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LBJ Announced He Wouldn’t Run Again. Political Chaos Ensued

March 30, 2018 in History

By Matthew Dallek

View of anti Vietnam War demonstrators standing and protesting outside the White House during a march to the Pentagon in Washington DC to plead for an end to the conflict, 1967. (Credit: Rolls Press/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

Fifty years ago, on March 31, 1968, Lyndon B. Johnson appeared on national television and announced that he was partially halting the U.S. bombing of Vietnam, and that he had decided not to seek his party’s nomination for president. “There is division in the American house now,” Johnson declared.

The news that the President had refused to seek re-election sent waves of shock and elation through a stunned electorate. At the same time, his withdrawal from the race crystallized the nature of the conflicts that had split the country along ideological, racial, and class lines so deeply. But within days it became all too apparent that no single act of political sacrifice could repair the divisions in the country. Johnson’s presidency was a symbol and a reflection of the nation’s fissures, but it was not ultimately its root cause.

Johnson himself alluded to the deep roots of the unraveling of America in his surprise announcement: “With America’s sons in the fields far away, with America’s future under challenge right here at home, with our hopes and the world’s hopes for peace in the balance every day,” he said, “I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office—the Presidency of your country.”

His refusal to run again was, on some basic level, a recognition of political reality. For all his legislative achievements (the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Medicare and Medicaid), LBJ had become the face of America’s divisions. To those on the Right, Johnson had done too much, too quickly, overloading the system with big-government programs that trampled on individual liberties. Much of the Left viewed Johnson as the corrupt wheeler-dealer who had lied America into the disastrous, bloody Vietnam quagmire.

LBJ faced long odds in November; his top aides feared that he might not even win re-nomination. With his public approval rating at around 36 percent, LBJ had barely survived a surprisingly strong primary challenge from antiwar Sen. Eugene McCarthy in New Hampshire, who took 42 percent of the vote to LBJ’s 48 percent on March 12. Four days later, on March 16, New York Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, a long-time LBJ nemesis, declared that he, too, would challenge Johnson for the …read more


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