The advice infuriated White House aides. Even the president has reacted to the often-voiced criticism. In an interview with David Remnick of The New Yorker in January, Obama offered his own history lesson, noting that Johnson didn’t have to deal with a Republican-controlled House. “When he lost that historic majority, and the glow of that landslide victory [in 1964] faded, he had the same problems with Congress that most presidents at one point or another have,” Obama said.
Remarkably, that comment to The New Yorker is one of the few statements Obama has made as president about Johnson. LBJ loyalists had been hopeful that Obama would mention their man when he accepted the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008—the same day as the 100th anniversary of Johnson’s birth. But Obama’s people, in tight control of the convention, made sure the only mention of the anniversary came in a five-minute video aired outside prime time. And even though it is routine for nominees to mention recent presidents in their party, Obama ignored Johnson in 2008 and 2012.
The slight still rankles some LBJ loyalists. “I was stunned,” said Joseph Califano Jr., 82, who was Johnson’s top domestic policy adviser. Califano views it as especially striking because Obama personally benefited from so many Johnson programs.
“I was stunned particularly when you realize that Johnson is the reason Obama got elected—in the sense that if there hadn’t been a Civil Rights Act of ’64, if there hadn’t been the Voting Rights Act of ’65, he wouldn’t have had a chance,” Califano said, adding: “Think about the fact that his mother was on food stamps, and he and his wife went through college and law school on the Higher Education Act we passed in ’65. So, yes, I was upset.”