimination. these are the issues of black americans are demanding get more resources, and so what she does when she comes to the white house, and this is a white house luncheon focused on the crime bill that lyndon johnson as just announced the night before in the state of the union address, now we are moving into a political election season. he has not announced he is not going to run again yet, but the law & order backlash is rising and we hear people like richard nixon and george wallace pushing on the johnson administration to take a stronger stance on law
and order. fighting crime is the theme of the luncheon, and she is invited by the white house to attend because she has been an activist for civil rights in los angeles and washington, d.c. to try to do what we would think of as basic youth empowerment. how to empower local kids to feel that they actually have an opportunity and possibility, so she is putting her wealth by -- her wealth behind dance classes and training programs, and she has testified before congress about it. that is why she is invited to come. what she does it that is treated with such controversy is a couple of things. she said what we heard her say just now, which is people are in the streets. she brings the critique of vietnam into a discussion about what is supposed to be happening at home. the white house, you don't cross
lanes like that. if you are asked to speak about subject a, you do not challenge the first lady on subject b. that is one line she crossed. in the other line she crossed was the choreography of the day, and lyndon johnson had dropped by before they had their exchange just to say hello, and he speaks for a few minutes and then as he is walking out, she stands up and stops him at the podium, and he seems fine with it, they have a conversation, but it sets the tone and creates this tension so when lady bird does call on ursa and she gives a very long statement bringing together crime and riots and the youth and vietnam into the first family's home, circle the wagons kind of dynamic in the room
shifts, and there are a couple of journalists there and they go out and report kind of it -- kind of inaccurately what was said, what was not said, and the whole thing blows up with the white house taking a very tough stance against her and executing a smear campaign that has long-lasting professional effects upon her. negative host: with our time short, what did you learn in lady bird's diaries about the incident to understand how she approached those things? guest: she documented that incident did the usual way that she did. she gathered lots of material together, clips and statements and transcripts and news coverage, but i think in this instance, i did this with a lot of her diaries. i would check the accuracy of what she was reporting on.
in this particular instance, i think she got sucked into the spin. this is one of the lowest moments of lady bird johnson's presidency because she is very negative about eartha kitt and mary -- and very un-self-reflective about allowing ms. carpenter to tease her in the aftermath of this incident. guest: i went to one less piece of videotape on. lyndon johnson announces in march he is not going to run for the presidency again, and it is one of the most momentous years in modern american history. martin luther king assassinated, robert kennedy assassinated, the violence of the political conventions, the last year of the johnsons in the white house. lady bird johnson reflected on why she thought it was important
he leave the white house in 1968. let's listen. [video clip] >> in the end, why did he quit? >> my opinion is that in case he won, he did not have four more years left in him. they were wearing thin and costing too much and pulling up your spirit right out of your boots and going on. if he lived, he would not be able to do the job as president he wanted to do. something that hunted us was the picture of wilson, woodrow wilson, which was painted after he had his first stroke. it was our own time.
host: define your reaction to her description. guest: it brings together all of the elements in the actual time she was in the white house she was talking about, the specter of his dying or becoming debilitated, even worse while in , office really did drive them. host: in the closing part of your book, and you alluded to this before, that lady bird johnson's legacy is so tied up with lbj's that the work of disentangling her contributions is complex. after spending so much time with her, what should people know about her singular contributions to american history? guest: i do not think the johnson presidency would have been possible without lady bird. her singular contributions have to do with both that presidency's successes around the war on poverty and civil rights and the great society,
and also the blinders of both she and lbj had when it comes 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 is quite singular and really has not been fully appreciated up until now. host: can you give an example as we close? guest: that environmental agenda helped raise public consciousness in a way that allowed what came subsequently under richard nixon, the creation of the environmental protection agency, the establishment of the redwood national forests, the celebration in 1970 of the first earth day by the american public, the second nature with
which we now approach to keeping our natural environment clean and beautiful and preserving it. all of that is something that lady bird johnson put into the american consciousness during her time in the white house. host: 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? guest: 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 is such a modest person. she was so habituated to deflecting attention that sometimes i wonder whether all of that documentation was a direct and conscious
manifestation of an awareness of her influence or not. host: that is it for our time. julie's wide, the book is called "lady bird johnson: hiding in plain sight." it is also a podcast. thank you for spending an hour with us. guest: thank you for having me, susan. ♪ [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> all q&a programs are available on our website or as a podcast at c-span.org. ♪ >> c-span is your unfiltered view of government, funded by these television companies in more, including cox. >> teachers are doing whatever
it takes to connect with their students and hub is too. >> wants to see it again? >> the connect to compete program from cox. >> cox supports c-span as a public service, along with these other television providers, giving you a front-row seat to democracy. ♪ >> middleton high school students participated in c-span's studentcam competition, telling us what issues the president and congress should address this year. a month we are featuring the winners. our weather -- our winners are ebony christie elijah slater and, high school in richland northeast high school in a south carolina. there winning ida -- title is -- there winning entry is titled not a second choice: continued