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CNN Larry King Live
Aired December 28, 2001 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, he was a giant on the American political scene, one of the most complex and controversial presidents in U.S. history. What was it like having Lyndon Baines Johnson as a father? With personal insights only they can provide, Lynda Johnson- Robb and Luci Baines Johnson, the daughters of LBJ and his wife Lady Bird.
Plus, famed presidential historian Michael Beschloss next on LARRY KING LIVE!
Thanks for joining us. We were working on some remarkable shows, when September 11 happened. Our professional and personal priorities changed, one of those programs involved the daughters of the late Lyndon Baines Johnson, we had a very personal conversation with Lynda and Luci late in the summer, and as you will see, thought they lost their father nearly three decades ago, their feelings about the former president run strong and deep.
What a show we have tonight. Lynda Johnson-Robb is the elder of Lyndon Baines and Lady Bird Johnson, she's married to former Senator Chuck Robb and on your right is Luci Baines Johnson, the younger daughter of the Johnsons, she's married to Ian Turpin, who's chairman of the board of the LBJ Holding Company. And with us, as well, is the presidential historian, Michael Beschloss, best-selling author as well, currently working on "Reaching For Glory," his second volume on LBJ's Oval Office tapes.
Lynda first, how's mom?
JOHNSON-ROBB, DAUGHTER OF PRESIDENT JOHNSON: She is pretty well. I just came,,,
KING: How old is mom...
JOHNSON-ROBB: ...back yesterday...
KING: ... now?
JOHNSON-ROBB: ... from spending two weeks with her. She is 88. She will be 89 in December.
KING: And her name is Claudia.
JOHNSON-ROBB: Her name is Claudia Alpha Taylor Johnson.
KING: What was he like, as a father?
JOHNSON-ROBB: He was really very affectionate to us, and...
JOHNSON-ROBB: Doting, yes. Very trusting of us, he didn't say now you must be in by 10:00, or you are going to loose all privileges. But he would look at you, and he'd say now I know you are going to do the right thing.
KING: Not a lot of rules.
LUCI BAINES JOHNSON, DAUGHTER OF PRESIDENT JOHNSON: Well, my father, I think, was a master of human nature, and I think he understood with Lynda and and with myself, the way to work with our particular personalities was to believe in us. And so he would say, I don't have all the answers in the world, but my judgment is that the following is the wisest course, you must make those decisions yourself about what that course will be.
KING: Historically, Michael, one of the most persuasive presidents ever, right?
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, AUTHOR "REACHING FOR GLORY": That's for sure, and I think probably some of the same talents used in child raising, because especially when he was Senate majority leader he was trying to get all sorts of senators do things that they did not want to do, and you couldn't do that by ordering them, you couldn't do that. You couldn't do that, you had to do it by knowing what the guy's motives were, and what he was afraid of and what wanted to do, and in a way that really helped LBJ, I think, in all of his relationships.
KING: Now we are going to scatter-gun and cover a lot. I'm not going to do this chronologically, we're going to cover a lot of bases. But certainly the most famous thing, one of the most pictures in American history your father being sworn in, aboard Air Force after the assassination of John Kennedy November 22, 1963. Where were you that day?
JOHNSON-ROBB: I was in Austin waiting for him to arrive. I was at the University of Texas, we were going to have a big banquet and then we were going to go to the ranch, all of us were going to the ranch.
KING: And the president was going to go to the ranch -- Kennedy? JOHNSON-ROBB: Yes, president and Mrs. Kennedy, and mother and daddy, and I was going to join them.
KING: Where were you, Luci?
LUCI JOHNSON: I was a student at National Cathedral School for girls, I was a junior in high school.
KING: In Washington.
LUCI JOHNSON: Yes, in Washington. And I was in Spanish class when a young girl came in saying, the president's been shot, the president's been shot. And of course, a girlfriend of mine said oh, my gosh don't say something like that Luci is in here. And, teenagers --
KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) first thought?
LUCI JOHNSON: Oh, yes, absolute terror, because President Kennedy was my president. But, he was also my friend.
KING: At the same time your father is going to be president.
LUCI JOHNSON: Well, of course, at that time I didn't know what had happened to president Kennedy when I learned about John Connally -- we called Governor Connally, Uncle Johnny. He was a member of our family, we had laughed together, lived together, prayed together. We were closest family friends.
JOHNSON-ROBB: That is what I did. When...
KING: How did you find out about the shooting?
JOHNSON-ROBB: Well, I heard, I was home at lunch, my former roommate called me, and said stay where you are. I'm coming right over. And she came over and she told me, we turned on the radio. We listened and I remember very much falling on my knees, and saying let's all start praying. And then a secret service man came, and this was in the upstairs in a dorm, and those were the days when men didn't come into the dorms, and certainly not upstairs.
KING: Is there kind of mixed emotions, Luci? I mean, obviously you loved, John Kennedy and he is the president. But now your father is going to -- the dream of his lifetime has come true. It's come in tragic way, but is there mixed emotions.
LUCI JOHNSON: Oh, I think that...
LUCI JOHNSON: ... pain is what permeated every human being who was alive at the time. In the LBJ Library there is a copy of first words that he said when he came back to Washington, and what he does consistently throughout that text is he -- it starts off making references that this is a sad time for every American. And he crosses out every American and he puts, the whole free world and then he crosses out free, and he says the whole world. And throughout the text he gets into this increasingly inclusive sense.
KING: Where were you when he was sworn in on the plane? Just still in Washington?
LUCI JOHNSON: Yes, I was in Washington. A Secret Service agent came to the school, much as one came to the university, for Lynda, and but they sent very graciously an agent that I knew, and immediately, after this young woman that she heard the president had been shot, the bells of the National Cathedral began to ring. And 400 girls marched out of Spanish -- classes all over -- mine particularly Spanish class and in single-file, and all of a sudden I looked up and there were two girls that were cutting line, and you didn't cut line in all girls school like that. And I couldn't understand what was happening, and then all of a sudden I realized that they were cutting line, because the rest of the classes were allowing them to, because they were my two closest friends. And one literally came on one side and the other on the other, and escorted me into the gym where 400 girls immediately fell to their knees, without ever having been asked.
KING: We'll come right back, and we'll find out their first meeting with their father as president. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NOVEMBER 22, 1963)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do solemnly swear.
LYNDON JOHNSON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do solemnly swear.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That I will faithfully execute.
LYNDON JOHNSON: That I will faithfully execute.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The office of president of the United States.
LYNDON JOHNSON: The office of president of the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And will to the best of my ability.
LYNDON JOHNSON: And will to the best of my ability.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.
LYNDON JOHNSON: Preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So help me God.
LYNDON JOHNSON: So help me God.
(END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NOVEMBER 22, 1963)
LYNDON JOHNSON: This is a sad time for all people. We have suffered a loss that cannot be believed. For me, it is a deep, personal tragedy. I know that the world shares the sorrow that Mrs. Kennedy and her family bare. I will do my best, that is all I can do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: When was the first time you saw your father after he became president, Lynda?
JOHNSON-ROBB: I didn't see my father until -- right before the funeral. I was in Texas, and we didn't know really what was going on. And I got a phone call -- I got a phone call from my parents. They reached me at the Connallys, with the Connally children, and told me they were all right, because of course at first we heard that maybe daddy had had a heart attack, we didn't know. And -- and they just assured me that they were all right, and they would talk to me again.
KING: When did you see your dad, Luci?
LUCI JOHNSON: Well, I guess I have two answers. The first time I felt like I saw him was the first time the nation saw him, when he walked off of that plane and landed and made the first address to the people of the country. But he left Andrews Air Force base and came back to the Elms where we lived eventually, and, I -- I was standing there with open arms, and he came, and embraced me and we -- we cried together. And he said, "there is work to be done, Luci Johnson, and I expect you to be there with me." And I said "yes, sir."
KING: Imagine what he was going through, Michael.
BESCHLOSS: He was.
KING: The job he always wanted. Wasn't a great fan of Kennedys, but they had gotten close.
JOHNSON-ROBB: We don't think that it was a job that daddy ever...
KING: Really wanted?
JOHNSON-ROBB: No. I think he -- he was very happy in the job he had. He had a lot of people who were pushing him into it, because they were thinking of the Democratic Party and they were scared that -- that maybe Kennedy was not going to be elected. But you know, my father had supported Kennedy when he ran for vice president.
KING: In '56, I didn't know that.
JOHNSON-ROBB: In '56.
LUCI JOHNSON: And the Congress was my father's true love. That is where all his best friends were, that's where there was opportunity to serve had been.
LUCI JOHNSON: Well, I don't know if you say "pushed into." Government service, by gosh, you are right, that is a job he always wanted, and with a passion. The presidency? That is a different issue.
KING: Can you imagine that, Michael, though?
KING: To be thrust upon it that way, and to be at the scene.
BESCHLOSS: At the scene, and to be in a situation where the president has been killed in your home state. Most Americans don't know who you are, don't know very much about you. And plus, you know, it was a time, much more than this one, where there were big issues at stake, because when Lyndon Johnson went home to the Elms that evening, no vice presidential residents in those days, neighbors were literally calling him up because in those days the vice president's telephone number was listed in the book, and he had a few things to do. And the aides said that the biggest...
LUCI JOHNSON: Oh, Lyndon Johnson always insisted that his telephone number be in the book, because he said, "I serve the people of the state of Texas, or of the United States later on, and by gosh if I'm going to serve them, I have got to be available to them."
BESCHLOSS: And they were calling him at night. But what he was told by his aides was the biggest problem you've got is the Civil Rights Bill, made Kennedy very unpopular. You should table it for a your, get reelected, and Johnson said, "what the hell is the presidency for if I can't use it for something like civil rights?"
KING: And he made the greatest civil rights speech ever deliverer in this country. Howard University, right?
KING: Still the greatest.
LUCI JOHNSON: He made -- that was a great speech, as was his "we shall overcome" speech. But daddy looked upon it as here are the chips I have got. This is so important that I'm going to put them all in. Because I'm -- I think it's worth it.
KING: What was the funeral like, Luci? The Kennedy funeral? Did you walk with your dad?
LUCI JOHNSON: Yes, I did. My sister and I walked behind our parents.
KING: That famous walk.
LUCI JOHNSON: And you felt like you were an eyewitness to history, and you were in a state of shock, because you had lost a friend, you had lost your boss, you had lost your president. And it was all in one word surreal.
KING: Were you nervous for your father, Lynda?
JOHNSON-ROBB: Not really.
KING: Taking on the largest job in the world?
JOHNSON-ROBB: Not really. I believed in him and thought he could do it. But I knew what pressure he was under. I was concerned for him, yes. I think we were all concerned for everybody. And there had always been the rumors, you know, we didn't know at that point whether this was a conspiracy, whether they were other people out there. Were they out to...
KING: Oswald's dead now, so (UNINTELLIGIBLE) these events -- you were 7 years old, right?
BESCHLOSS: Yeah, it seems...
KING: Incomprehensible to you? In today's world, everything would have been -- well, the Oswald shooting was on television.
BESCHLOSS: It was. I was actually watching at age of 7. My mother was in the next room, and I came into the room and said, "Oswald has been shot." And she said, "you've been watching too much television." She thought I had imagined it, and turned it off.
But the other thing was that Johnson was very worried that Americans have wondered who had been behind the murder, that if they thought it was Soviets or Cubans that they might demand that he retaliate against another country, so this is what he had to deal with very quickly.
KING: You move into the White House on an ominous date, December 7, 1963. He doesn't move in right away, lets Jackie stay there, right? And was very good to Jackie, invited Jackie often back to the White House, called her a lot, as we know from the tapes.
JOHNSON-ROBB: Wrote lots of letters to her.
KING: Yeah. He was constantly aware of -- and he cared for her a lot.
LUCI JOHNSON: And there is a wonderful letter handwritten from Mrs. Kennedy in the LBJ Library, and it speaks to the time from the assassination on to my father having entered the White House, and her feelings about it. And a lot of people have tried to pit the Johnson and Kennedy families against each other. And I can just tell you, Larry, we felt nothing but love and respect...
KING: Not for Robert, though.
LUCI JOHNSON: And felt it in return. And this letter, I think, pretty much expresses the mutual respect and affection that there was.
KING: You're going to counter me on Robert?
JOHNSON-ROBB: I was just going to say, again, you know, there are always people who want to make fights.
LUCI JOHNSON: Stir the pot.
JOHNSON-ROBB: Stir the pot. My daddy would say, "your job is to start a fight and mine is to stop it." Robert Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were very much alike in the sense that they were both very committed to issues and really wanted to help the people.
And I think it has also been noted that -- that maybe Bobby Kennedy didn't want daddy to be vice president. And when you know that you were not their choice, maybe that causes some of it. But Mrs. Kennedy, just let me just say one thing, is when daddy died and they had the funeral, we were invited to stay at Blair House, and that night a lovely basket of flowers arrived from Ethel Kennedy.
KING: Historically, this is very interesting, Michael.
BESCHLOSS: It is.
BESCHLOSS: Absolutely. And it sort of closed the circle with healing, like Kathleen Townsend, Robert Kennedy's daughter, who is lieutenant governor of Maryland, told me a little while ago: "When I was growing up, we were led to think of LBJ as an ogre, because he was our father's political rival, but now I look back and see that they really were after a lot of the same things."
JOHNSON-ROBB: Absolutely. And my husband went -- and when Kathleen ran the first time, he was right over there campaigning for her.
KING: Didn't know that.
JOHNSON-ROBB: Oh yeah.
LUCI JOHNSON: And Robert Kennedy, Jr. has come and spoken to the...
LUCI JOHNSON: Well, at the library, but specifically at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, because his work in the environment and my mother's work is very much in the same vineyard of mutual respect. And we were able to take a tape, find a tape of my father speaking about Robert Kennedy and play it that night for Robert Kennedy, Jr. It was a very poignant tape, because it was talking about a lot of mutual respect, and, yes, sometimes personalities get in the way, but I think that what bound them was far greater than what divided them.
KING: You were both kids in the White House. Not kids, young ladies. Everything you did got noticed. You dated the actor George Hamilton.
KING: Then you marry Charles Robb, who was on the White House Marine detail. Your future husband was a National Guardsman, right?
LUCI JOHNSON: Well, he was a graduate -- a recent graduate of Marquette University when I met him, and he was in the National Guard. But a lot of people accused him of getting into the Guard just because he knew me. And in fact he was in the Guard before I ever laid eyes on him.
KING: What was the Fishbowl like?
JOHNSON-ROBB: Actually, I got along pretty well in it.
KING: You did?
JOHNSON-ROBB: I just retreated. Nobody saw me. I was I was the dead fish, I guess. I was very shy.
KING: But who you dated was in all the papers.
JOHNSON-ROBB: Well, that got it a lot more, but you have to realize that my father was president for five years, and that was just a small, little piece of it. A lot of the time I was just going to college, and doing...
KING: Did you have Secret Service protection? Was that pretty regularly after the Kennedy...
JOHNSON-ROBB: Absolutely. Oh, 24 hours a day.
KING: I want to ask Luci what it was like, but we've got to take a break. We'll be right back. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JANUARY 8, 1964)
LYNDON JOHNSON: And this administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JANUARY 4, 1965)
LYNDON JOHNSON: We worked for two centuries to climb this peak of prosperity. But we are only at the beginning of the road to the great society. Ahead now is a summit where freedom from the wants of the body can help fulfill the needs of the spirit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now Luci, what was the Fishbowl like for you? Lynda says she retreated. What did you do?
LUCI JOHNSON: Well, I think that the White House was the best of times, and the worst of times. But because...
KING: Do you?
LUCI JOHNSON: ... so many of the people that were associated with, life was better because they were a part of it. Living in the White House itself, the domestic staff of the White House that goes from administration to administration, has an uncanny ability to make you feel like they love you best, so.
KING: What was the first night like there?
LUCI JOHNSON: The first night? I was in the White House, it was shades of the War of 1812, and the fire of 1814. Short version, a little light in fireplace, in my bedroom, a luxury to have a fireplace in your bedroom, one that I had never had. But it was not a luxury I understood, and the flew was not properly open, and the next thing I knew there was smoke all over, and I was thrusting open a window, 8- foot window, standing there in my nighttime gown at 16, petrified that the policeman outside was going to look up and see what he ought not, and that I was going to be remembered as having burnt the White House down the first night, as if we hadn't had enough trauma.
So I spent my first week in the White House cleaning up my room and helping repaint it.
KING: What was it like there for you early on?
JOHNSON-ROBB: Well, I was in college, and my mother asked me if I would come back up. And I think a lot of it was that she wanted me to be there to help her with the hostessing jobs, but also as a history major she knew that I would find it fascinating, and I did. And I have tried to find out who had ever slept in my room, you know.
I thought this room was going to be full of history, and everything. Well, mother brought our old furniture, so I had this same old furniture that I had -- grew up with, nothing antique and special. So I started to try to find out who had lived there. And after I found out that it was the room that they closed up after little Willie died, Willie Lincoln, and then it was the room where President Lincoln -- the autopsy was performed on him.
And after two or three more terrible, sad things in my room, I decided that I was not going to worry about that anymore, and I borrowed a painting of some wonderful little children and put it over this mantle piece and said it was the Adams' children. I made up history for it.
KING: What's it like, Michael, for a historian to sit around here and be a witness to history? Most historians don't get the chance to do this.
BESCHLOSS: Well, that is right. That's one thing that is wonderful about living in Washington, because you see it going on all around you.
BESCHLOSS: But also talking to people like Luci and Lynda; they really bring it alive because this was not all just, you know, farm bills and legislation and foreign policy. These were human beings who in this case went through an absolute fascinating time.
KING: Yeah. They -- you lived it.
LUCI JOHNSON: We did, but you know, politics for us was a little bit like the family farm. On the family farm, somebody milks the cow, somebody feeds the chicken, somebody brings in the eggs, and various people have various jobs. Well, for us, politics was a way of life, and my parents expected us to work in the same way that you would if you were a former's daughter.
And so I campaigned in 26 states, speaking in front of groups from five to 5,000, and my father would expect me to report in after every trip and name three people I met and three things that were important to them. And the reason he did that, as Michael said, he really had a great understanding of human nature, was that he knew that teenagers tend to talk about themselves, and I needed to be learning rather than telling.
KING: We'll be right back with Lynda Johnson and Luci Baines Johnson and Michael Beschloss. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JANUARY 4, 1965)
LYNDON JOHNSON: The president's hardest task is not to do what is right, but to know what is right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Celebrating the life of the late Lyndon Johnson with his daughters and with Michael Beschloss, historian, who has written extensively about him and who put together that amazing collection of tapes. Must be wild for you to have heard those. I mean -- some night on this show when we have been listening to those tapes and reading that book was phenomenal.
Was their marriage complicated, your parents?
JOHNSON-ROBB: Well, I think all marriages are complicated.
KING: I mean, the stories your father was flirtatious, you know, being kind. He was -- he liked ladies.
JOHNSON-ROBB: Well, my father loved people. And if you didn't want to be part of a family, you ought not to work for Lyndon Johnson, because he thought everybody who worked for him were part of his family. And he would want to know about your family, and he would want people to bring their children over. And I went to a Secret Service men reunion with one of my friends, a Secret Service man came up to me and said, you know: "You don't know me, but during your daddy's days I was with the Secret Service, and your father heard my father had died. And all of a sudden, a ticket to his funeral, an airplane ticket arrived, and your father had heard about this death and thought maybe would it would be hard for me to afford to go. And he sent me a ticket that he paid for for me to go to the funeral." And this man said, you know, "I just wanted to thank you for what he did."
KING: Was he a controller?
LUCI JOHNSON: That's not a word I would use for him.
LUCI JOHNSON: I think he was a man who was a master of the art of persuasion, though, and it was his...
KING: I don't mean that in a bad sense.
LUCI JOHNSON: No. And I don't take it that way, but I don't think either of those adjectives apply. I think he was a man who wanted you to come around to his way of looking at a situation.
KING: Maybe the best arm-twister of them all, right?
BESCHLOSS: I think probably of any president in American history, and that's not only because he passed so much important legislation. But this was a guy who was almost a machine for getting laws out of Congress, and that came from 25 years of experience before he became president. So in a way, if you wanted a Civil Rights Act of '64, or a Voting Rights Act of '65, it was almost heaven sent that Lyndon Johnson was there, because he had not only the conviction to get these things passed and the courage, but also the sheer ability to go to Southern senators and say, "you may not like it, but this is something you should do."
KING: Just to get Senator Russell to serve on the Warren Commission -- that was one of the great conversations of all time.
LUCI JOHNSON: Well, I will tell you, I was at dinner one night with my father and Senator Russell, shortly after my father went into the presidency, and Senator Russell was speaking to my father and trying to make a point to him. And he said, "now, Lyndon" -- and he caught himself short, and he had -- his face became ashen, and I couldn't quite understand what was happening. And he said, "I'm sorry, Mr. President, I'll never call you that again."
And daddy said, "it's OK." And he said, "no, it's not, Mr. President. You are my president now." And so, there was an extraordinary relationship between Dick Russell who had been Lyndon's Johnson mentor, but Dick Russell who had now understood that Lyndon Johnson was now the president of the United States.
KING: Luci, his record in civil rights, amazing. LUCI JOHNSON: Well, the 1964 Public Accommodations Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the 1968 Fair Housing Act -- three pieces of legislation the likes of which we had never seen before and we probably will never see again in terms of how they changed life forever.
KING: He used that great line, "because it is right."
LUCI JOHNSON: It is the right thing to do. July 2, 1964 was my 17th birthday, and what an incredible birthday present! You talk about being a daughter of the...
KING: Was that the Public Accommodations?
LUCI JOHNSON: Yes, that's the signing of the Public Accommodations Act in the White House. And I was literally an eyewitness to history on a very historical day in my own personal life, and to have the one handwritten note that I can find from my father is dated July 2, 1964. So I think about all that was happening to us that day.
We -- I had grown up going to and from Washington, D.C., from Texas, and not being able to stop at hotels with the wonderful black lady who worked for our family, and having to plug on, plug on, until we could find a place where all of us could stay, because my mother refused to have her sent down to some hell hole that wasn't fit for human habitation, because that wasn't the right thing to do. As Lynda said, when you worked with our family, you were family. Red and yellow, black and white, they were all precious in Lyndon Johnson's eye too. I mean, he just was a man that was free, just totally free from any sense of discrimination.
KING: Had no discrimination.
LUCI JOHNSON: Oh, on 1965 Voting Rights Act, he asked me to accompany him up to the Rotunda. I said, "you know, daddy, why are we going up to the Capitol? Why aren't we just signing it here in the White House?" And he shook his head -- Lyndon's Johnson first job was as teacher, his last job was as a teacher. I think he was forever a teacher. I think he thought it probably was the most important job he ever had, and he said: "Luci, don't you realize, these men and women are putting their careers on line and many of them may not return to the Congress because they had the courage to stand up and make this happen. And I'm going to go up and make sure the world salutes them."
And then he gave the first pin. I thought he was going give it to one of the great civil rights leaders after he signed it -- that would have made sense to me -- and he gave it to Everett Dirksen. And I said: "Daddy, why did you give it to Everett Dirksen?" The Senate minority leader at the time -- and he shook his head at me again, oh, Luci you don't get it again. And I said, "no, sir, I don't." And he said: "Those civil rights leaders were like me. They were already for it. I didn't have to convince any of them to risk their political careers."
KING: Big move was getting Dirksen to go for that, that famous Dirksen speech.
BESCHLOSS: Dirksen was the Republican leader of the Senate, and that's because Southern Democrats like Richard Russell of course would never support that bill, and so result was that it passed only with Republican votes.
KING: Did he die unhappy, Lynda, because of Vietnam? Did he leave broken? That's the story.
JOHNSON-ROBB: Vietnam hurt everybody. My husband was in Vietnam, our first baby was born when Chuck was there. Daddy had to see me get married and have my husband leave three months later and go off -- and I was there with him while I was getting more and more and more pregnant all the time. I mean, it was a terrible thing. But he cared about everybody...
KING: But it will always be said that had there been no Vietnam, he would be up there with the top three or four greatest presidents who ever lived, right?
BESCHLOSS: This is what historians are going to be arguing for the -- until the end of time. Civil rights, I think no one will ever quibble about, this is someone with conviction just to beat the band. And without him, life would be different in this country today. Ideologically, you will find Republicans and Democrats argue about the Great Society, whether it was the best thing to have this done from Washington to help people who were in poverty, and you also have people arguing about Vietnam.
And that is what makes Johnson interesting, because rather than a static reputation that everyone has agreed on, everyone to this day, years later, is still arguing over it. And that makes him a vital force.
KING: It was interesting -- hold on one second -- it was interesting to see President George W. Bush the other day praise Medicare, which was opposed by almost every Republican when it was proposed. Remember?
BESCHLOSS: And that shows how much LBJ did that was revolutionary in the '60s has now become a permanent part of American life.
KING: I want to pick up on the Vietnam thing -- and time goes so fast. We'll be right back. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JANUARY 4, 1965)
LYNDON JOHNSON: Why are we there? We are there first because a friendly nation has asked us for help against the communist aggression. Ten years ago, our president pledged our help. Three presidents have supported that pledge, and we will not break it now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: We are back. OK, Luci, what was Vietnam like for you?
LUCI JOHNSON: Well, my former husband served in Vietnam, and I had a little boy who took his first steps and grew up in the White House, and under the glare of public scrutiny, and lost his father for a year of his life. With every night before I would go to bed, I would be hearing "hey, hey, LBJ, how many boys did you kill today?" And yet I would go and watch my father look at the television news, and every death was if you were taking a knife and lancing it into his groin and turning it back and forth. And he agonized over every loss. It was...
JOHNSON-ROBB: I was going to say, he would come to Luci, and he was in such pain, particularly when anybody was going out on a mission. And he would get Luci to go take him to what he called "the little monks," and this was -- Luci, you can tell this story better than I can.
LUCI JOHNSON: One night I was at a movie, and my father called me and said, "Luci Baines" -- and I knew, if he ever said "Luci Baines," that something was important happening. And he said, "Luci Baines, can you find me a church?" And I said, "yes, sir." And I said, "when?" And he said, "any hour." And I said "yes, sir."
And he called me back about midnight and he said, "have you found that church?" And I said "yes, sir," and we went over to the Little Monks, Saint Dominick's here in Washington, D.C., and they never asked questions, they just let us come. And he came in and he knelt down, and he stayed there for about an hour, and I didn't know what was happening, so I just knelt with him and prayed for his intentions.
And we came back to the White House, and he said: "I'm alone, Luci, I don't want to be alone. Will you come with me?" And I said, "sure, daddy." And we went into his bedroom, and I sat in a chair, and he got into bed and read his night reading and turned off the light but never went to sleep. And then about 4:30 in the morning, the phone rang. And he picked up the phone, he said: "Yes, yes, yes. Good." And he said, "Luci, you can leave now. All the boys are back." And he had sent a bunch of young men on a very crucial mission.
KING: We learned from the tapes, that was an extraordinary dilemma to him, trying to get out and people telling him to get out. What do you think why did we -- was that a mistake, Michael?
BESCHLOSS: Not to get out? I think, you know, you have to really look at it over the whole five years, not gotten to the end of the tapes yet so I will probably withhold judgment on that. But I think anyone who would have been president, for instance, in 1964, it would have been hard for them to make decisions very different from LBJ's, because in '64, before that election, that was a time that it was really still a holding action, so you had Johnson essentially trying to keep the ball in the air until the election, and then tough decisions would have to be made.
JOHNSON-ROBB: Daddy's fear was not from the -- from the left. His fear was from the right. He was afraid that the people who wanted us to bomb Vietnam to oblivion, to bomb everybody -- anybody who was seen any communist -- but they would have power, and that they would put him in a position that was untenable. So he was trying to kind of not put more in, but not give them the...
LUCI JOHNSON: And they called it LBJ's war, but he gave both of his son-in-laws to that war, he gave literally his political life, he gave really all that he had. No one wanted out of that war more than Lyndon Johnson, because it was destroying his domestic legislation opportunities right in front of his face, and he knew it. And he just gave all he had.
KING: Were you both shocked when he decided not to run in '68?
JOHNSON-ROBB: Well, it happened. He made that decision, or made that speech on March 31, and I had just come back from putting my husband on an airplane. And by the time I got back, it was too late for me to argue, but I did not want him to do it. But he was so much wiser than I was, because he believed -- and I think it was true -- that as a personality, if he could be removed from it, then maybe we could get peace quicker.
LUCI JOHNSON: He wanted peace more than he wanted political opportunity for himself.
KING: We will take a break, and when we come back we will talk about the passing of Lyndon Johnson. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MARCH 31, 1968)
LYNDON JOHNSON: I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your president. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) everywhere know how I feel. That a strong, and a confident, and a vigilant America stands ready tonight to seek an honorable peace, and stands ready tonight to defend an honored cause, whatever the price, whatever the burden, whatever the sacrifice that duty may require.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LYNDON JOHNSON: I come in and stay two or three days. It's a breath of fresh air, it's new strength. I go away ready to challenge the world. This is going to be the place where I come to try to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) regain my youth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Time goes so fast here that we just skim the surface. Before we talk about the passing, Michael wanted to add something about '68. BESCHLOSS: We sometimes forget that LBJ was someone who had a serious heart attack in 1955, almost killed him. And in those days, heart medicine was not what it is today. And Lady Bird was always worried about this that most Johnson men had died before the age of 65, 64, 65. So in 1968, she very much wanted LBJ to get out of the race. And when he wrote out that statement saying "I will not seek the nomination in 1968," she actually wrote in "and I will not accept" just so there wouldn't be an escape hatch.
KING: Where were you when he died? He died suddenly of a heart attack, he died on January 22.
LUCI JOHNSON: January 22, 1973. I was in Austin, Texas. But I would like to share, if I could, one quick story about the last time he spoke publicly in December, before that, because it speaks so much to what we tried to talk about, what his career was all about. It was at the opening of the civil rights papers. And he ambled on to the stage, very obviously a sick man, and I saw him pop a nitroglycerin tablet, and it frightened the devil out of me. And I went up to him afterwards, and I said, daddy what's wrong, what's wrong, and he said I was up all night with angina, and the doctors told me if I came and spoke today, I might not walk off the stage alive.
And I looked at him, and I said then daddy why on earth did you do it? And he said because, Luci, I had the chance to stand up again for civil rights. And I would have gone if I had died, I would have gone dying for what I lived for. And what more could any man want. But the last days of his life, Larry, a lot of people try to say that Lyndon Johnson was a hermit, and he was miserable man and he went back to Texas, and he...
KING: Died alone.
LUCI JOHNSON: And died alone. He had golden years they were precious with my mother, and with his grandchildren. We had -- he discovered play. He discovered this thing recreation, that his irritating staff had sometimes try to do, all of a sudden he understood why. And we had good times.
KING: Where were you when he died?
JOHNSON-ROBB: I was in Charlottesville, my husband was in law school. And daddy had just been to visit us. And daddy was somebody who he loved his friends, and when anybody that he cared about died, it was just, again, like cutting off a piece of his flesh. And he had -- Buford Ellington, Governor Ellington had died and he came to see us, daddy did, and he had a heart attack in our house, in our very own bed. Because, we of course, had given him the best bed in the house. And we were so glad that he could survive that, and get --
KING: I didn't know that, he had a heart attack then?
JOHNSON-ROBB: Yes, he did.
KING: Soon before he had the one which took his life? JOHNSON-ROBB: Absolutely. And he -- then right before he died, that Christmas, we went to several, we went to President Truman's, and we went to Hale Boggs's memorial service, and gosh we all loved Hale and Lindy, and still love Lindy.
KING: Michael, what's history going to say?
BESCHLOSS: I think history is going say this is legislatively probably the most effective president in history, and someone who in Vietnam was actually a lot more the American consensus, than people realized. And in the "great society" passed things that are a central part of our lives, especially Medicare.
KING: Thank you both, and thank you Michael.
JOHNSON-ROBB: Well, thank you.
KING: Lynda Johnson-Robb, Luci Baines Johnson and Michael Beschloss.
KING: As we mentioned, we did the Johnson daughters interview, before September 11. Then had to put on hold, because of breaking news and we are glad we finally had a chance to share it with you. And we want to share a happy birthday, too with Lady Bird Johnson. The former first lady turned 89 on December 22.
Closing tonight's holiday music theme, Manheim Steamroller. Composer Chip Davis released his first Christmas album back in 1984. And Manheim Steamroller has gone on to sell more than 18 million Christmas records, since -- an incredible number. Here they are Manheim Steamroller with "Hallelujah" from the new holiday release "Christmas Extraordinaire."
(MANHEIM STEAMROLLER PERFORMING "HALLELUJAH")
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