Signing ceremony for the Voting Rights Act [LBJ Library photo #344-7a-WH65 by Frank Wolfe]

The Great Society at 50

May 19, 2014

by Karen Tumulty
Washington Post
May 17, 2014

One day shortly after starting his new job as presidential adviser and speechwriter, Richard N. Goodwin was summoned to see the boss. Not to the Oval Office, but to the White House swimming pool, where Lyndon B. Johnson often went to ruminate.

Goodwin found the leader of the free world naked, doing a languorous sidestroke. Johnson invited him and top aide Bill Moyers to doff their own clothes: “Come on in, boys. It’ll do you good.”

It was an un­or­tho­dox manner of conducting official business. As they bobbed in the tepid water, the president “began to talk as if he were addressing some larger, imagined audience of the mind,” Goodwin later wrote in his memoir.

The 32-year-old speechwriter forgot his chagrin as he was drawn by “the powerful flow of Johnson’s will, exhorting, explaining, trying to tell me something about himself, seeking not agreement — he knew he had that — but belief.”

This happened in early April 1964, just a little more than four months after a tragedy in Dallas had made Johnson the 36th president of the United States.

“I never thought I’d have the power,” Johnson told Goodwin and Moyers. “I wanted power to use it. And I’m going to use it.” read more