Of Memes and Reputations

Oh, the wonderful world of memes! These little snippets of commentary have taken social media by storm, seemingly propagating at a rate that would shame the most fecund rabbits one can imagine. The latest one to catch OneOldCop’s attention is particularly loathsome, and seems to scream out for a response. So, here goes!

The meme in question is a picture of President Lyndon B. Johnson overlaid with the following:

“It is part of the price of leadership of this great and free nation to be the target of clever satirists. You have given the gift of laughter to our people. May we never grow so somber or self-important that we fail to appreciate the humor in our lives.”

The caption of the meme is, “Here’s the difference between #45 and a REAL president.”

For the record, this is not fake news. The person creating the meme has not stolen a quotation from someone else and credited it to LBJ. It is, according to multiple sources, taken from a letter President Johnson wrote the Smothers Brothers in the late 1960s.

The quotation appears to be a very gracious response to the satirical abuse the Smothers Brothers rained down on President Johnson through their short-lived but history making television show. That is certainly what the creator of the meme is implying, and the caption seems to say our current president could learn something from President Johnson, a REAL president.

To be fair, the person producing the meme was likely following a trend that started in the blogosphere recently concerning the quotation. Multiple online publications and writers were crowing about the quotation for several days before the meme appeared. They were clearly taking shots at President Trump’s penchant for responding in kind when poked by critics or comics. Yet none went so far as to call President Johnson a REAL president, as did the creator of the meme.

Again, in the interest of fairness, it seems appropriate to clarify a few details for those gushing over President Johnson’s comments to his tormentors. First, let’s put this in context.

President Johnson was not always so understanding of the satire coming his way. In fact, there is evidence to believe he reacted very badly to the Smothers Brothers’ criticism of his presidency at times. Once he went so far as to call the head of CBS television in the middle of the night to complain about the attacks on him by the comics. The network’s response was to begin censoring the show more closely.

The oh-so-civil comment from the late president came only after he decided not to run for reelection. It was then that Tommy Smothers took it upon himself to write a letter of apology to the lame duck president. The quotation was part of the president’s response to Mr. Smothers’ letter. So, his graciousness came out after he had given up the presidency, and his tormentor apologized. Before that, there is no indication he ever said anything good about the Smothers Brothers or their comedy.1

If the only implication of the meme was that President Johnson handled criticism better than President Trump this piece could end here. Unfortunately, the implication is that President Johnson was a REAL president. If that is the case, one should look a little deeper into him and his presidency.

Some historians do rate President Johnson fairly high when it comes to some of his so-called accomplishments. His record on social issues is lauded by those who do not look much deeper than the surface, while others feel he put the country on the road to record numbers of welfare recipients and expanding programs designed to make people dependent on the government

Those issues aside, President Johnson bears a good deal of responsibility for the debacle of the Vietnam War. His Vietnam policies were the primary focus of the criticism he experienced from the Smothers Brothers and others during his service as president. His inability to handle the war issue more effectively cost thousands of soldiers their lives, and may have been a big part of why he chose not to run for reelection in 1968.

Finally, holding President Johnson up as a standard by which to measure the current president may not be exactly what those lauding his letter want to accomplish. President Trump may be a little quick to react through social media, but he cannot hold a candle to President Johnson in some other areas people might find to criticize.

Stolen votes and voters from the cemetery are only a portion of President Johnson’s legacy and legend. He had a reputation as a womanizer, and a pet name for a certain part of his anatomy that seems to fit with that image. Fortunately for him, there were no open microphone moments or tweets for critics to recycle endlessly while he was alive. Still, the stories were known and are a part of history.

Also, there is the story of his demand for a shower head in the White House that would spray squarely on his male anatomy. Additionally, there are stories concerning his habit of displaying his maleness at times.  His reputation as a civil rights champion is somewhat sullied by the reports of the way he treated people of color who worked for him. If LBJ was a REAL president, President Trump doesn’t look so bad in one or two areas.

Folks! The bottom line is this. If you want to criticize the president, or anyone else, be careful who you hold up as a standard. Also, before you forward or share something such as the meme discussed above, take a few minutes to do some research. You may just be sharing someone else’s poorly thought out snit-fit, making yourself look bad.

  1. The letters and the story surrounding them are on display at President Johnson’s library.

© S. E. Jackson – 2017

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