LBJ Used this One Thing To Control Others Around Him, Which Became Known as the Johnson Treatment

LBJ Used this One Thing To Control Others Around Him, Which Became Known as the Johnson Treatment

Wyatt Redd - December 10, 2017

During one of the 2016 Republican primary debates, future President Donald Trump made a comment that was a pretty obvious reference to the size of his penis. You see, a running joke during the campaign was that Trump had small hands. And as Trump pointed out, the suggestion was, “If they’re small, something else must be small.” But Trump wanted to reassure the voters that, “I guarantee you there’s no problem. I guarantee.” That comment obviously raised a few eyebrows. After all, that was the first time someone who wanted to be President brought up the size of his genitals during a debate.

But it actually wasn’t the first time an American politician tried to turn the size of his penis into a political asset. President Lyndon Johnson famously had a very particular way of working with other politicians, and as it turns out, his genitals were a pretty big part of it. People who knew him called this technique, “the Johnson Treatment,” and it wasn’t something anyone wanted to end up on the wrong side of. Johnson believed that the best way to get want you wanted was to just bully people until they gave in. And he wasn’t squeamish about how he did it.

LBJ Used this One Thing To Control Others Around Him, Which Became Known as the Johnson Treatment
Johnson speaking to Richard Russell, Jack Brummet.

Basically, the Johnson Treatment worked like this: Johnson would have something he wanted from you, like help with passing a bill. So, he would try to catch you alone somewhere. Then he would cheerfully walk up to you and clasp your hand in a firm grip. He would press his face up closely against yours, maybe no more than a few inches apart. Johnson was a tall, large man, and having him tower over you was usually an intimidating experience. Johnson knew that, of course, and making the person he was speaking to uncomfortable was a vital part of his process.

Johnson understood that the more uneasy he could make someone, the less likely they were to refuse when he asked them to do something. People would agree to anything if it meant they could get out of this uncomfortable encounter with the President. And if that wasn’t enough, he would do whatever else it took to get them to do things his way. He would promise favors, plead with them, or even imply that there would be serious consequences if they refused. But through it all, Johnson would be right in their face, making them as off-balance as possible.

LBJ Used this One Thing To Control Others Around Him, Which Became Known as the Johnson Treatment
Johnson being sworn in after the Kennedy assassination, Wikimedia Commons.

More importantly, the Johnson Treatment was about power. It was Johnson’s way of saying that he was perfectly comfortable with getting that close to the person he was speaking to and demanding what he wanted. They were the one who was uncomfortable. Johnson was in control of the situation, not them. This projection of power was a good way to help convince people to do what Johnson wanted. He left them with no real choice. And for some people who were on the receiving end of the Johnson Treatment, things could get much more uncomfortable… and much grosser.

LBJ Used this One Thing To Control Others Around Him, Which Became Known as the Johnson Treatment
Johnson speaking to President Truman, LBJ Presidential Library.

Johnson doesn’t seem to have been very shy about his bodily functions. He would frequently demand that his people follow him into the bathroom and continue speaking to him as he used the toilet with the door open. Once, while he was speaking to his National Security Advisor, McGeorge Bundy in the bathroom, Bundy turned away to face the wall. Johnson yelled at him to come closer so he could continue speaking to him. Bundy walked towards the President while still facing the wall as Johnson called him closer, causing Bundy to almost accidentally fall into his lap.

Johnson also didn’t really care where he used the bathroom. When Johnson was at home on his ranch, he would often cruise around in his car while drinking beer, which obviously upset the Secret Service. When the President stopped to relieve himself on the side of the road, the Secret Service agents guarding him would rush to catch up. Once, while Johnson was in the middle of the process, a gust of wind caught the stream, blowing it onto a nearby Secret Service agent’s leg. When the agent told the president that he was urinating on his leg, Johnson replied, “I know, that’s my prerogative.”

Johnson seems to have turned this kind of behavior into an important part of the Johnson treatment. It was a way to establish a kind of macho dominance over the people he was speaking to. And, more importantly, it let him show off his penis. While standing at the urinal, he would sometimes swing around to continue the conversation he was having, his genitals hanging free. Once he even pointed it out to a lawmaker standing next to him and asked, “You ever seen anything this big?” Johnson then continued speaking about some upcoming legislation as he swung his penis around in his hand.

Johnson was famously proud of his penis, affectionately nicknaming it “Jumbo.” And he often found ways to work it into a conversation. After his term in office was over, a tape surfaced of Johnson speaking to a tailor where he brought up the fact that his pants didn’t leave enough room for his genitals. “The crotch, where the nuts hang, is too tight,” he complained. “It’s just like riding a wire fence. See if you can’t leave me an inch from where the zipper ends, round under my back to my bunghole, so I can let it out there if I need to.

LBJ Used this One Thing To Control Others Around Him, Which Became Known as the Johnson Treatment
Johnson at home on his ranch, Wikimedia Commons.

Of course, tight pants might explain why Johnson would often reach into his pocket while speaking to senators or congressmen and rustle around in there, casually adjusting himself. And it also gave him an opportunity to remind the people he was speaking to that he had a really big penis, which he often did. Basically, Johnson thought it was a good way to let them that he was more of a man than they were, so they should do what he said. In fact, Johson seems to have been pretty obsessed with his penis in general. And he once even used it to justify the Vietnam War.

LBJ Used this One Thing To Control Others Around Him, Which Became Known as the Johnson Treatment
Johnson dressing down an associate, Today’s Document.

Johnson was in the middle of a very unpopular war. And as a result, journalists often asked him pointed questions about why the US was involved in Vietnam. Once, when Johnson was speaking to a group of reporters off the record, someone asked just such a question. Johnson, feeling frustrated, pulled his penis out of his pants and said, “This is why.” The reporters were undoubtedly shocked, but Johnson seems to have felt that was the best way to make his point. Of course, it’s hard to say what exactly the point Johnson was trying to make with the gesture was.

Was he saying that his penis was telling him to continue fighting the war? Was he saying that he was a man, and men fight wars? Was he just trying to get everyone to shut up so he could keep talking? It’s hard to imagine something like that staying quiet today, but the exchange was off the record. Not to mention, journalists had a different attitude then about what was and wasn’t appropriate to report on. So, it’s not surprising to think that this sort of thing could have stayed out of the news at the time.

But that wasn’t the first time Johnson casually revealed himself to reporters. One day, after a 1964 Presidential campaign event, Johnson invited White House reporter Frank Cormier onto Air Force One to hold an interview. As it was a very hot day, Johnson decided to lose his shirt and pants while speaking to Cormier. Then, as Cormier described it, he “shucked off his underwear,” and continued the interview stark naked. His only cover was a towel, which he used to make gestures emphasizing his points instead of wrapping around his waist.

And if that meeting wasn’t the first time he got naked during an interview, it also wasn’t the first time he made a connection between his penis and the military. Once, when Johnson was trying to have a shower installed in the White House, he made it very clear that he wanted powerful jets to shoot water directly at his crotch. When told that it would require too much plumbing work, Johnson replied, “If I can move 10,000 troops in a day, you can certainly fix the bathroom any way I want it.” Johnson was the kind of man who didn’t like to be told no.

LBJ Used this One Thing To Control Others Around Him, Which Became Known as the Johnson Treatment
Johnson speaking to Martin Luther King Jr., Youtube.

And that’s largely why he put people through the Johnson treatment. It was a way to show other people that he had the power to make them do what he wanted. And a psychologist might say that his fascination with his genitals was an extension of his fascination with power. Ultimately, Johnson used that power to do a lot of good things. He was instrumental in the passage of a lot of civil rights legislation, for instance. But you can decide for yourself if the ends justified the means.


Sources For Further Reading:

Imgur – Lyndon B. Johnson Was Obsessed With His Dick and Wanted Everyone to See It

Forbes – The Johnson Treatment: Pushing And Persuading Like LBJ

We Are The Mighty – President Johnson’s Naked Press Conference And 5 Historic Events From The First Air Force One

Smithsonian Magazine – A Deeper Look at the Politicians Who Passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964