This week I intended to write about the jobs report put out by the White House and give a historical comparison. Biden claimed that he has the largest growth in jobs throughout history, and I thought surely that is not right, especially with the numbers FDR put out. However, when I checked the White House webpage, I decided to change my topic after reading the list of accomplishments released last week.
What I found interesting about the list was the Trumpian language used. Of the 15 achievements, 13 of them are listed as the best of all time. Among the many points were the greatest or biggest. Two were the lowest, two were the most, one was more than any other, two were the first, two were the largest and, finally, one was the strongest. How is it that no one noticed these claims? Possibly we became used to hearing Trump proclaim he was the greatest president of all time or maybe it’s just that in order to run for president you have to have an ego the size of the White House. What is also interesting is that Trump was accused of being an egomaniac for making similar claims. Yet no matter how bad Trump was or possibly Biden, historically speaking, neither tops the list of narcissists.
In 2013 the Pew Research Center ranked all the presidents in order of their narcissism. Pew did not list which presidents were narcissists and which were not. All presidents have egos. The report concluded that presidents are more narcissistic than average Americans. According to the survey, the most narcissistic presidents were, first, Lyndon B. Johnson; second, Teddy Roosevelt; third, Andrew Jackson; fourth, Franklin D. Roosevelt; and fifth, John F. Kennedy. The list includes some of the most famous presidents of all time and some of the most loved and respected. The oddball on the list is the top, LBJ; he is not as well known or respected as the others. Yet if you know anything about Johnson, you should not be surprised.
I wish I had room to discuss each of these fascinating presidents, but my editors are already upset with the length of some of my columns. I will have to keep this short. Between JFK’s public and personal personas, he may be the most bi-polar of all the presidents. He was beloved by the masses, while hiding his womanizing and drug abuse. FDR is another of the most beloved yet was the first president to believe he was so important that he ran for four terms. Andrew Jackson believed he was so important that he vetoed more bills than all his predecessors combined. Teddy has one of the best quotes to show his arrogance. When speaking about the people in Cuba, he once said, “I am doing my best to persuade the Cubans that if only they will be good, they will be happy; I am seeking the very minimum of interference necessary to make them good.” Yet all these presidents are nothing when compared to Johnson.
Today Johnson is somewhat overlooked. He was sandwiched between the most beloved and infamous presidents of all time, Kennedy and Nixon, both extreme narcissists. In many ways, Johnson is the first modern Democrat ,but he has been shunned by the party because of his policies on the Vietnam War. Johnson and Trump have a lot in common when it comes to ego and crudeness. In fact, Johnson beats Trump when it comes to crudeness. Johnson was better in the public eye, or possibly fortunate, to not have Twitter. This is the president who in private circles became upset when people talked about Kennedy’s sexual conquests. He insisted he had more sexual partners by accident then his predecessor had on purpose. Trump may have discussed his big hands, but Johnson was known to strip down to his birthday suit and show what he was made of. He once did an interview while skinny dipping in the White House pool. He made aides watch him shower and while he used the toilet. As for his ego, this was the president who was more concerned about being the first president to lose a war than he was about the war tearing the nation apart over Vietnam. He wanted to be a great president and he wanted everyone to know it.
The Pew Research Center rankings came out before either Trump or Biden, so they did not make the list. It is hard to think that Trump would not rank high. If he is, he would be in good company. He did declare himself “greatest of all presidents” on twitter. Later he did show some humility when he said “except for Lincoln.” As for Biden, he is still only in his first year. When asked if he wanted to debate Trump, Biden said, “No… If we were in high school, I’d take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him.” However, historically speaking, it will be hard to ever beat Johnson. I saved my favorite of his quotes for last. When he was asked if he was born in a cabin, his response was, “You have me confused with Abe Lincoln. I was born in a manger.”
Dr. James Finck is a Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. To receive daily historical posts, follow Historically Speaking at Historicallyspeaking.blog or on Facebook.