By Robert Mann
“I am vice president,” John Adams once said. “In this I am nothing, but I may be everything.”
Such was the destiny of Lyndon Baines Johnson on Nov. 22, 1963. He awoke in Fort Worth as nothing — at least in the eyes of John F. Kennedy’s young staffers, many of whom maligned their vice president as “Uncle Cornpone.” By early afternoon, those grieving Kennedy aides would be calling Johnson, “Mr. President.”
As Americans mark the events of that afternoon in Dallas, it’s easy to forget that as Kennedy’s life ended at Parkland Hospital, Johnson’s momentous presidency commenced.
While not without significant accomplishment, Kennedy the president was still very much a work-in-progress. He had proposed civil rights legislation, but his bill was held hostage in the Southern-dominated House Rules Committee. His proposal to create the Medicare system was also stalled. Kennedy was still unsure about where to take U.S. policy in Vietnam.
Johnson would give impetus to each. The first two would cement his legacy as a master legislative strategist; the third would undermine his presidency and prevent him from seeking a second full term.
No person understood Congress better than Johnson, the former Senate majority leader. Strangely, Kennedy and his aides had never asked him to lobby for their bills and rarely consulted him on legislative strategy. Kennedy and his aides, in the words of Arkansas Congressman Wilber Mills, had “turned [Johnson] out to pasture.”
He was miserable. “Every time I came into John Kennedy’s presence,” Johnson later recalled, “I felt like a damn raven hovering over his shoulder. … I detested every minute of it.”
- Retracing President Kennedy’s steps in North Texas, 50 years later (star-telegram.com)
- Jackie Kennedy To Widow Of Officer Shot After JFK: ‘Wasn’t One Life Enough To Take On That Day?’ (huffingtonpost.com)
- Obama, Clinton Families Pay Tribute To JFK (huffingtonpost.com)