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The Making of a President

Forty Years After Kennedy's Assassination Robbed a Country of Its Innocence, a Never-Before-Published Memoir by LBJ Speechwriter and Confidant Horace Busby Describes How Johnson Took Control of a Nation on the Edge

November 16, 2003|Introduction by Scott Busby | Scott Busby is a screenwriter and journalist living in Los Angeles.

On an overcast weekend last June, I drove to my sister Betsy's house in Encinitas to do something I had long resisted--sort through my father Horace Busby's papers and memorabilia. My sisters and I had moved our father from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles in 1997 because of his failing health. It had not been an easy transition for a man who had been a close associate and aide to Lyndon B. Johnson and who, after LBJ left the White House, remained for nearly three decades in the nation's capital, where he built a considerable reputation as a political consultant, publisher and pundit. He died in May 2000 in Santa Monica. Betsy's garage became the repository for what was left of his possessions.

I had avoided making the journey for many reasons. The thought of spending countless hours in a hot, dusty garage digging through 30-odd boxes of old papers wasn't exactly a drawing card. I knew Betsy, the most organized and meticulous member of our family, would want to look at--and discuss--every piece of paper and photo. Things might, God forbid, get emotional. But deep down I guess what I dreaded most was what the process would mean--bidding a final farewell to my father.

My procrastinations ended when Betsy called to say that LBJ biographer Robert Caro had contacted her, asking to see my father's papers. We agreed the time had come to organize his writings and documents so that we could donate them to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum in Austin.

We foraged through two long file boxes that first morning, sipping coffee, reminiscing. Then at the bottom of a storage container, I found an unmarked blue stationery box. I opened it and stared in astonishment. Betsy looked up and saw my expression. "You found it," she said, smiling.

It was a manuscript my father had worked on for years about his long and extraordinary relationship with LBJ. For reasons his family and friends have never understood, he didn't publish it. When we moved him to Los Angeles, he told us he had never finished it and had thrown away its various drafts. This saddened me because no one in Washington or Texas had known Lyndon Johnson, the man and the politician, in quite the same way as my father.

Horace Busby first attracted the attention of LBJ when, as editor of the student newspaper at the University of Texas at Austin, he wrote a series of editorials defending academic freedom. He left the university without graduating, taking a job covering the Texas Legislature for the International News Service. He went to work for Congressman Johnson in 1948 at the age of 24. He served on LBJ's staff in the House and Senate and at the White House, where he was secretary of the Cabinet from 1963-65. He wrote many of the president's important speeches, including his civil rights orations, his announcement of the end to U.S. bombing of Vietnam and his decision not to run for reelection. He also had a hand in drafting much of Johnson's legislation.

The hundreds of neatly typewritten manuscript pages he left behind were clearly of historical value. In time, I also came to see the work as a rare gift to his family, one that allowed us to rediscover him in ways we never imagined. Far from saying goodbye to him on the trip to Encinitas, I was given a remarkable second chance to know him better.

The defining moment in LBJ's life was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, who was shot 40 years ago this Saturday in Dallas. The manuscript includes my father's firsthand account of the events surrounding the tragedy and its aftermath in Washington, D.C. The following are verbatim excerpts from the manuscript, edited together into a single narrative. The piece also includes a few paragraphs from a Christmas letter my father and mother, Mary V. Busby, sent to close friends in Austin several weeks after the assassination.

From Horace Busby's manuscript and files:

Forebodings filled the middle weeks of November in 1963. In Texas, the rancorous feud between [U.S. Sen. Ralph] Yarborough and [Texas Gov. John] Connally partisans burned hotter and hotter as time for President Kennedy's visit neared. Arguments flamed over trivialities: who would stand where in the receiving lines; who should sit next to whom at banquet tables; who would ride in which automobile in the parades at Houston, San Antonio and Dallas. Neither side would consider concessions, even for the sake of appearances.

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