It’s been said that we are wise to pick our battles. Alas, the one being pursued by the LBJ Foundation may be the wrong one.
In hopes of making a new pavilion at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin the home of the plane used to transport U.S. presidents for three decades, the foundation has secured millions of dollars in donor-pledged funding.
But the foundation may have more money than sense.
The aircraft, a VC-137C known as Air Force One when a president was on board, currently resides at the U.S. Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.
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Having transported heads of state from Kennedy through Clinton, its 36 years of flight occupy an important place in presidential history. The imagination can run wild in thinking about what policy measures and decisions of national impact were made aboard. (It carried President Nixon to China.)
The LBJ Foundation’s claim to the plane relates to the fact that it is also the site of Johnson’s hasty inauguration, conducted shortly after President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. The craft also transported Kennedy’s body back to Washington.
Unfortunately, much of contemporary Texas history is mired by the events surrounding the Kennedy assassination. The somewhat macabre draw of Dealey Plaza, the Sixth Floor Museum and other such haunts brings hundreds of thousands to Dallas each year. Some have argued that too much attention is paid to conspiracy and tragedy and not enough to the life and record of JFK.
Certainly, Johnson continued his use of the presidential aircraft beyond that fateful day, but if brought to Texas, its other history would be overshadowed by that singular national memory.
The LBJ Foundation seems to be fighting for a relic that would distract from the museum and not add to it.
The library’s purveyors would do better to focus their exhibits on the policy accomplishments of Johnson’s presidency.
It’s time to move on with that.