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LBJ's Stampede

Recurring dream, 1913-14? by Lyndon Baines Johnson age 5-6, as told to Doris Kearns


This recurring nightmare by LBJ is revealing in their own right, but he also tries his hand at interpretation--and then, strangely, his authorized biographer rejects his views and imposes a Freudian explanation, confident that she (or Freud) knows him better than he knows himself! She wrote in the 1970s, when psychology was still heavily Freudian, but it's peculiar just the same. Mind you, Doris Kearns knew LBJ quite well, so she may be right that Vietnam's partly explained by his needing to be seen as a real man. Certainly, a President who mistrusts brains & education is asking for trouble!

But Johnson's own interpretation seems equally plausible--he says, a page earlier, that he dreaded having to visit his paralyzed grandma. Did that paralysis haunt him all his life, did he bring his own political paralysis on himself?

In contrast, consider LBJ's great mentor, Roosevelt, whose real paralysis from polio sensitized him to the needs of the poor and sick, and shaped his economics--he saw the Depression as a national paralysis demanding pragmatic trial-and-error treatments.

--Chris Wayan Lyndon Baines Johnson as a child.


[LBJ] began having, night after night, a terrifying dream, in which he would see himself sitting absolutely still, in a big, straight chair. In the dream, the chair stood in the middle of the great, open plains. A stampede of cattle was coming toward him. He tried to move, but he could not. He cried out again and again for his mother, but no one came.

In later conversation, Johnson suggested a relationship between the chair in the dream and the chair where his paralyzed grandmothcr used to sit. As a child, he had, as he remembered it, a persistent fear of becoming paralyzed and sitting forever, like his grandmother. But recurrent dreams are generally a statement of profound psychic dilemmas, suggesting unresolved problems far beyond the reach of daily events. Seen in this light, the boy's paralysis presents one solution, albeit painful, to the fear of acting out the forbidden Oedipal wish to eliminate the father and take the mother. Termed in psychiatric literature a "castration" or "punishment" dream, the paralysis would restrain what in young Johnson's case seems to have been a particularly powerful combination of desire, fear, and guilt.

The Pedernales [LBJ's Texas home] was not Thebes [Oedipus's home], however, and the importance of the dream lay more in its particular meaning than in its archetypal form. The cattle drive was the domain of the male in the world of fantasy and fact created for Johnson by his grandfather; controlling a stampede of cattle by one's own intense motion was the supreme test of a man's courage and skill. Pitted against this practical, active life was Rebekah's world of books and beauty and morality, a feminized world of dreamy thinkers whose idealism led inevitably to ruin and collapse.

Both worlds rigidly defined--the one the object of aspiration, the other the object of scorn. Boys were supposed to be active, to run, shout, and get dirty; they were never to cry and never to play with dolls. Girls were rupposed to read and sit still, dress pretty and stay clean, cry a lot and play with dolls. Yet Lyndon's mother always kept him clean and she read to him at the end of the day. She brushed his hair in long, yellow curls, dressed him like little Lord Fauntleroy, bought him a violin, and enrolled him in dancing class. He knew that his friends were laughing at him for taking time with these feminine things. He loved his mother and loved being close to her, but he feared he was becoming a sissy.

Source: Doris Kearns, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream, pp 33-34.

Stampede: kids & juvenilia - trapped! - cattle - chased! - loneliness - more stampedes: Surrender to the White Buffalo & The White Deer Re-Enacted - chair-stuck in the Garden of the Gods
Interpretation: elders - paralysis - Freud - parents - envy & jealousy - gender - guilt - self-sabotage
General: nightmares & recurring dreams - politics & power - Texas - more LBJ nightmares: LBJ's Cage, LBJ Shackled - LBJ or Woodrow?, LBJ's River Nightmares

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