LBJ Poverty Transcripts
Below are two transcripts, the tapes of which we'll hear in class, that offer some insight on LBJ's attitude toward poverty. The first contains a portion of an early February conversation between the President and Sargent Shriver, whom LBJ was about to appoint as his special assistant to coordinate the anti-poverty campaign. Question: Do you get a clear sense of LBJ's anti-poverty agenda from this conversation? Did Shriver?
The second call concerns the traditional Labor Day campaign kickoff speech, and is between LBJ and one of his closest aides, Bill Moyers. Here, the President offers a glimpse of his overall economic philosophy. Question: What was LBJ's ideal vision of economic policy, at least based on this call? (Note: Moyers originally had considered becoming a Baptist minister; this will explain a few of the President's jokes in this conversation.)
President Johnson and Sargent Shriver, 1:02 PM, February 1, 1964
President Johnson: Sarge?
Shriver: Good morning, Mr. President. How are you?
President Johnson: Im going to announce your appointment at the press conference.
Shriver: [taken aback] What press conference?
President Johnson: This afternoon.
Shriver: Oh God, I think it would be advisable, if you dont mind, if I could have this weekend. I wanted to sit down with a couple of people and see what we could get in the way of some sort of plan. Because what happens, at least what my thought is, [that] you announce somebody like me or somebody else, and they dont know what the hell they are doing or what this program is going to be specifically, and who is going to carry it, then youre in a hell of a hole, because they are going to call you up and say, "Well now, what are you going to do?"
President Johnson: Well
Shriver: And you dont know what youre talking about.
President Johnson: Well, just dont talk to themjust go away to Camp David and figure it out. We need something to say to the press. Ive got to tell them what I talked to you about yesterday. You can just take off and work out your Peace Corps any way you want to. You can be head of the committee and have some acting operator, and if you want Bill [Moyers] to help you, Ill let him do that. Ill do anythingbut I want to announce this and get it behind me, so Ill quit getting all these other pressures.
Youve got to do it. You just cant let me down, so the quicker we get it behind us, the better. You can talk to them as special assistant to the President a hell of a lot easier than you can talk to them just as Peace Corps administrator. If they want to talk to you, just tell them to speak to me.
Shriver: Yes. Well
President Johnson: But dont make me wait until next week, because I want to satisfy them with something. I told them we were going to have a press meeting.
Shriver: Let me say this. Can I make just one point
President Johnson: Theyre going to have all these damn questions and I dont want to be indecisive about them.
Shriver: I understand. But I think that there is one point thats worthy of your consideration. Its this. Number one: Im not going to let anybody down, last of all you. Youve been terrific to me.
Second: this appointment, if its announced without the proper preparation with our people abroad around the world, as I tried to indicate to you yesterdayand I think Bill will confirm this to you, Mr. Presidentwould cause an awful lot of internal [searches for word] apprehension.
President Johnson: Well, I
Shriver: [continuing] In the sense that I would like to have a chance to prepare the Corps, not only my top people here in Washington, which I can do, but Ive got four or five guys coming back here from abroad right now.
President Johnson: But that will leak out over 40 places. Why dont I tell them you are not severing your connection with the Corps, that you are still going to be identified with the Corps, and the details of what you will do there can be worked out later, and youll announce them. Generally speaking, Im
Shriver: Could you say this: that you have asked me to study how this thing should be carried out? Thats the way that I did it for President Kennedy when he asked me to look at the Peace Corps, and to study how it should be organized and carried out. And that I will do that for you, and that, based on what I have proposed then, you will make your move. What I will propose, of course, is what you want to have done, but at least, it doesnt look as if I have left the Peace Corps.
President Johnson: Let me make it clear: let me say that I have asked you to study this, and Im going to ask you to direct it, but that does not mean that you are going to lose identification with the Peace Corps, and what responsibilities you will have with the Peace Corps you will announce at a later date.
Shriver: Could you just say that you have asked me to study this?
President Johnson: No. Hell, no. Theyve studied and studied and studied. They want to know who in the hell is going to do this, and its leaked all over the papers for two weeks that youre going to do it. Theyll be shooting me with questionstheyre already doing it. And . . .
Shriver: Yes, yes, Im all set on that. That Shriver is going to be the person that is going to organize this thing. Hes going to study it, come in with a report to me on what he wants to do with it within two or three weeks, whatever it was, that we spent a month
President Johnson: Im going to say that youre going to be Special Assistant to the President, and executive in charge of the poverty program. And how that affects your Peace Corps relationshipyoull still maintain it, but youll be glad to go into that with them at a later date. At the present, youre working up the organization of this. Whats wrong with that?
Shriver: Well, the problem with it is that, you know, it will knock the crap out of the Peace Corps.
President Johnson: Not if they tell them that youre not severing your identification with the Peace Corps.
Shriver: Then youll say that Im going to continue as the director?
President Johnson: Well, Ill just say that youre going to continue your identification with the Peace Corps, whatever identification you want, whatever you want to do with it.
Shriver: I think it would be better if you would say, if you have to, that Im going to continue as director.
President Johnson: Theyre going to say then, "Are you going to have him directing two jobs?" Im going to say, "I dont know." Thats the next question, you see. Id say hes going to continue his identification with the Peace Corps, in what capacity hell explain to you in great detail. But hes going to see that it functions, and hes also on the poverty assignment.
Shriver: [disspirited] Mm-hmm. Of course, youve got the sense of the situation. I must say that I would prefer, Mr. President, if I had 48 hours even to work with our staff around the world, so they wont hear this over the worldwide Voice of America, or something like that.
President Johnson: Its not going to be anything but a compliment to you. Theyre going to be proud of you. Theyre going to be applauding you. Everybody is.
Shriver: Would you ask Bill? He would confirm to you on the point that Im trying to make, namely, that within the Peace Corps right now, there is a very great sort of a personal problem about me, with a whole lot of people that are in it.
President Johnson: Im not taking you away from them. Im just giving you a billion dollars to work with. And you figure out how you want to work.
Shriver: I was thinking about this last night, and I talked with a couple of fellows this morning: the returning Peace Corps volunteers could be tremendous assistants.
President Johnson: Of course they could. They could be out there. You could build your organization out of a good many of them.
Shriver: Thats right. What I would like to do is to get that,the way this thing is going to be integrated, so that when we announce something were really ready to talk about it really intelligently.
President Johnson: I dont think you could do that until you make this whole study and come up with a message. Im talking about the man who is evolving the organization, and in charge of perfecting it right now, and his name is Sargent Shriver. He still has his identification with the Peace Corps, and he will keep it to such extent as he deems desirable. And if you cant run a $100 million program in your left hand and a $1 billion with your right hand, youre not as smart as I think you are.
Shriver: [laughing] Besides, the money has no problem at all. Its the people that Im interested in. I want to keep all these people for the government that are in the Peace Corps and bring them into any other program.
President Johnson: Well, thats good. Im not going to sever you from the Peace Corps at all. Im just saying that youre going to maintain your identification with the Peace Corps. And how much of the details youre going to do, whether you hire them or sweep out the room, is going to be a matter for you to determine. I am going to make that clear. But I am [also] going to make it clear that youre Mr. Povertyat home and abroad, if you want to be. I dont care who you have running the Peace Corps. If you can run it, wonderful; if you cant, get Oshkosh from Chicago and Ill name him.
Shriver: I cant get anybody. The only guy that could possibly do it, Mr. President, is Bill.
President Johnson: You can write your ticket on anything you want to do there. I want to get rid of poverty, though.
President Johnson: And you can organize poverty right from the beginning. Youll have to get on the message Monday. But the Sunday papers are going to say that youre Mr. Poverty unless youve got real compelling reasons, which I havent heard. And Im going to say that youre going to maintain your identification with the Peace Corps and operate it to such an extent as you may think desirable.
Shriver: I thought, as I looked over the papers, it seems to me that this is a thing that really ought to operate out of HEW. I dont mean right at this moment
President Johnson: It cant operate out of HEW.
Shriver: Well, I mean, it seems to me this is a
President Johnson: Well, you wait till we get by an election before we go to operating out of HEW. Weve got to get by this election. Ive thought of all those things. Got some good ideas on them, which you would approve of. But Ive got an election ahead of me now.
September 5, 1964, President Johnson and Bill Moyers, 4:20 PM
Operator: We find that Robert Weaver is in New York. Do you want me to reach him?
President Johnson: No, I dont want him. Get Bernie Boudin for me, and see if you cant also get Gene Fougin, before I forget what I want to talk about. Hes the small business administrator. [They then discuss Fougins schedule, and Moyers comes to the line.]
President Johnson: Walter Reuthers going to say that hes there for Johnson because hes for the poverty program, and hes for education, and hes for taking care of the sick. He wants a real strong sentence on medical care. I assume there is a sentence on medical care in here, and on education in here.
Moyers: Yes, sir. And on poverty.
President Johnson: I want one paragraph liftedDick Goodwin can work on it till dark, or youalong the lines of the other day that I took out of the [John] Steinbeck speech, I think it was, where we have a right to wish for what we want to, think what we want to, worship where we want to, sleep where we want to. Everything like the basic fundamentals thatthe Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution thing, wrapped up in one paragraph.
Do you remember the paragraph Im talking about?
Moyers: Yes. I sure do.
President Johnson: But I want it elaborated on a little bit"Mind to be trained, childs mind to be trained. Church to pray in. A home to sleep in. A job to work in."
Moyers: All right.
President Johnson: Lets get education, religion, free speech, free press"read what he pleases." Round him out as a well-balanced, tolerant, understanding individual, instead of one of these cooks. [Chuckles.]
President Johnson: Do you follow me there, now?
President Johnson: I want that one paragraph so that I can have all the Johnson philosophy.
He said, "Well, youve got to speak some on poverty. Youve got to speak some one education. Youve got to speak some on Medicare." Somebodys told him its got to be a high level speech. He wants it a party hack speech.
I said, "Im going to refer to all of them." I want it in one paragraphmy philosophy. So that when you quote what I had in that Southwest Quarterly"Im a free man, an American, and a senator, in that order." Do you remember?
President Johnson: I want something that you can quote like this the rest of our lives. You can put it in the preface of your book. "I have a visiona vision of a land where a child can [pauses] have a home to live in." And then repeat what I just said to you. "And read what he wants to, and can wish what he wants to, and can dream what he wants to."
And then the words, "I have a vision." Lets get a little bit of this holy-rolly populist stuff. [voice rising] "I have a vision of a land where every child [pauses] can have training to fit his abilities, a home to protect him from the elements, a church to kneel in." Throw at least two biblical quotations in, that are very simple, that every one of them have heardthese working men, these auto mechanics.
Moyers: All right.
President Johnson: Its what you Baptists just report to them all the time.
Moyers: [chuckling] All right.
President Johnson: Make it simple; dont give me one of these long ones.
Moyers: All right.
President Johnson: Go back and get me one of the commandments. These Baptists preachersdont get on that adultery one. Get some of these, "Thou shalt not [pauses] lie on thy brother."
Moyers: [tartly] All right. OK.