Make way for the pres, piano-playing cats

Beyond the bunghole: LBJ trumps iPad granny in YouTube legacy

Beyond the bunghole: LBJ trumps iPad granny in YouTube legacy

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President Lyndon Baines Johnson Courtesy of LIFE

The political blog Wonkette recently linked to a YouTube video in which President Lyndon Baines Johnson talked about his bunghole. Of course he did. How do you order a pair of slacks without telling the tailor how it should cover your nether regions?

The video was a recording from the shockingly comprehensive cache of recordings LBJ made during his presidency. Since their release in the 1990s, the tapes have provided historians key insight into LBJ's decision making about everything from the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution to the Civil Rights Act. But on the Internet, it's the tapes of LBJ's more mundane challenges — like getting Joe Haggar to make him a decent pair of summer slacks — that have been getting the pageviews.

The Washington Yankees at Wonkette thought it was unusual for LBJ to take five minutes away from running the most powerful country in the world to order a pair of pants. Had they been Texans, they would have heard the echo of a father, uncle, grandfather or, at the very least, an old boss. Listening to LBJ on YouTube is like opening a time capsule from a weird old Texas, one that has virtually disappeared. It's also a reminder that Texan presidents used to be Democrats.

It actually takes LBJ quite a while to tell Joe Haggar about his bunghole. It's only after he describes the colors he prefers ("like the powder on a woman's face"), the waist size (his weight varies "10 to 15 pounds" a month), and the sorry state of modern pockets ("my money and my knife and everything just fall out") that he gets to the sensitive matter of the pants-to-bunghole relationship. And he isn't so indelicate that he doesn't introduce the matter with an extremely audible burp.

Calling the man who made your slacks to describe, in detail, how to make a new pair might seem like micromanaging, but it was also LBJ's method of flattery. Joe Haggar left that conversation knowing that LBJ cared about how he made pants. When it came to talking to women on the phone, LBJ was just as unsubtle.

LBJ broke the ice during a 1963 conversation with Washington Post editor Katharine Graham by telling her how hot she was. If not for his marriage, he told Graham, "I'd like to break out of here and be like one of these young animals on my ranch up a fence." That doesn't leave much to the imagination.

The subsequent conversation ranged from LBJ's first speech — and his relationship to former Kennedy staffers — to civil rights, which would come to be LBJ's finest accomplishment. The flattery worked, and the two maintained a coy and cordial tone throughout the phone call.

LBJ used his glad-handing to political advantage, of course. To get a feel for how he managed a conversation in order to simultaneously flatter his opponent and smother dissent, listen to two phone calls he made to then-congressman Gerald Ford. In the first, LBJ coaxes the strikingly obsequious Ford into serving on the Warren Commission. In the second, he takes Ford to task for a vote that might not go his way. During the latter, Ford can hardly get a word in edgewise. It's Johnson's way or the highway.

Of course, there's nothing more Texan than the liberal use of colorful metaphors, and LBJ was a master of the art. When he compares passing Medicare to having his wrists tied to his ankles and his pants pulled down, you can't help but think that some contemporary politicians might sympathize. It's just that very few of them would be Texans.