Johnson was in the middle of a very unpopular war. And as a result, journalists often asked him pointed questions about why the US was involved in Vietnam. Once, when Johnson was speaking to a group of reporters off the record, someone asked just such a question. Johnson, feeling frustrated, pulled his penis out of his pants and said, “This is why.” The reporters were undoubtedly shocked, but Johnson seems to have felt that was the best way to make his point. Of course, it’s hard to say what exactly the point Johnson was trying to make with the gesture was.
Was he saying that his penis was telling him to continue fighting the war? Was he saying that he was a man, and men fight wars? Was he just trying to get everyone to shut up so he could keep talking? It’s hard to imagine something like that staying quiet today, but the exchange was off the record. Not to mention, journalists had a different attitude then about what was and wasn’t appropriate to report on. So, it’s not surprising to think that this sort of thing could have stayed out of the news at the time.
But that wasn’t the first time Johnson casually revealed himself to reporters. One day, after a 1964 Presidential campaign event, Johnson invited White House reporter Frank Cormier onto Air Force One to hold an interview. As it was a very hot day, Johnson decided to lose his shirt and pants while speaking to Cormier. Then, as Cormier described it, he “shucked off his underwear,” and continued the interview stark naked. His only cover was a towel, which he used to make gestures emphasizing his points instead of wrapping around his waist.
And if that meeting wasn’t the first time he got naked during an interview, it also wasn’t the first time he made a connection between his penis and the military. Once, when Johnson was trying to have a shower installed in the White House, he made it very clear that he wanted powerful jets to shoot water directly at his crotch. When told that it would require too much plumbing work, Johnson replied, “If I can move 10,000 troops in a day, you can certainly fix the bathroom any way I want it.” Johnson was the kind of man who didn’t like to be told no.
And that’s largely why he put people through the Johnson treatment. It was a way to show other people that he had the power to make them do what he wanted. And a psychologist might say that his fascination with his genitals was an extension of his fascination with power. Ultimately, Johnson used that power to do a lot of good things. He was instrumental in the passage of a lot of civil rights legislation, for instance. But you can decide for yourself if the ends justified the means.
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