Born in a farmhouse in the Texas Hill Country, Lyndon Baines Johnson brought a western sensibility to the White House. Building on recent studies that have delved into Johnson’s Texas roots, Kevin J. Fernlund has written a brief, lively biography of the thirty-sixth president that better shows how his home state molded his early years—and how the one-time Houston schoolteacher eventually became a Texas tornado twisting across the state’s and soon the nation’s political landscape.
Lyndon B. Johnson and Modern America offers a concise look at LBJ that shows how his career coincided with the ascendancy of American liberalism within a Cold War context. In particular, Fernlund extends recent observations regarding Johnson’s important role in regional transformation at a time when the South and West became full partners in the American economy. In examining LBJ’s promotion of the space program and his disastrous decision to escalate the war in Vietnam, Fernlund shows how these and other Johnson administration policies affected the American West. He describes how Johnson’s liberal agenda for the West became subverted by illiberal wars with enemies foreign and domestic, exposing the limits of liberalism and fostering the region’s nascent conservatism. He also compares Johnson’s commitment to social justice with that of his arch nemesis Ho Chi Minh, providing new insight for readers and an intriguing springboard for classroom discussion.
Although subsequent presidents also hailed from the West, Fernlund argues that Johnson was our last truly western chief executive. This new approach to LBJ offers a novel reading of an important Texan, his huge circles of influence, and his lasting impact on the American scene.