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The President has taken this country to war and the war has not gone well. He has misjudged the spiritual strength of a militarily inconsequential but profoundly committed enemy. War was not even a distant issue when he first became President, and he is increasingly frustrated that this unsuccessful war is defining his presidency. Testy exchanges with journalists have caused him to almost abandon news conferences, he is openly mocked on television and on the street, and his popularity ratings have plummeted. Never one to seek wide counsel, he increasingly surrounds himself only with advisers who give him good news, who tell him what he wants to hear.

No, his name is not George Bush. His name is Lyndon Johnson.

"I am not going to lose Vietnam," Johnson said. "I am not going to be the President who saw Southeast Asia go the way China went." It is significant that Johnson thought of the war in the first person—"I am not going to lose." Johnson had a famously monumental ego and soaring ambition. Friends, fellow politicians, and historians consistently report that what motivated Johnson from his schoolboy days to his presidency was a pure lust for power and control unusual even for a politician. As Johnson's biographer Robert Caro observes, "Johnson's ambition was uncommon—in the degree to which it was unencumbered by even the slightest excess weight of ideology, of philosophy, of principles, of beliefs."

Lyndon Johnson edited reality to suit his needs. Anyone who disagreed with him on Vietnam policy was a "knee-jerk liberal," "crackpot," "nervous Nellie," or "troublemaker." There was no such thing for him as loyal dissent. Lyndon Johnson was as politically competent as any President in history (and he used that competence ...

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June 2008

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