Throughout the history of the presidency, scholars have ranked each president in various ways. Despite the debate surrounding whom the “greatest” leaders of our nation are, ranking consistently proves difficult given the vast successes and failures each individual encountered. Similar to previous scholars, I have a created a rubric that outlines different characteristics of a “great” president. Each attribute within the rubric is important in distinguishing what I believe to be appropriate qualities in a president.
As it is impossible to hold such individuals to a perfect standard, there is no one that flawlessly executed the position in the executive office; however, many did far better than others. By applying the rubric I previously created, it will reveal that Lyndon B. Johnson prevails as the greatest president in contrast to Andrew Johnson, who ultimately failed. Foremost, within the rubric self-awareness is outlined as the ability to acknowledge one’s own strengths and weaknesses. It is the understanding of one’s individuality and ability to recognize when they are compromised and in need of help.
Lyndon B. Johnson was a capable and confident man, despite the negative regards concerning his public speaking ability amongst himself and the electorate. His acknowledgement of his poor speaking ability heightens his self-awareness in terms of understanding his limitations. Many believed that his speeches were long and boring, but his use of “compelling” rhetoric in addresses like “We Shall Overcome” quickly established sound evidence that resonated with the people (Pauley). While his oratory success was limited, his ability to capture the attention of individuals face-to-face came with ease.
LBJ was a president that remained proficient in getting his way when it came to passing legislation and correcting the issues that frustrated him greatly. Often termed “The Johnson Treatment,” his tactics of close talking, broad gestures, and persuasion proved successful in personal conversation rather than the public forum (Genovese 162). While this may appear egotistical to many, it was anything but. His tactics were a direct result of the confident, management style LBJ carried with him into office that proved to be a “good subset of leadership,” especially in such short notice (Genovese 151).
Merely two hours following the assignation of JFK, Lyndon was sworn into the presidency aboard Air Force One. The swift and confident action of LBJ defined his ability for great leadership and strength. As the rubric defines leadership, it is a combination of multiple underlying factors. By quickly stepping up when American needed it most, LBJ showed courage amongst the tragedy. This is apparent as he stood between the First Lady and dozens of others, taking the oath of office before quickly traveling to D. C. where he faced the American audience.
Once landed, he addressed the American people by proclaiming he would do the best he could with their help and God’s. After a few short days of meetings with world leaders and civil rights activists to continue the plans of Kennedy, LBJ addressed the nation. He highlighted the duties of a leader by taking charge, guiding, and presenting the new possibilities. In his transition speech, he reminded the people of all that is left to accomplish, while inspiring them to continue and that it is not “time to hesitate” (“Tragedy and Transition. ”) His leadership was impeccably appropriate as confusion and grief of the assassination still remained.
One deviation from the rubric in LBJ’s leadership style was his dominating alpha male side, rather than avoiding “over-bearing” tactics he often used unconventional means. Commonly, LBJ used the bathroom with doors open, put his fingers in people’s faces, and several reports accused him of displaying his genitals (Gittell). While it is a direct opposition to a manageable leader, it appears to be LBJ’s way of joking. In such times it was commonplace for men to assert their dominance through overt body movements. It is significant to say that scandal was avoided and LBJ’s leadership was not entirely tarnished.
As an extension of leadership, the vision of a president is a standard of excellence they place in terms of their goals and opposition to the status quo. LBJ had a strong vision regarding his transformational idea of “The Great Society” (“Lyndon Johnson”). His vision included a vast array of new civil right laws, Medicare reforms, Medicaid, employment, education, and environmental protection. LBJ was extending the policies Kennedy had envisioned. He was able to educate the people through his vision by calling upon them to help enact change, as it began with them (“Tragedy and Transition”).
LBJ had an extensive vision that encompassed the betterment of all Americans in some way, whether it included age, race, or economic standing (“Lyndon Johnson”). In all, his vision was a replication of his previous knowledge for where American was and where it ultimately needed to go. The rubric defines knowledge in terms of the self, system, and world. It is knowledge of the law, including understanding what is possible for the future. LBJ was self-sufficient as he worked his way through college the second time around, at what is now Texas State.
He was determined student, helping teach minority groups after earning his degree (“Lyndon B. Johnson”). Eventually, LBJ would later aide Congressmen and become extremely involved in politics. He became a member of the House in 1937. Soon after, in WWII, he served as Lieutenant Commander in the U. S. Naval Reserve and was ordered to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.
After six months in the House, Johnson was elected in the Senate where he would become the youngest minority leader and then quickly the youngest majority leader (Lbjlibrary. rg) Lyndon Johnson’s vast experience in politics and the military helped him as his quickly transitioned into the prominent leader of the nation. His knowledge from passing legislation in the House and Senate would later aid him in getting Congress to pass his almost every bill. Knowing how, why, and when the system works is an extremely important aspect of the presidency. The previous knowledge her brought along with him made the shocking transition more bearable. All of his years in politics also helped him sympathize with the people of America.
The open-mindedness and agreeableness LBJ showed throughout his time in office was readily apparent. It began when he was younger; both from his own experience with poverty as a child and through teaching minority Hispanic students in Texas. LBJ’s close relation to poverty is more than likely what sparked his interest in the matter. He greatly expanded the rights of millions of people suffering through racial and economic inequality. Through the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968, major forms of discrimination were outlawed in public places in and equal housing opportunities were granted regardless of race or creed.
In addition, the Voting Rights Act finally challenged the practice of inhibiting African American votes through literacy tests. Among other race relations, the Immigration and Nationality Services Act helped immigrants establish solid relations with America and create a new life in the States. Further, he implemented the Food Stamp Act of 1964 and the Economic Opportunity Act, which jump-started the “War on Poverty” (“Lyndon Johnson’). LBJ’s sympathy for others directly related to his connectivity. As highlighted previously, Lyndon’s ability to capture audiences was rare but he was able to unify the people through legislative action.
He expanded the opportunities of others repeatedly and was actively seeking for better domestic relations. By doing so it gave people better opportunities and means for connecting. It was evident the Lyndon was adamant about remaining “in personal control of most situations,” especially those dealing with foreign policy. Although most of his issues were domestic, he felt it was important to maintain a positive image with foreign nations. Therefore, he would meet would world leaders far more often than President Eisenhower had (“Lyndon Johnson on Foreign Policy”).
Ultimately, Lyndon’s foreign accomplishments were overshadowed through his involvement with the Vietnam War. In efforts to appease both parties, he attempted to deescalate the magnitude of American’s involvement in the War but it was detrimental. After his influx of troops into Vietnam, the public’s image of the president lead them to question his use of power (Genovese 21). Despite his involvement, I do not think this was ultimate decider of Lyndon’s presidency as many other presidents have escalated wars. Apart from his foreign policy, Lyndon did have economic prosperity in terms of GDP and employment.
He was able to secure a 20% increase in GDP in his first term and 4% in the second term. In addition, the poverty rate lowered from 32. 2% to 17. 3% in 1965 (Rector and Sheffield). When he left office, the unemployment rate was at a small 3. 4%. However, like so with all of the presidents after, inflation and the debt rose. The spending increased as Lyndon’s war on poverty aided unemployment and social security, but remained 14% bellow the average spending for such programs. In all, the Vietnam War hiked both spending and the deficit.