Lyndon Johnson’s Announcement – Can You Remember The Day?

Published on

There are still people alive today who can remember where they were and what they were doing on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Many more Americans can remember November 22, 1963, when President John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. And almost everyone over thirty has vivid memories of nine-eleven, when Arab terrorists brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

But the chances are, not a lot of people remember where they were and what they were doing on the evening of March 31, 1968, even though a presidential announcement was made which would change the course of our nation’s history.

Get The Full Henry Singleton Series in PDF

Get the entire 4-part series on Henry Singleton in PDF. Save it to your desktop, read it on your tablet, or email to your colleagues

Q4 2022 hedge fund letters, conferences and more


President Lyndon Johnson's Announcement

On that evening my cousins and I were driving on I-84 somewhere in Connecticut, on our way from Boston to New York, when we heard these words of President Lyndon Johnson on the radio: “I shall not seek, nor will I accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.”

Immediately after President Kennedy’s death, Vice President Johnson succeeded him. A year later, he won election in his own right, beating Republican Senator Barry Goldwater in a landslide. During Johnson first three years in office, he induced Congress to pass legislation creating Medicare and Medicaid, and the most far-reaching civil rights legislation in a century. Then, adding icing to his legislative cake, he even launched a “war on poverty.”

Had he left it at that, he surely would have gone down in history as one of our greatest presidents. Although he well understood that getting involved in a land war in Asian was a terrible idea, he allowed himself to get sucked into a war in Vietnam that had been raging since 1945, when the country was still ruled by the French.

And so, months after beating Goldwater, Johnson – the self-proclaimed “peace candidate” – began sending increasing numbers of troops to Vietnam to stop the Communist North Vietnamese from taking over the South. By the time Johnson left office, in January, 1969, there were over 500,000 American combat troops stationed in that country.

During his last two years in office, Johnson was constantly hounded by anti-war protesters almost everywhere he went. By 1968, the only places he could deliver speeches without being booed were military bases. In the meanwhile, there were huge antiwar marches all over the nation, with all the marchers chanting, “Hey, hey, LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?”

Lyndon Johnson was indeed a war criminal, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, while destroying the lives of hundreds of thousands of American soldiers – who either died in Vietnam or never recovered from their wounds -- whether physical or mental.

It had become increasingly clear to tens of millions of Americans that Johnson had to be denied reelection in 1968. Allard Lowenstein, an extremely well-connected Democratic Party operative, and Curtis Gans, a leading expert on the nuts and bolts of political campaigning and voter behavior, formed the “Dump Johnson movement,” hoping to deny him the Democratic nomination.

But as the old political adage goes, “You can’t beat someone with no one.” By late 1967 they had set their hopes on convincing New York Democratic Senator Robert Kennedy to run against Johnson. Kennedy despised President Johnson, whom he considered a usurper of his brother’s presidential throne.

Anti-War Activists

Johnson’s greatest fear was that Kennedy, who was very popular – especially among the anti-war activists – would run against him in the Democratic primaries in early 1968. Lowenstein, who was close to Kennedy, spent six weeks in late 1967 trying to convince Kennedy to run, but to no avail.

Still, Kennedy did have a couple of very helpful suggestions. Why not ask South Dakota Senator George McGovern to run? And if he refused, then try Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy, possibly the least known member of the Senate.

Lowenstein and Gans did ask McGovern, but he refused. Finally, they turned to McCarthy, who almost immediately agreed to run. Weeks later, in mid-January, McCarthy garnered forty-two percent of the vote in the New Hampshire Primary to Johnson’s forty-nine percent.

It was immediately clear that Johnson was vulnerable. Within days, Kennedy jumped into the race, making Johnson’s worst nightmare come true.

Still, it was a shock to the nation that the president would so quickly surrender. Perhaps the constant badgering from anti-war demonstrators had worn him down. But surely, the prospect of losing to either Kennedy or McCarthy would have been far too humiliating for him to bear.

Clearly, Lowenstein, Gans, McCarthy, and Kennedy were largely responsible for Johnson’s abdication. But Barbara Garson, a young woman from Brooklyn, also deserves a great deal of credit. In the late 1960s, Garson, an ardent opponent of Johnson’s war in Vietnam, wrote a bestselling book, Macbird! – which she produced as a play that ran for a year to packed houses in two off-Broadway theaters.



A spoof of Macbeth, it cast Ladybird Johnson – President Johnson’s wife as Lady Macbeth, Johnson as Macbeth, and President John Kennedy as King Duncan. The audiences easily drew the inference that the Johnsons had something to do with the death of President John Kennedy. which just happened to have occurred in Dallas, deep in the Johnsons’ home state of Texas.

Even though the Johnsons had nothing to do with the assassination of President Kennedy, perhaps tens of millions of Americans – the vast majority of whom had neither read the book nor saw the play – may have made that connection. I believe then, that Garson played a major role in bringing down Johnson’s presidency.

What we can be sure of is that had it not been for the amazing efforts of these five individuals, Johnson probably would have run for reelection, and our involvement in the Vietnam War might have gone on even longer than it did.

Our nation had learned a valuable lesson from our war in Vietnam. For the next three decades, we managed to avoid getting bogged down in “forever wars.” But soon after the accession of President George W. Bush in 2001, we would foolishly get involved in two such wars – one in Afghanistan and the other in Iraq.

Full disclosure: I was fairly active in the Dump Johnson movement, and friendly with Allard Lowenstein. Barbara Garson and I graduated from Brooklyn’s James Madison High School in the late 1950s, but never met until the 1990s; we have been friends ever since.