Eric Goldman discusses his experiences as special consultant to President Lyndon Johnson
BROADCAST: 1967 | DURATION: 00:48:47
Historian Eric Goldman discusses his time as special consultant for President Lyndon B. Johnson and his book "The Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson."
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Studs Terkel I'm seated with Dr. Eric Goldman, distinguished professor of history for many years, more than 20 years at Princeton University, a Rollins professor, and as you probably know, was also a special consultant for President Johnson for three -- how shall we describe it? Highly traumatic years and fascinating years for Professor Goldman--
Studs Terkel Not without comic relief. Perhaps we can touch upon all aspects of it. There's a book just published by Alfred Knopf and it's "The Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson" by Eric E.[sic] Goldman. And you said not without comic relief. Now, naturally this will this will lead up to the Festival of the Arts. But before that, the idea of a scholar at -- during a climate that was not too scholarly at the White House.
Eric Goldman Yeah, there was something a little rococo about it all. Looking back on it, it seems more amusing, of course, than it did at the time. But it even starts in an unusual way. After all, I'd never met Mr. Johnson. And as I tell in the book, this young student of mine at Princeton had gone down there to work for the vice president, and he had said some generous words about me to Vice President Johnson and Vice President Johnson said he wanted to meet me and talk to me. Well, by the time I went down there, Vice President Johnson was President Johnson, and it begins in that way. I think what what really is is gives it its humor is the fact that there was something fundamentally clashing, I suppose, between the try- kind of thing I was trying to do, and Mr. Johnson's own interests and instincts.
Studs Terkel Right, yeah. That was a fascinating point though. We'll come to that, though. The -- and so your your -- the position you found yourself, as a student of history and a professor of history, was then to, you wrote to a number of people including Barbara Tuchman, others. And they offered suggestions what they thought would be a good approach.
Eric Goldman Well-.
Eric Goldman There were several different kinds of things going on. Basically, what I did was to try to get people who were very expert in specific fields, like the poverty [program?], and so forth [grouped?], and, oh it's not the way to do things. The way the president wanted it done wasn't the way. We finally managed to straighten it out and set up the task forces, which made more sense, really.
Studs Terkel He made it quite clear at the beginning that there were certain -- obviously he had a predecessor who was, how should I say, more graceful in approach than he was, and there was a slight touchy -- he thought, he spoke of these smart alecks from Georgetown. That was on his mind, obviously. So there was something he had to prove, too, wasn't there?
Eric Goldman The president, yeah, he felt -- well, as you know from the book I think Mr. Johnson's great problem as an individual was a whole set of insecurities, and you've touched on one of them. He was a man who felt that the Kennedy image, the Kennedy legacy, or the Kennedy legend, whatever you want to call it, had put him in a very difficult position. And like some human beings, he would react to it in in extremes. At one moment he was he was trying to imitate it without appearing to, at at another moment he would revolt completely against it, and play the the village clown just to show.
Eric Goldman Yeah.
Studs Terkel Who would not be taken by Eastern intellectuals, therefore, he'd play, [car honking] since he was in the nature of a wheeler and dealer from the very beginning, you know. Here he is in the highest position, and somehow he had to. But your job then, was -- involved a number of things as consultant, didn't it?
Eric Goldman Yes, at the beginning the president asked me to get those people together. But when I went there about 10 days after the assassination, and there really was so many things to do around, which had nothing to do really with the best minds and one jumps in and does them. And before long I was doing all kinds of things. But basically he thought of me as a link with the intellectual world and as a kind of cultural intellectual advisor, I suppose.
Studs Terkel You know I say, even though to you and of course you write you write about this quite graphically, you remember -- obviously you can't forget some of these events in which you were immediately concerned -- you you were between a sort of a Scylla of rough-hewn, wheeler-dealer qualities of the men he surrounded himself with, and at the same time a somewhat effete Eastern establishment, effete by their standards. And that was the Charybdis, and there you were in between. [laughter] So, you had a balancing act. For example, when he called on -- there was suggestion that the distinguished sculptor Jacques Lipchitz do a medallion. Now, that's a great a great one-act play [unintelligible].
Eric Goldman [laughter] Yes, yes. Lipchitz, as we all know, is a man of the cubist abstractionist tradition and a very great sculptor. And he did this profile of of of the president in a in a Lipchitz manner, which did not, was not representational. It was not Norman Rockwell. And the president could be said to have something of a double chin and large ears. He brought out certain characteristics of the president he wanted to bring out. And I try to tell there, it takes a couple of pages and we could-.
Eric Goldman Yes.
Eric Goldman "Lipchitz came into the White House, a gray little man in a disheveled suit, a beret atop an unshaved face, socks drooping over his ankles, carrying by a thick piece of thick string, an orange crate which held his preliminary forms. Nelson," that's one of the men who was working with me, "and I looked at each other. Lyndon Johnson was not well disposed toward people who neglected trim appearances. We ordered coffee, went to work in the Oval, on the Oval Office," that is, the president's office, "and got nowhere. Lipchitz kept saying how wonderful it was that he, a simple Jewish artist, had been invited to the White House, and we were embarrassed both by his remarks and by our inability to arrange some time." Well, we finally get him in. And I go on here and he doesn't get much time out of the president-.
Eric Goldman Yeah, he said he he told me he needed absolute minimum, here it is, of eight hours, and I knew that was that was crazy, from the point of view of Johnson who wasn't about to give any artist eight hours. "I informed the president the need for time, and I cut it down to a diplomatic 'well about a total of three hours, while you are doing other things.' The president said, 'Three hours. Tell him he can look at me for three minutes.'"
Eric Goldman Yeah. He brings -- he has the rough forms, finally, and takes him over to Abe Fortas's, who was a friend of Lipchitz, that's just Justice Fortas, an admirer of his work and Nelson went over there, I was out of town, to pick up these rough forms and take them over and get the President's okay. Fortas presented Nelson with the mock-up, the forms, a bottle of champagne, Dom Ruinart -- it was Nelson's birthday -- a declaration that the Lipchitz design was great art and an encouraging pat on the shoulder. And off Nelson goes to the White House with these forms. Nelson had a date along with him, which I thought might help things a bit, because the president was always more genial when there were pretty girls around. Anyhow, "Nelson and his date set the two forms up on the desk in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, to which the President and Mrs. Johnson would enter. When LBJ arrived he asked pleasantly, 'What are you two doing over here this hour on a Sunday?' Edging the president and the first lady toward the desk, Nelson said, 'Oh we just dropped by to show you something, the final Lipchitz models.' Lyndon Johnson looked down and his eye fell on the Prometheus," one side of the medallion. "President said, 'Is that me?' Nelson rushed in with an attempt at diversionary humor. 'That's Barry Goldwater arising out of Phoenix. This one, sir, is you.'" The other side of the medallion showing the president's face. "Lyndon Johnson stared at the profile, stepped aside and stared at it again. 'Looks like I've been dead three weeks and maybe ought to be.' He turned to Mrs Johnson. 'What do you think of it, Bird?' 'Lipchitz is a great artist, Lyndon.' The president poked his head closer. 'Still looks like I've been dead for three weeks. How many people gonna see this thing?' he asked Nelson. 'We're only giving out 121 of them.' Lyndon Johnson paused, took one more look at the profile. 'Well,' he said, 'as long as there only 121 of them.'"
Eric Goldman Yeah.
Studs Terkel In which you are operating, to find the best minds and improve the quality, or investigate the quality, of American life. This basically is, in in a sense, might be almost a background scene.
Eric Goldman Yeah yeah, it it -- the, I don't want to imply and this book certainly doesn't, there's no sense of my looking down on the president about this. What it is, is it, this this man came from a background where those things were not considered of importance, and the attempts to do them became ludicrous.
Studs Terkel [What?]-.
Studs Terkel But we come to something involving, though, and your book is quite revealing in that. You yourself, by the way, showed a great deal of your own obstinacy and courage. We'll come to that in a moment. As well, as the lemon which you found yourself with the Festival of the Arts, with which the audience I know is very well acquainted, beginning with the letter of rejection by poet Robert Lowell. But before that, you point out that when Johnson was vice president, he was not too quite aware of various cultures when he visited Asia, for example. Aside from his calling Diem the Churchill of the [unintelligible] of Asia, which was interesting -- but his unawareness, even when he was told of of Thai people and customs, and the non-shaking of hands, he was the great hand-shaker.
Eric Goldman Yeah. He simply had not had much experience with cultures, not only outside the United States, but outside of a very limited group in Congress. He was he was he was enclosed by Congress, and he really he was he was an wonderful expert on congressional districts, interestingly enough of the South and the West, but the big cities of the North, for example, he was he was a man of limited background. And then of course the rest of the world had not particularly interested him, as you say. He was a man of penetrating intelligence who could have read up on the Thais and found out about this, but this sort of thing didn't appeal to him.
Eric Goldman Yeah.
Eric Goldman Well, I noticed that after I finished this book, and as the president was about to leave the White House, a reporter asked him, what about all this student discontent in the United States? And the president said, "You know I just don't understand young people nowadays. I just don't understand them. This is a fine country and and and yet they seem to be so critical of it." One, the remark struck me because the president, who understood so many things, was absolutely blind on the subject of what you called the Metro-American, this phrase I made up to try to describe the new type of America- American who has appeared in the cities and suburbs: the educated, reasonably affluent, youthful compared to the general population. I'm not talking about college kids. I'm talking about people in their 30s and 40s. I'm not talking about professional intellectuals, it maybe a junior executive at Xerox and his wife who went to college at the University of Chicago or something and another. Well now, this type of person has a set of values, some bad, some good, which are incomprehensible to the president, and and and they have a critical attitude toward the quality of American civilization which, as he said, he didn't understand. And struck me, you know, when I first went down there, I was fascinated with the way that, used to walk out when the president would give these talks in the Rose Garden to various groups. And although the general public would never realize it, beca- because he was a bad speaker when he read from a text, but when he talked to these groups informally, he was very good and very effective with every group except this particular type I'm talking about. And there he fell flat on his face, every time.
Studs Terkel So, we have this particular situation to co- and now, this is more or less a background. There's a comical aspect at the same time there's serious now is throughout when the foreign policy, after being president and beating Goldwater on a relatively peace platform.
Eric Goldman Yeah.
Eric Goldman Yeah.
Studs Terkel And the hard line, and that was one of the ear- but at the same time escalation was happening in Vietnam. But there were -- a remarkable comments he was making -- [getting on?] about heads being cut off, and every journalist said of course there wasn't a one, talking about Dominica now, justifying America intevention.
Eric Goldman He made these wild statements that just weren't true, and they came from two things. One is that the president is a pure Texan, and I discovered that it's part of Texas culture that you tell the wild tale. And Texans discount-.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Eric Goldman Them when they talk to each other. For example, I was taken aback to hear the president say that his his forefathers had fought at the Alamo, because I happened to know that his forefathers didn't fight at the Alamo. But that didn't bother some of my my Texas colleagues who understood that that's the way you talked down there. So, he was given to this this kind of bombastic talk. The other and more serious aspect of it, is that the president had a theory about foreign policy and the presidency which is very interesting and very important, and in my opinion very dangerous. And that is, that in foreign policy, a president does his best. He studies the situation, he asks advice, he thinks about it hard. He cares about his country. All of which was true, heavens knows, deeply true of Lyndon Johnson. And then he comes to a decision. And once he comes to a decision, it is the duty, really, of the country to follow him in foreign policy. You only have one president, he's made up his mind--
Eric Goldman Yeah, yeah. And, therefore, when there's dissent and criticism to quiet it, there's a almost a tendency on his part of anything goes. That is, you make up the stories, you you try to influence public opinion and you you denounce your dissenters with unbridled violence. It's it's something the president felt deeply and of course the dangers of it are obvious.
Studs Terkel Yeah. Because this is a double study, to me, and fascinating when the book, by the way I'm talking to Eric Goldman, professor Eric Goldman for so many years at Princeton, and suddenly there he is for three years at the White House in this climate. It's a double study. One, of a certain man who happened to be president, Lyndon Johnson, at a certain time in history. And the other Eric Goldman himself. [laughter] Did you have -- now you I suppose were torn continuously-.
Eric Goldman Yeah.
Eric Goldman That's right. I I I was. I went there and I I did, and I do believe that it is a privilege for any American to work for the president of the United States. And to help in any way he can. Beyond that, I was tremendously excited by this man in the early days. He was carrying off a transition, after the assassination, which was brilliantly executed. I think most students of government, I think all of them would agree it's the most skillful transition under difficult circumstances in the United States. He then launched this great drive for the legislation in 1965, in which he passed the kind of bills which many of us had longed for for 20 years, and he passed them in a kind of a drum-fire of action. Ones, that for example, like changing the immigration quotas, which had long been considered impossible, he got through in two or three days. It was very exciting at first and I was, I felt privileged to be a part of it. And but then then there were the two things developing. One was certain characteristics of the man himself, which affected what he did in domestic as well as foreign foreign affairs. And then the foreign affairs problems: the Dominican Republic and Vietnam.
Studs Terkel And so we come to the idea that you had. In the meantime the escalation has begun, and there are feelings in many quarters of horror at the escalation, at what some thought was a sense of double-cross, betrayal. And we come to the event that you conceived, the Festival of the Arts. This is a key, obviously is a key chapter in your book-.
Eric Goldman It's curious, it's it's ironical because neither I, nor the president, nor anyone else around there thought of this as a very important event at the beginning. We thought that it was the sort of thing a president of the United States should do. We should pay honor and encourage the people around the country who were engaged in the cultural renaissance that's going on in the United States today. And then, of course, the issue of the war got in. When Mr. Robert Lowell, who was to read from his poetry at the White House, accepted the invitation and then declined it, because he said he had thought it over and he felt that by coming he would be giving a subtle commitment to support of the president's Vietnam policy. And he considered that so reprehensible, he felt he must withdraw. This let loose all kinds of things and let loose on the one hand, one group among the intellectuals. You notice I stress just one group, who not only took a position about it, but did it with a, with a kind of sneering contempt for for the president personally, which naturally rankled him furiously. On on the president's part it brought out the worst side of his, him, his inability to take criticism of any kind. And you've got these two groups locked in a in a uproariously funny kind of combat, in a sense, but also kind of grim because one side was was know-it-all one way and the other side was know-it-all the other way. And it it had a very serious effect, because the president after that began to assume that there wasn't any difference between this kind of intellectual and that kind of intellectual. They were all alike. They were 'those people,' as he said, and the seriousness of that is, that, that he began to associate anything that amounted to criticism of his Vietnamese policy with 'these people,' those people that he didn't like, and, therefore, their criticism was to be ignored. Up to that time, it was possible to get the president to consider their criticism. He didn't agree with them, but he considered them, he ran his mind over them. His mind locked at that point. Unfortunately for him and unfortunately for all of us.
Studs Terkel And yet don't you think, a moment ago you mentioned, you spoke of a certain group of intellectuals -- don't you think that a man like Robert Lowell, the letter is quite a terribly moving letter-.
Eric Goldman Mmm.
Studs Terkel That they could not possibly take part in a festival at the White House, in a sense by being present honoring -- even though the office is that of a presidency -- a man who was doing, was responsible, and committing them to a highly irresponsible and immoral act in in Asia.
Eric Goldman I agree with you. And and Lowell conducted himself with great dignity and decorum throughout it as did many people. What I was referring to was the kind of person who accepted an invitation there, and then came and drew up petitions-.
Eric Goldman Yeah.
Studs Terkel Not to you, you had to obviously get a drink somewhere, [laughter] but it was Dwight Macdonald going around with it, and serious discussion with Charlton Heston, I think in itself was a very funny scene, as I envision it, you see. I think somehow to retain our sanity we also have to have humor, too, at times such as this, you know. And, but nonetheless, at the beginning did you have a feeling when Edmund Wilson brusquely rejected the thing. Did you have, you had a hunch then that there'd be difficulties, didn't you?
Eric Goldman Yeah. No, and I don't think that Wilson rejected it, actually, on the Vietnamese issue. That wasn't my impression. His was brusque. No, I didn't get it until the letter arrived from Lowell. I didn't get the intimation actually.
Studs Terkel And then, perhaps, we have to reenact the scene again, that was not funny to you, but funny to the readers of this very fascinating book. If I could just once more mention that was just published "The Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson" by Eric F. Goldman, my guest, for years, three years the consultant to the White House. The subtitle I say could be "The Dilemma of an American Scholar at the White House."
Eric Goldman Yeah.
Eric Goldman And I had invited four or five American writers to come and read from their works, people like Saul Bellow. That's how Robert Lowell was invited as a poet. And Hersey was troubled as to whether he should come or not, and decided he did want to come, that he was going to separate his own opinions from this, which was a ceremonial occasion. But he would express his concern about the war by reading from "Hiroshima." The implication, of course, being that a war like this can escalate into the point where it's nuclear war. And this outraged the president. And there is this long scene of conversation between Mrs. Johnson, who is acting for the president in this respect, and myself, in which she was telling me that that the president and she simply did not want John Hersey to read "Hiroshima" in the White House. Well, I, as I say, it's a long business between Mrs. Johnson and me but, the nub of it was that I was against what Mrs. Johnson was proposing on two grounds. One was on on the grounds that it amounted to censorship, and I did not want the first house of the United States involved in censorship. And the second was a purely practical point for the protection of the president. If I had called Hersey and done what was wanted, I mean then you said, why don't you read from one of your novels and not read from "Hiroshima"? This certainly would have gotten out. Hersey would have certainly withdrawn, as I would have under the circumstances. And the whole world would be sitting there -- a little incident of this sort would turn into one in which the whole world said the president of the United States is a man who does not believe in any kind of freedom.
Studs Terkel Abell.
Studs Terkel And another secretary, who were not too well-acquainted with too many of the works but nonetheless, saying, "It's impossible, gall [of] [history?] Mrs. [unintelligible] the next thing you'll be telling the president what to eat." And throughout there's a refrain of Lady Bird Johnson-.
Eric Goldman The president -- Mrs. Johnson kept saying, "The president and I do not want this man to come here and read this." It was a kind of litany on Mrs. Johnson's part, who was in an extremely difficult position. Mrs. Johnson, as I said, is a very remarkable woman, absolutely devoted to the welfare of her husband, but a woman who -- I'm not going to try to read thoughts into her mind, who, in my opinion, would not have acted this way on this occasion had she not been so devoted to her husband.
Eric Goldman Well, yeah, and you you know, this this is this is a fascinating woman somebody ought to -- there is a really American story there, from a fascinating background. Her father, T.J. Taylor, was a dirt farmer down in Alabama, a tenant farmer, and falls in love with the daughter of the man who owns the country around there. And the the woman, the mother, runs off with the father. They go to Texas, and he becomes the big man around, he owns everything around that part of Texas, and she becomes a -- what I call in the book -- a kind of an American original, the mother does. Beautiful woman, graceful, cultivated, conducting in this little hole in Texas. She was a suffragette, which nobody could understand. She was pro-Negro, it was one of the worst anti-Negro districts, but she'd keep inviting Negroes into the home. The house was full of books and full of good records. Caruso records, for example. And once a year, alone and majestic, this woman would repair up here to Chicago, to to the opera season. Well, this is this-.
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Eric Goldman Yeah, to make it. And she met this man and she was in love with this man, and she stayed in love with him. And her definition of love was not to remake him, but to fulfill him. Whether he was a young pup of a congressman and she was borrowing money to help him get ahead or or sitting there and defending him in a position where he was, I think it's safe to say, simply wrong. I don't want to be arrogant and-.
Studs Terkel No.
Eric Goldman Mmmhmm.
Studs Terkel And it happened that he made it as president in the last third of the twentieth century. And thus, trauma and danger and peril for the world. As well as, strange enough within adversity, strangely comical aspects that you bring out. Always come back to you. And this book. Now, I must point out that Professor Goldman took a very courageous stand there, that's what -- your position obviously getting more and more untenable. You felt. Was it?
Eric Goldman Yeah, yeah, except it -- I felt, I want to say this in fairness to the president and Mrs. Johnson, they put up with an awful lot from me, so to speak. That is, I continually did and said things which I knew the president, did not fit the president's ideas of things, but he he put up with them. Now what what his reasons were, I don't know and-.
Eric Goldman But from my own point of view, I was beginning to wonder how much good I could do around there because there was a kind of fundamental clash between the way he went at things and the way I thought they ought to be gone at. And-
Studs Terkel Well, it came to many matters and perhaps we we can't -- your book discusses them. A certain check, too, involve the question of a little touch of McCarthyism here. That is Joe rather than Gene McCarthyism. And that he had checks on different scholars, FBI checks and various checks made.
Eric Goldman Yeah, well, he of course he, the president -- this is another striking thing about Lyndon Johnson. In the earlier period he was a tremendous civil libertarian in a quiet way. One that I -- I don't, not sure where it came from. It came in part from, again, his father's tradition. His father was part of a political machine down there that had fought the Ku Klux Klan furiously, and he was he was very strong about restrictions on on civil liberties, the president was. And did a number of quiet things around Washington as president to protect them. One of his closest friends and intimates was George Reedy, who here at the University of Chicago back in the Hutchins days was the head of the Young Socialist League and a left-wing Socialist League and remains a strong libertarian. But then as the it's with the war the war the war, always the war, the war came on. And the president began to see himself beleaguered by all these people, these these radicals-.
Eric Goldman It's almost a fan- And that one scene I described there was was one that I shall never forget of the president saying, "Now, these men in the Senate who are opposing me. I know where they're getting their stuff from. It's all coming from the Russian embassy." I sat there really appalled and finally I I I I spoke up and said, "Mr. President, you know that simply isn't true. You just know it's not true." And as I as I remark in the book, he had a look on his face and I don't know what the look means. [unintelligible] Well, I don't know, but then he stopped it. But he did, he got this, he got into this mood about the war, and-.
Eric Goldman Mmmhmm.
Studs Terkel Who was later attacked by Joe McCarthy, as Johnson was helped, as a national youth administrator by the head of it then, Aubrey Williams. And so he himself was helped by, on the way up, by civil libertarians which is a factor [I have to say?]-.
Studs Terkel He was helped by them, which I think le- lends a note of irony to the whole -- and just, as you say, Reedy was there. So, you mention the group that surrounded him and your your descriptions, by the way, of the White House attachés, the aides is a very fascinating one.
Eric Goldman Watson.
Eric Goldman Watson from -- here again, another quite intelligent, very decent sort of fellow. He came a little town down there and, there's nothing wrong with coming from a little town or coming from down there, the point is that nothing happened to these men to expand their vistas. We all came from very limited things. But then something happened to us along way. And he went to -- he ended up working for the Lone Star Steel Company, which had a tremendously reactionary record down there. And Marvin Watson's view of America was was the most constrained one I had heard since the 1930s. I cite in here that he he was the man the president had going over the FBI checks on people. And he actually suspected Newbold Morris-.
Studs Terkel And, also to me two of the most fascinating studies, are two who might be described as Metro-Americans on the staff, are of course, Moyer [sic] and [unintelligible] Moyer [sic] and Goodwin.
Eric Goldman Yeah.
Eric Goldman Very much so. In two very different ways. Both, very bright young men. Goodwin coming from the New England Harvard type of background, who is a curious amalgam of a lot of things and and ends up a power -- a fellow whose delight, so far as I can understand Dick Goodwin, is really in power and manipulation for its own sake. I think that explains why later he kept jumping around from McCarthy to Kennedy and so forth, he was looking for the the power-.
Eric Goldman The main chance. Moyers is a different type, comes from a religious background, as a matter of fact was trained with the seminary, but that's peculiar kind of Southern religion. I I mention in there that the -- his enemies called him Elmer Gantry. And and it's unfair, it's caricature, but it strikes at this -- what some small Southern towns have and it's the young man who is both pious and furiously on the make, and who's able to rationalize doing a lot of other things that perhaps some of the rest of us would have difficulty rationalizing.
Studs Terkel As I'm thinking out loud, as you're talking now something just occurred to me. I think a point could be very dramatic certainly for a play or a novel, that Moyers in a sense, his psyche -- I hate to be -- is very close to Johnson's. That is, there's a righteous, small town, very 100 percent American air, religious. At the same time being on the make.
Eric Goldman On the make in a peculiar in a peculiar way, if I may say so. We're all on the make in one way, in one sense, that is we want the status and recognition and a sense of achievement and so forth. But I think you're using the term in the sense that the the drive to make it in their case is overwhelming and sweeps aside the ordinary considerations that restrain the rest of us. Is that the way you mean?
Eric Goldman Yeah. In in Johnson's case, I quite agree with your comparison, and of course, as I point out here one of the, in fact the great source of Moyers' power in the White House, was the fact that the president never had a son. And down where the president comes from and perhaps even in Chicago, a lot of men who who haven't had sons feel that somehow or another they aren't fulfilled. I've noticed that among a lot of my friends. And he he was almost embarrassed by the fact that there was a wife and two daughters. A he-man [unintelligible]-.
Studs Terkel And so we come to something you said earlier -- not understanding these young. Not understanding that the very values that he considered sacred, making it, were those that many of the protesting young no longer considered not only unimportant, they considered immoral. And so thus, there was no connection between him and the young dissidents.
Eric Goldman There certainly was not, no. In fairness to him, and I say point blank in this book, I want this to be a fair book and I hope it is. There is a side of Lyndon Johnson that has nothing to do with making it. And that is a profound and deeply felt sense of community with ordinary people in the United States -- their aims, their hopes, their problems their needs, their desires, their aspirations. And that's why I call this book "The Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson." It doesn't mean, "Oh, how awful" it means, "Oh, what could have been." With a man of his abilities, a man of this deep feeling for the people of the United States, a man with his drive to do things, that it all turned out so badly. And it was this side of him that made him so effective as the advocate of Medicare and aid to education. Education -- why you know, it got so around there that people like me became very reluctant what we suggested to the president that he do in the educational field because he accepted them too quickly.
Eric Goldman The the re- the rest of the things you didn't have to worry about, you were going to have to fight through. But he he he deeply is convinced that that that this great nation is going to achieve its ultimate greatness through education.
Studs Terkel You see, I don't think there's any danger of a reader of this book being in [unintelligible] thinking that you were unfair to the president. On the contrary, the very title itself, with which some may disagree and I for one may -- think not because tragedy means to me, I -- this is my own thing -- fall from a great height.
Eric Goldman Mmmhmm.
Studs Terkel So you are very -- I'm saying that you're quite, you're very fair indeed to Lyndon B. Johnson on the book, from my point of view, and I doubt whether anyone -- because you do point out certain aspects that also was something that was part of a continuity here, too. Much action was happening on the streets that impelled a president, whether it be Jack Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson, to do certain acts.
Eric Goldman Mmmhmm.
Studs Terkel But the, if I could return to this book of Eric Goldman's, it's a very very fascinating chapter in American history. Now we come back to you again. When did you finally, when did everything for you finally say you had to pack up, because it was your own decision?
Eric Goldman The -- I was developing slowly and gradually a feeling that the time was coming to leave. Of course, one one always should leave there even if one is radiantly in tune with the administration because those jobs burn you out and you you want to, but but I meant in terms of a more specific thing. It was after, it it was when the blow up came between the president and me on the White House Festival of the Arts that I knew definitely I should leave. And this was based on a couple of things. One of them is the president was so angry at me, that I knew my effect -- even though the anger would go away and he was he did a lot to indicate that he wanted to make peace. Nevertheless, your effectiveness is hurt. Also, I was becoming skeptical about this whole role of intellectual-in-residence. You [notice? know this?], I recommend that it be abolished. I don't think that's the way to -- I think we ought to try to get around the president men in normal, staff positions who have the better qualities of intellectuals, and not set up one character and say, "He's the intellectual." There were a mass of things and as it happened I actually went on working 14 more months there because I -- there were a lot of projects I wanted to get done, this that and the other thing. But I I had -- I I was leaving from that moment on-.
Studs Terkel Doesn't this always lead to something else, and why I think your book is a significant one. And this very fact, talk about you Eric Goldman or predecessors and other presidents -- not to compare you in any way with the different circumstance of Schlesinger but -- that someone who was a creative spirit, historian or whatever he might be, also in danger of being overused word today, co-opted, too-.
Eric Goldman Mmmhmm.
Eric Goldman Yeah, I, you see, many of my dear friends in the intellectual field are quite properly concerned with the the the the the better qualities of the intellectual life shall be brought to bear on America, on the American government, a position with which I entirely agree. But, as I say, I think they're best brought to bear by the intellectual's performing his role of staying outside the government and and saying things and criticizing it. And of getting into the White House, men who are essentially part of the political operation but have the better qualities of intellec- for example, Johnson had had men, some men around like that. George Reedy, for example, was a was a man who had every quality of the of the good intellectual including the bookishness, and he was the best read man around there. So I think sometimes we intellectuals try to do these things too easily. There's a, you know, get a man in there.
Studs Terkel At a certain time, a different time, and a man Johnson admired,[unintelligible] he when he was on the way up, was a con- was of course FDR. Now in FDR's case there was an emergency, there was a depression, a certain moment. And he called upon men like Tugwell and others. His own Brains Trust-.
Eric Goldman Yeah. You know, you see this idea though that somehow or another that there has to be a liaison between intellectuals and the White House, that that doesn't work. If you want if you want Joe Smith at the University of so-and-so to work on the poverty problem, the way to get Joe Smith effectively to do it, in my opinion, is is either a) appoint him to an office-.
Studs Terkel [unintelligible]
Eric Goldman Or the other way Joe Smith can do it is stay outside, write the study, write the book that the men working there will will read and and effectuate, in part. Now several people have often asked me, well, how could a president be any good on domestic policy when he never read books. The president didn't read, President Johnson. I hope the audience will pardon me I'm used to calling him the president, and skip the fact that we have a different one. The -- no, he didn't read books. That's not the way, not his habit, not his method. But he was interested in what was in books, if if it had something to say pertinent to getting something done. And so, in that case, of course, you should have men around who read the books, and give him give him the thing in in a memo form. We're not going to have bookish presidents except in rare instances. The qualities that make for bookishness are not the ones that make for winning elections, for the most part.
Studs Terkel No, we're not so much about that. Though, in other countries, you know men who are, president of Senegal, let's say, is a poet. But that's not the point. We're talking now about respect for the intellectual so that he can mold policy, as Roosevelt did.
Eric Goldman Yeah.
Studs Terkel In short, Harry Hopkins whether it be [our? or?] FERA or WPA or whether it be Tugwell, or whether it be Gardener Means, whoever it was, you see. They were men who told him, [unintelligible], and he accepted or didn't. But they they were in charge of groups. Here the guys were not in charge of groups. You were not really in charge, were you really?
Eric Goldman I was in charge of the group, but the the president set it up in such a way that it was not going to -- either the -- I think it's talking to your point now. I think we've skipped one other difficulty in the situation. Namely that, that I agree with your word, respect, for the intellectual, if you will permit me to define it to include an understanding of what the intellectual process is. Mr. Johnson did not understand that, not because he didn't have high intelligence of his own, which he did, but because he had never met it in his life, and didn't have any contact with it. And his idea of an intellectual or of an idea was the was simply the end product of the intellectual process. That is, it was what do I do tomorrow, what legislation do I propose, what do I say and so forth. Now a man like FDR had an interest in it and a feeling for the whole road by which you arrive there. And I think that's a fundamental difference between them.
Studs Terkel Yeah. Isn't there something else -- this perhaps, we have come toward the end of what to me is a, very entrancing and a very good sense conversation with Eric Goldman because it's revealing about a certain time we live in, intellectuals, whatever they may be called -- scholars, creative spirits -- and political figures, a political figure in this instance, and his colleagues, associates. Roosevelt was also a manipulator. So was Johnson. But isn't the one big difference would you agree to this, I'm just thinking aloud now-.
Eric Goldman Yeah.
Studs Terkel Sense of history, Johnson lacked, I think. Roosevelt understood something, an overwhelming event happening and, therefore, something radical must be done. Something wholly unconventional, untried must be done and that-.
Eric Goldman He understood how, how the crisis of today faded into a series of crises into the past and how the past [illuminated?]. The president again, if if I may, just stress this point for those in our audience who may be interested, the president quickly reacted to history. But it was ad hoc history. I learned that the fastest way to persuade the president to do something, was to give him a historical analogy, where some other president faced with so-and-so did so-and-so. But to him, you see, again, it was an idea of what to do. And it was history buttressing. He he did not respond to history as a kind of cumulative human experience from which you drew not a specific action, but what you were talking about -- an approach, a sense.
Studs Terkel A sense of history, perhaps. And thus, we come to also a learning process for a scholar, a distinguished scholar, Eric Goldman. And for a certain experience for Lyndon Johnson. And the book is "The Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson," Eric Goldman. Alfred Knopf were the publishers, and thank you very much.