No state has seen their reputation tarnished to such a degree, due to its nationally elected native Presidents, more than the Lone Star State. None. The Chief Executives in question: Lyndon Baines Johnson and George W. Bush; the 36th and 43rd President’s respectively.
Granted, both men took office in the midst of national upheaval: Johnson upon the death of Kennedy and Bush Jr. in the midst of a disputed election with Al Gore, his Democratic opponent. And no doubt things began to unravel domestically and globally shortly after both these men began governing. Johnson had Vietnam and Bush 911.
Both situations arguably made worse by their ensuing policies…and personalities.
Even taking into consideration the dark cloud under which Johnson entered office, the tall Texan was in fact the heir to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. The Great Society expanded the welfare state into nearly every nook and cranny of our culture. Particularly with regards to African-Americans. It is Johnson who solidified the black vote for the Democratic Party in perpetuity.
And yet the Left all but hate the man.
He was, as James Michener expressed so perfectly in his epic historical fiction novel, TEXAS, quite unacceptable to the eastern establishment. Johnson got the blame for Vietnam, no doubt…but it runs deeper than that. Johnson’s White House briefings on the state of South Asia only served to exacerbate the issue as the first ever televised war waged in America’s collective living room. Had the war broke out under Kennedy, it might have gone a bit better. It was Johnson’s style that was the problem. A cowboy at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. did not connect. Lyndon Johnson’s legacy was in the crafting of modern political tragedy.
Fast forward to the turn of the millennium and the election of yet another Texan, George W. Bush. Unlike his northeastern father, George Jr. was a real Texan, and this was the problem. Only those motivated by malice towards the man would refute that he was not tragically at the wrong place at the wrong time. After the felling of the Twin Towers the nation was sad and angry. They needed consolation and action. But Bush not only possessed Johnson’s colloquial defects, he did it with his own particular inarticulateness.
We’ll never know how Al Gore would have actually handled the situation post 911, had he prevailed in the disputed election of 2000. The press would have treated him better, but perhaps he himself would have suffered the same fate as Johnson (unlikely). The reality was that once again a Texan was the leader of the free world in a time of great tumult, and the free world couldn’t connect.
A cowboy in the White House doesn’t work.
The state as a whole has suffered immeasurably from this. Texas was never going to be a darling of the northeastern establishment, but it could have had a seat at the broader table. As it is, the state’s immense cultural achievements remain largely on the periphery. That’s unfortunate for the state, the nation and the world, because Texas has lots to offer.