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Lyndon Johnson's Thoughts on Obama's Nobel Peace Prize

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

One of the many already stateable tragedies of President Obama and Afghanistan is that while Lyndon Johnson (the man Obama seems bent on morphing into -- inspirational leaders on the home front, blind about a foreign war) dove into Vietnam driven by two fundamental elements that made his choice almost expected, even forgivable, the same two fundamental elements, to the extent they exist, exist in reverse with Obama.

First: Johnson saw his presidency, in part, as hostage to the martyred President Kennedy -- even being a willing participant in that dynamic. Example -- pushing for passage of the Civil Rights Act of '64 by saying, "no memorial or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy's memory than..." etc.

That, and other similar policy follow-throughs, would have made it very difficult for Johnson not to also continue on with JFK's Vietnam ambitions. Doubt about JFK'S ambitions? Whatever later historical reconstructions, JFK's inheritor, Robert F. Kennedy, used his first speech on the Senate floor to call on the Johnson not to abandon JFK's military commitment to Vietnam.

Converse to this, the only degree to which Obama is hostage to the previous administration is that, without Bush Jr.'s spectacularly discredited policies, Obama might not be in office. Most of Obama's first year initiatives have put into motion domestic policies that are the 180 degree reverse of Jr.'s. And yet on war, he is, with an admitted change in venue, almost in lockstep. Further onward with Afghanistan? Regardless of Obama's 2008 campaign talk of "necessary" or "just" war, his supporters have an absolute right to expect that we depart.

Second: On a psychological level, Johnson always felt tormented by comparison of himself to JFK by the press, the Kennedy inner circle and beltway society. JFK -- regal glamour. He -- hayseed. JFK -- PT Boat 109. He -- winner of bogus war medal. JFK -- soaring words. He -- backroom fixer. (1966's Death of a President, the earliest "seminal" book on the JFK assassination, even inferred that were it not for LBJ flagging allegiances in Texas, Kennedy would never have had to go to Dallas.) Deemed inferior in so many ways, Johnson, thought he could not also be the man who lost Vietnam. The obvious cognitive leap to see the folly of his policy stared him in the face - even he said privately that the war was, "unwinnable." But the emotional divorce was impossible. He would be seen, as he said quite pointedly, as a "coward," if he withdrew.

Conversely, Obama, as evidenced by two autobiographical books, among other bona fides, would seem to be a man of rare psychological balance, and, to the extent that he is compared to Bush Jr., comes out thoroughly the better for it. And so, while LBJ -- if such can be said for the commander of a war that cost untold numbers of lives -- can be forgiven, with Obama, it's all the more inexcusable to be going deeper into folly.

And so, I had to ask myself, if Lyndon were alive today, in retirement at his Texas ranch, what he would make of Obama's receiving the Nobel Peace Prize? Knowing Lyndon it would probably be unprintable.

And, finally, this one minute film is dated - but in light the Nobel, completely appropriate to revisit.