Brief thought exercise: if Vietnam had never happened, would LBJ be considered one of the best Presidents of all-time?

That piece above aired on CBS Sunday Morning last week — it’s kind of half a profile of Bryan Cranston, post-Breaking Bad, playing LBJ and kind of half a profile of LBJ himself. At the end (the very end), there’s an interesting context where John Lewis (the Georgia politician tied to the civil rights movement) basically says that if you remove Vietnam from the discussion/equation/what have you, LBJ might be viewed as one of the best Presidents of all-time. Now, obviously this is a pointless thought exercise: you can’t remove Vietnam, and it did happen, and LBJ and company didn’t necessarily handle it in an elite fashion. But think about it more broadly: almost every facet of the America we live in right now has ties back to LBJ. A lot of casual people tend to give that credit to Kennedy (he was more beautiful and died young), but many of the actual achievements came under Johnson. He’s also possibly most closely associated with the brand of “politics” that seems omnipresent today; here’s a good read on all that. I don’t mean for this to become a bad fifth-grade social studies paper; I just mean for it to be about a paragraph of thought. If Vietnam was LBJ’s Waterloo (as Cranston says in that video), could he legitimately be considered a great President aside from it? It’s an interesting question, at the very least. Go in the comments if you have thoughts.

Ted Bauer

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