Interview with Harry McPherson
QUESTION 14
INTERVIEWER:

Let me move on too. President Johnson was committed to improving the lives of American Black people, he was sending enormous amount of money into the cities and yet in city after city in America, Black neighborhoods were going up in smoke. How was the President's personal response to this? Was he, was he frustrated? Was he angry?

HARRY MCPHERSON:

I'm going to talk now about some ideas I've got about Lyndon Johnson. And, ah, some of it is based on old conversations. Some of it is based on my own feelings about him. Again, I think the analogy with the Vietnam war is probably apt. President Johnson thought he was doing the right thing in committing American troops to Vietnam. He thought he was doing the right thing in committing hundred of millions of dollars and thousands of bureaucrats and millions of hours of time to the anti-poverty programs and the Head Start programs and the civil rights programs. He thought he was doing the right thing in both cases. When the war went sour, when we could never get the North Vietnamese to, ah, make peace with us. And when there were riots on the campuses in the United States, of, of, by students protesting the war, he sometimes thought that there were malign forces, that there were saboteurs in effect, intellectual saboteurs who were trying to stir up trouble on the grou--on the campuses. He thought the same thing about the slums and the ghettos where the riots were breaking out, that there were bad people there trying to stir up problems in the cities and start riots and burnings and lootings in the ghetto. That, both of those attitudes, ah, are very understandable on the part of someone who is trying to do, what in his view, is the right thing for the country, when the response is riot.