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AUDIO Document Friday: “They’re just like riding a wire fence.”

August 27, 2010

"Back to my bunghole."

Today is LBJ’s birthday.  So it’s fitting that last week, The Cold War International History Project’s “Today in Cold War History” tweet reminded me of this gem from the President.  It’s Lyndon Baines Jonson ordering some trousers over the phone from Joe Haggar at the Haggar clothing company.  The University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs did a bangup job syncing the audio of this 9 August 1964 conversation to a transcript.  Its absolutely worth a listen.  Trust me.

In addition to the chuckles, this document immediately gives the listener a sense of how Johnson –the Texas schoolteacher turned Master of the Senate– did business.  Throughout the conversation he was  clearly in charge, yet he spoke with an “aw shucks” unassuming form of rhetoric –and he was not afraid of  a vulgarity.  This ability to yib and yab, historians have argued, was the reason that Johnson’s key tool, one-on-one persuasion, was so effective.

Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon made recordings during their periods in office.  (Nixon and Kissinger recorded and transcribed their phone calls simultaneously –neither knew the other was doing so.)  But Johnson’s collection of 9,00o recorded calls is the largest.  He made between 40 of 60 a day and used a Dictaphone recorder to record most of them.

Even the loose-lipped Nixon admitted that Johnson one-upped him when it came to swearing:  “People said my language was bad, but Jesus, you should have heard LBJ,” he said.  Johnson stated that a Kennedy aide, “Wouldn’t know how to pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were printed on the heel;” explained that future president Gerald Ford “Can’t fart and chew gum at the same time;” and expounded that his strong relationship with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was because “I’d rather have him inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in.”  He also dropped the “N-bomb.”

Which brings us to this doozie of  a quote from today’s document Friday (Again the text doesn’t really do it justice, you gotta listen to it):

“Now another thing: the crotch, down where your nuts hang, is always a little too tight. So when you make them up, give me a inch that I can let out there, because they cut me.  They’re just like riding a wire fence… But when I gain a little weight they cut me under there.  So leave me… You never do have much margin there, but see if you can’t leave me about an inch from where the zipper [belches loudly and strongly] ends around under my–back to my bunghole.”

Wow.  Of course, the Johnson tapes also cover much more serious subjects such as his conversations with Jackie Kennedy, the Civil Rights Movement, his recollection of “assassinating” South Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem, and his related decision to escalate the (perhaps unwinnable, as he himself admitted on tape) Vietnam War.

Happy Birthday LBJ, thanks for the audio.

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