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Psychological Dysfunction and Great Achievement: The Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson

Robert E. Gilbert

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Lyndon B. Johnson was a president who achieved great things. In the domestic arena, his legislative record is perhaps as extraordinary as that of Franklin D. Roosevelt, making him one of the most effective legislative leaders in American history. Johnson, however, became emotionally overwrought in response to the war in Vietnam that came to dominate his Administration. As a leader with narcissistic traits, he was deeply unsettled by the attacks he suffered during this period. He became obsessed with enemies and convinced that they were engaged in plots against him. Overall, during the last eight years of his political career, and applying diagnostic criteria specified by the American Psychiatric Association, Johnson increasingly exhibited behavior patterns that conform to those associated with paranoia. The paranoid reactions he showed as President seem to have been those of a wounded narcissist. These did not notably affect his work in the domestic arena where he was very self-assured but they inflicted damage on him and perhaps on the country in the international domain where he was much less secure.

Keywords: Lyndon Johnson – childhood – narcissism – paranoia – legislative achievements – Bobby Kennedy – Vietnam