In TIME This Week:
Calvin trillin: Who Wrote This (Expletive Deleted)?
By Calvin Trillin
(TIME, December 1) -- As someone who wrote campaign speeches for Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, I naturally assumed that the publication of Taking Charge: The Johnson White House Tapes, 1963-1964 would secure my place in history. After all, the White House taping system could easily have picked up L.B.J. saying how much he valued my speeches. It's true that he never actually used any of my speeches. On the other hand, he was known for his insincerity. I had that going for me.
Maybe, for instance, I'd be mentioned in one of his rants about press accounts implying that Kennedy's Harvard intellectuals were decamping, abandoning the White House to a bunch of Texas yokels: "It's just a damned lie is what it is. Why, I got this little ole boy, Trillin, who wrote me a brilliant speech called 'The Spirit of St. George.' Smartest little booger you'd ever hope to meet. He can write circles around those Harvard pissants."
Also, I was sort of hoping that Taking Charge might settle some lingering questions about my role in the policy that came to dominate the Johnson presidency. Maybe next to a reference to some extemporaneous ramblings he had delivered on the campaign trail--yet another version of what we speechwriters used to call his county-commissioner speech--I'd find a footnote by Michael Beschloss, who edited the tapes, saying, "Technically, this speech was written by Calvin Trillin, but, since what L.B.J. said bears absolutely no resemblance to the text, Trillin is not considered responsible for the war in Vietnam or any other national catastrophe."
I worked in the Executive Office Building, and I was paid by the Democratic National Committee--in cash, as I remember. Does that sound fishy and maybe illegal? I'd be happy to testify to any congressional committee about such matters, as long as it's understood that my opening statement can include some of the speeches I wrote that Johnson didn't use.
I think I'd begin with "The Spirit of St. George," which I wrote for L.B.J. to deliver in Salt Lake City. It challenged Americans to have the sort of spirit the Mormons demonstrated in the 19th century when, rather than settle into the relatively comfortable life they'd managed to build in Salt Lake City, they trekked back into the wilderness to found a temple at St. George, Utah.
"It's your best speech," my boss told me. "Unfortunately, it's been decided that the President is going to Philadelphia instead."
For a moment or two, I sat in stunned silence. Then I said, "Do you think that every place it says 'Mormon' they could just cross that out and put in 'Quaker'?"
If that option was considered, it was not reflected on the tapes Beschloss included in Taking Charge. In fact, I couldn't find any reference at all to my speeches. Then I noticed the date of the final tape--Aug. 29, 1964. Of course! That was a few weeks before I arrived in Washington. The references to my speeches must be in Volume II. As I envision it, L.B.J. is alone in the Oval Office during one of the darkest days of the war in Vietnam. He is looking for inspiration. Idly, he picks up a manuscript from a pile on his desk. It is titled "The Spirit of St. George." He begins to read aloud.
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