Gentlemen, can you beat this?

Lyndon Baines Johnson supposedly said this in the course of drunkenly whipping out his most cherished constituent, Little BJ, at a soiree, if I may so embarrass the French by appropriating their term to describe a party thus graced by the man who was arguably my country’s most uncouth president. It could be an urban legend, and I don’t have the time or energy to Snopes that shit right now, but it’s a fine yarn in any event, and certainly the kind of thing that a man might do when not holding cabinet meetings from the throne. Yes, LBJ summoned aides into bathroom meetings while he made poopy in the potty, and sometimes asked them why they were so bashful. This seems to be a completely true story, so help us.

I’ve long known that LBJ had a complicated and exceptionally crass relationship with the federal civil rights legislation that he shepherded through Congress: for example, that he bragged about how he’d “have the niggers voting Democratic for a hundred years.” So I never expect new anecdotes about his behavior vis-a-vis civil rights to demonstrate moral refinement or principle or reputability.

Even so, I never imagined that he had scheduled a bogus press conference for the sole purpose of preempting live television coverage of a speech by a Mississippi sharecropper contesting the appointment of an all-white Democratic Party convention delegation from her home state, in violation of the party’s existing credentialing rules. When I learned about this tonight, I was floored. That scummy bastard actually had the nerve to divert live TV coverage away from Fannie Lou Hamer’s comments to the credentialing committee with a press conference announcing the nine-month anniversary of the assassination of JFK and the wounding of Texas Governor John Connally. Thankfully, the mainstream media in his day had balls, and the stunt backfired; Hamer’s speech was replayed for days, along with appalled discussions of Johnson’s cutthroat breach of the White House press pool’s trust.

Still, what a dirtbag. He got a whole bunch of our boys killed and maimed in Vietnam, too, on behalf of little more than a succession of corrupt CIA satellite governments bereft of any popular mandate.

The PBS special on the Mississippi Freedom Summer that aired earlier tonight is very much worth watching. Another gem from the special: a terse, unequivocal statement from J. Edgar Hoover that Rita Schwerner, the widow of a then-missing (and in fact assassinated) civil rights worker, was a communist. That closet case wasn’t just putting on a show for the rubes. He actually believed his own nonsense; he wouldn’t have blurted out “she’s a communist” in a private phone conversation with the president had he not sincerely believed it. (Johnson said she was worse than that, namely, insolent.) We have of course learned in retrospect the real reason why Hoover fired the FBI’s original cohort of female agents: there was only room for one lady in the Bureau, and he was the one who wore that tasteful blue dress.

Maybe there’s a rightful place for Larry Craig in our republic after all. Good Lord, we’ve had worse.


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