December 21, 1966 a group of Democratic governors met with Lyndon
Johnson at the LBJ Ranch in Stonewall.
The governors were concerned with the volume of Great Society programs
and were certain they could persuade the president to take a different
course of action.
The Texans at the Alamo had a better chance.
Say what you will about Lyndon Johnson, he was a formidable political
force. As Senate Majority Leader no one was better at operating the
machinery of government, and he had few equals at the art of persuasion.
Johnson could twist arms with the best. A rival once claimed he could
"sell sand to an Arab."
LBJ got results, but his methods were not easy to pin down. He didn't
have a typical politician's personality or demeanor. He wasn't smooth,
good looking, highly intelligent or particularly likeable.
He was an enigma, even to politicians in Washington. Sen. Richard
Russell of Georgia noted "He doesn't have the best mind on the Democratic
side of the Senate. He isn't the best orator. He isn't the best parliamentarian.
But he's got the best combination of all these qualities."
Johnson's method of persuasion was a complex combination of techniques
often described as "The Johnson Treatment."
His ability to persuade began with his physical presence. At almost
6'4", Johnson towered over his colleagues. When talking politics he
loomed over and leaned into the other person. He intimidated people
with his size and proximity.
He was a big man with an explosive temper. People who felt his wrath
usually tried to avoid it in the future.
Few politicians had the courage to say no to Lyndon Johnson. Journalists
Rowland Evans and Robert Novak wrote that the "tornadic force of his
personality when mixed with the oxygen of politics" was usually enough
to steamroll most opposition.
| Sen. Richard
Russell getting the Johnson Treatment.
| In describing
the Johnson Treatment, Evans and Novak noted "Its tone could be supplication,
accusation, cajolery, exuberance, scorn, tears, complaint and hint
of threat. It was all of these together. It ran the gamut of human
emotions. Its velocity was breathtaking and all in one direction."
The Johnson Treatment was relentless. It wore people down. It could
last a few minutes or several hours - however long it took to get
the job done.
The Johnson Treatment was in full force at the December 1966 closed-door
meeting with the governors at the LBJ Ranch.
days prior to that meeting the group of unhappy Democratic governors
met at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. They complained that
the president was pushing his Great Society programs along too far
and too fast. They accused the president of acting unilaterally. They
wanted better communication between the White House and the state
The governors claimed that the Great Society was becoming a political
liability and was hurting them in the polls. They argued that the
recent swing in favor of the Republicans was a protest against the
president and his policies.
One angry governor told the press that unless the president mended
his ways he would be a liability as the head of the Democratic ticket
The group demanded a meeting with the president who was on a working
vacation at the LBJ Ranch in Stonewall.
The president heard news reports from the meeting in West Virginia
and was unhappy that the Democratic governors had gone rogue and were
not toeing the party line.
"Come on down to the Purrdenales," the president said. "We'll talk."
There are no official records of that meeting although it would have
been fun to be a fly on the wall. What we do know is that after the
full-blown Johnson Treatment, Iowa Gov. Harold Hughes, chairman and
spokesman for the governors, came outside to meet with members of
the press under the oak trees in front of the Texas White House. With
little emotion he read the following statement before boarding the
plane back to Des Moines.
"We leave here in complete support of the policies, the principles
and the precepts as set forth by the president of the United States."
"No further comment."
"No Personal Disagreement Between LBJ, Demo Governors," Carthage (MO)
Press, December 22, 1966. Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, Lyndon B.
Johnson, The Exercise of Power (New York: New American Library, 1966).