from Lady Bird's Diary
on Johnson not running for re-election
Sunday, March 31, 1968
This day began early because Lynda [Bird Johnson] was coming in on "the red-eye special" from California, about 7am, having kissed Chuck [Robb, Lynda's husband] good-bye at Camp Pendelton last night as he departed for Vietnam.
I wanted to be right there at the door with open arms to meet her, but I begged Lyndon not to get up. "No, I want to," he insisted. So the operator called us in what seemed the gray early morning and both of us were downstairs at the entrance to the Diplomatic Reception Room at 7 when she stepped out of the car. She looked like a ghost - pale, tall and drooping. We both hugged her and then we all went upstairs. I took her into her room, helped get her clothes off, and put her to bed. She'd had a sedative on the plane, slept a little, not much - and it was, I think partly emotion and partly the sedative that made her look so detached, like a wraith from another world.
She said, "Mother, they were awful - they kept on pushing and shoving to get to us, and they almost ran over a child. And there were lots of other wives there, saying good-bye to their husbands!" She meant the press.
When I went back to Lyndon's room, his face was sagging and there was such pain in his eyes as I had not seen since his mother died. But he didn't have time for grief. Today was a crescendo of a day. At 9 in the evening, Lyndon was to make his talk to the nation about the war. The speech was not yet firm. There were still revisions to be made and people to see. But he began to put on his clothes and got ready to go to church with Luci and Pat, something he does more and more often.
And I, exhausted, went back to bed, where I half-slept for a couple of hours.
On the way from church, Lyndon stopped to see the Vice President at his apartment. Hubert and Muriel [Humphrey] are leaving for Mexico, for a ceremony, sometime during the day. It was a day of coming and going - and it's hard to remember when what happened. Sometime during the morning Buzz [Horace Busby - Presidential aide] came in, took up his place in the Treaty Room, and began to work on the speech. I had spent a good part of Saturday and part of Friday making suggestions on it myself. I read it over again for what was the umpteenth time, and then (I believe I was in his bedroom), Lyndon said to Arthur and Mathilde Krim [Arthur Krim, movie executive and Democratic National Committee treasurer] and me, "What do you think about this? This is what I'm going to put at the end of the speech." And he read a beautifully written statement which ended, "Accordingly, I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your President."
The four of us had talked about this over and over, and hour after hour, but somehow we all acted and felt stunned. Maybe it was the calm finality in Lyndon's voice, and maybe we believed him for the first time. Arthur said something like, "You can't mean this!" And Mathilde exclaimed in an excited way, "Oh no, no!" Then we all began to discuss the reasons why, and why not, over and over again.
Buzz came in now and again with another page for the main part of the speech. Finally, a little after 2 o'clock Lyndon and I, and Luci and Pat, and Mathilde and Arthur went to the table for lunch. It was Lyndon who thought to call Buzz in from the Treaty Room to have something to eat.
Mathilde's eyes were full of tears, and Luci had obviously been crying forthrightly. Lyndon seemed to be congealing into a calm, quiet state of mind, out of reach. And I, what did I feel? so uncertain of the future that I would not dare to try to persuade him one way or the other. There was much in me that cried out to go on, to call on every friend we have, to give and work, to spend and fight, right up to the last. And if we lost, well and good - we were free! But if we didn't run, we could be free without all this draining of our friends. I think what was uppermost - what was going over and over in Lyndon's mind - was what I've heard him say increasingly these last months: "I do not believe I can unite this country."
Buzz made a poetic little explanation of the statement saying Lyndon would not run. Lyndon, indeed, was the architect and the planner, but I think it was Buzz who had cloaked it in its final words.
Sometime during the afternoon - the time is very hazy on this day - I think it was around 3 o'clock, Lyndon went to his office, and I talked to Lynda and to Luci. Both of them were emotional, crying and distraught. What does this do to our servicemen? They will think - What have I been sent out here for? - Was it all wrong? - Can I believe in what I've been fighting for? Lynda and Luci seemed to feel that Lyndon has been the champion of the soldiers, and his getting out would be a blow to them. Lynda said, with an edge of bitterness, "Chuck will hear this on his way to Vietnam."
Later in the afternoon, I talked to Lyndon about what the girls had said. He said, "I called in General Westmoreland last year about that, about how it would affect the morale of the men. He thinks it will not matter appreciably." I felt that Lynda and Luci were looking at it from closer range as the wives of two young soldiers, and pointed that out to him. He looked at me rather distantly and said, "I think General Westmoreland knows more about it than they do."
I went over with Clark [Clifford] and Buzz a few minutes before 9 and Lynda joined us. And there we were in the familiar oval office of the President, the floor a jungle of cables, under the brilliant glare of TV lights. What a stage setting!
Lyndon, very quiet, sat at his desk. The lines in his face were deep, but there was a marvelous sort of repose over-all. And the seconds ticked away.
I went to him and said quietly, "Remember - pacing and drama." It was a great speech and I wanted him to get the greatest out of it - and I did not know what the end would be.
The speech was magnificently delivered. He's best, I think, in the worst of times, calm and strong - those who love him must have loved him more. And those who hate him must at least have thought: "Here is a man."
Then came the end of the speech.
"What we won when all of our people united just must not now be lost in suspicion, distrust, selfishness, and politics among any of our people. Believing this as I do, I have concluded that I should not permit the Presidency to become involved in the partisan divisions that are developing in this political year" - and so on
"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. Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President."
Lynda and I had been sitting down, behind us Luci and Pat standing. Luci threw her arms around Lyndon. She was obviously holding back tears, but just barely. Lynda kissed him, and Pat shook hands.
Then there was great blur of confusion, and we walked out of the President's office and went back to the second floor Nearly everybody just looked staggered and struck silent - and then the phones began to ring.
I went immediately and called Liz [Carpenter, long-time aide and friend], who was in a state of near shock. I was going to call Bess, when I was called to the phone by Abigail McCarthy, who said, "Bird, Bird, you know what I've always thought of you." And then she said, "When he made the announcement, I could only think of you standing in front of the Wilson portrait " And she didn't have to go on. I know what I always think in front of the Wilson portrait. In that face you see the toll the office and the times extracted. Its message to me is, "A President should have his portrait painted reasonably early in the office."
About 11, Tom Johnson came over, bringing thirty-five reporters, and Lyndon went into the Yellow Room with them, looking as if a great load had been taken off his shoulders. I believe he made it quite clear to them that his decision was final, and that any talk of a draft was foolishness.
Liz' request to me from the reporters had been, "How would I sum it up?" - what kind of a statement - and I told her, "We have done a lot; there's a lot left to do in the remaining months; maybe this is the only way to get it done."
It must have been one o'clock or later when the last guest left and Lyndon went to bed. And I, too, feeling immeasurably lighter. At last the decision had been irrevocably stated, and as well as any human can, we knew our future!
Lyndon's speech had been, I believe, nobly done, and in its way almost as dramatic as our entrance to this job - although the actual exit is still nine months away, if the Lord lets us live. And to these nine months I'm going to bring the best I possibly can.
I went to sleep planning.