Friday, November 14, 2008
Presidents I Have Known
I knew Lyndon B. Johnson better than any other president of the United States, although I have met and talked to a number of chief executives. I feel that Lyndon would have been rated a great president if he had stayed out of Vietnam. Lyndon was a hands-on president. His Civil Rights bill brought the nation into the new world, but eventually lost the South for the Democratic Party. On the other hand I knew Dwight Eisenhower, but not real well. He was almost the opposite of Lyndon. He issued orders, expected them to be carried out, and then went to the golf course. He was a hands-off president. I was there when Ike came down to South Texas to dedicate the Falcon Dam on the Rio Grande River along with the Mexican president, Ruiz Cortines. The two presidents met in the middle of the dam. The night before, while staying at Allan Shivers house, Ike had been briefed on the abrazzo custom. When two Mexican leaders meet they give each other a brief hug called an abrazzo (an embrace). Ike said it was silly and he was not going to do it. So the two men met on the dam and Ike shook hands. At a strategic location below the dam were at least 50 Mexican reporters and photographers. They wanted a picture of the traditional abrazzo. Ike balked. Then the Mexicans hissed loudly "abrazzo." Finally Ike, red faced and a bit angry, gave in an embraced Cortines. You needed to be there to see it. It was a symbol of unity between our two countries. I will tell you a bit more next week.