John F. Kennedy: stylish, youthful, bold. Lyndon B. Johnson: southern, pushy, old. Or so goes the standard narrative. But here’s the thing about received wisdom, it’s often informed by third- and fourth-person nostalgia. In his new book, Godfrey Hodgson rewrites the narrative a bit, with a first-hand perspective. During the two presidents’ heyday, Hodgson covered the White House as a correspondent for a British newspaper. Now he’s written a new book, “JFK and LBJ,” that claims these two were the last great presidents of the United States. Hodgson spoke to the Texas Standard via phone from Oxford University in England.
When he first met President Kennedy Hodgson says he had been leaning against the door in the West Wing at the White House. The door swung open suddenly, and Hodgson –being a large man — fell heavily onto the King of Morocco. Kennedy, who didn’t seem to like the King much, was quite amused and ushered Hodgson and the King to the President’s guest apartments, the Blair House.
“I was given a sense of the kind of sardonic humor that he had,” Hodgson says. “That was part of his charm. He was a very clever man and he could be very funny.”
His first thoughts about President Johnson, however, were somewhat different. “He impressed me as a formidable personality,” Hodgson says. “He was a big powerful man, he was extremely tense. He had his own sardonic humor, but quite a different style.”
Hodgson says Johnson’s ideal was to surpass Kennedy’s political work and ambitiously wanted what he called “a great society.”