Leadership

Why this famous Hollywood director says Lyndon B. Johnson was one of the best US presidents

Award-winning director Rob Reiner says that Lyndon Baines Johnson is the second-best U.S. president after Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Reiner directed the upcoming film titled "LBJ," which chronicles the presidency of Johnson. The former vice president was thrust into the nation's highest position after the 1963 assassination of president John F. Kennedy.

"I mean LBJ was a consummate legislator," Reiner tells CNBC Make It. "This guy was able to understand how government worked and how to move policy."

The film director explains that Johnson understood how at some level everything "intersected with politics" and so was able to move the government forward.

Under Johnson's tenure, the landmark Civil Rights Act was signed into law. The legislation, which was signed in 1964, ended segregation in public places and prohibited discrimination based on color, religion, sex or national origin.

Former President Lyndon B. Johnson lectures to students at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas in Austin. April 1970.
Corbis | Getty Images
Former President Lyndon B. Johnson lectures to students at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas in Austin. April 1970.

But Johnson is not without fault, says Reiner. "He got us into Vietnam and that was bad and I didn't like that," says the film director. "I was against the war and I was of draft age at the time."

Over the years, Johnson has been viewed favorably by both historians and those in academia. In a February presidential leadership survey by C-SPAN, Johnson came in tenth place overall out of 44 presidents.

The survey was distributed to historians and other professional observers of the presidency. The participants rated each president on ten qualities of presidential leadership such as"public persuasion," "crisis leadership" and "economic management."

Johnson came in first and second place, respectively, for his relations with Congress and for pursuing justice for all.

Johnson's ability to establish close personal relationships across the political aisle is a trait that even former Vice President Joe Biden can get behind. In a 2017 speech to Colby College, Biden noted that forming close relationships is useful in politics and in the workplace.

"Over the course of time, in public life, I found that it comes down to just being personal," he told the graduating class. "All politics, all international relations is personal."

Notably, Johnson's lowest leadership scores were for international relations and moral authority. The former president likely ranked lowest for these because of his role in escalating the Vietnam War.

Yet even with this glaring fact on Johnson's presidential resume, Reiner says that the 36th president still ranks highly among U.S. leaders.

"[Johnson] was the example of a great leader," says the film director. "If you look at what he did legislatively, domestically it's unparalleled and maybe second to FDR the greatest American president."

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