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    Tuesday
    May242011

    LBJ in Retirement

    After his famous "I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President," speech, LBJ retired to his ranch in Stonewall, Texas, just outside Austin, where he would live the final four years of his life. His post-presidency was a somewhat depressing affair. He indulged in drink and took up smoking again, lighting up as soon as his plane took off from DC, as Historian Michael Bechloss describes:

    On Inauguration Day, Johnson saw Nixon sworn in, then got on the plane to fly back to Texas. When the front door of the plane closed, Johnson pulled out a cigarette—first cigarette he had smoked since his heart attack in 1955. One of his daughters pulled it out of his mouth and said, "Daddy, what are you doing? You're going to kill yourself." He took it back and said, "I've now raised you girls. I've now been President. Now it's my time!" From that point on, he went into a very self-destructive spiral.

    Self-pitying and withdrawn, Johnson took it upon himself buoy his mood by running his ranch as he had ran the country from the Oval Office -- with rigor. Known as a micro-manager, Johnson's attentiveness to details was unsurpassed, bordering on obsessiveness. In her book Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream, Doris Kearns Goodwin describes how the former president would survey his fields and check up on the men who milked the cows, fed for the chickens, drove the tractors and kept the ranch running smoothly overall. He delivered morning pep-talks to his staff, declaring without irony, "We've got a chance of producing some of the finest beef in this country if we work on it... if we treat those hens with loving care, we should be able to produce the finest eggs in the country. Really fresh." He even devised a system of prioritizing the tasks of the day, using abbreviations HP for "high priority," and S for "Hold for a slow day". 

    As a ranchman, LBJ increasingly behaved as if he were making the weighty decisions that affected the fate of the nation. In one instance, he couldn't sleep because his nerves were fraught over a broken pump. He even called the head of American Airlines in Dallas to ensure the prompt delivery of replacement parts so that he could drain rainwater after a minor flood -- an emergency indeed.

    But perhaps the lasting image from LBJ's retirement was his long hair. Much like Al Gore's post-2000 "depression beard", Johnson let his hair grow out, sporting a mullet:

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