Lone Star political hospitality began with Johnson

AUSTIN ‘ Did you vote’ When Russian President Vladimir Putin visited President George W. Bush’s 1,600-acre Prairie Chapel ranch last week, the world spotlight briefly centered on Crawford, Texas. Unmentioned in any of the Texas news media coverage of Putin’s visit, and barely mentioned even by the national media, was that a Texan named Lyndon Baines Johnson perfected this brand of Lone Star political hospitality more than 40 years ago. In April 1961, for instance, then Vice President Johnson hosted West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer at Johnson’s 438-acre ranch on the Pedernales near Johnson City. When Johnson became president following the assassination of John F. Kennedy 38 years ago this Thanksgiving, a succession of other world figures were wooed and fed on the LBJ Ranch during his presidency. With the Cold War seemingly ever in danger of heating up in the 1960s, LBJ never got to drive Nikita Khrushchev around his ranch in his white Lincoln. But the ranch guest list is virtually a Who’s Who of who was who in the Kennedy-Johnson era. Who knows how sneaky the post-Communism Russian intelligence service is, but perhaps one of their operatives studied a book just published by Texas A&M University Press, “LBJ’s Texas White House.” Historian Hal K. Rothman’s book traces the history of Johnson’s ranch and how he used it during his political career both as a refuge and political tool. No matter if the Russians have read up on the last time a Texas ranch had national significance, Putin’s speech writers clearly had done their homework on Texas. “Texas is not just a Lone Star State,” the Russian leader said in a speech at Rice University in Houston, it is a place of “romantic magnetism…which captivates everyone who knows and loves America.” Texas’ romantic image is nothing new, but what Putin saw in and around Crawford was Texas Light compared to the LBJ era. Anyone consulting any of several candid LBJ biographies will quickly discern major differences in the two versions of what may come to be called “the Texas treatment:” To put it politely, LBJ was a bit more informal around visitors to his ranch. Well documented is that he seldom lacked a fresh drink in his hand, drove on and around the ranch while drinking, and was not particularly picky about where he stopped to go to the bathroom. The differences between now and then, and between Bush and Johnson, are greater than their political parties, but there is one common denominator: Texas food. No visitor to the LBJ Ranch was likely to leave hungry, whether it was a breakfast of scrambled eggs and fried venison sausage prepared by Lady Bird herself or a catered barbecue dinner. Four decades ago, Chancellor Adenauer was treated to barbecued ribs, potato salad and cole sla Similarly, the menu for the Nov. 14 Putin visit would make almost any visitor, even a man raised in a land of borscht and vodka, more than be happy to sign the dotted line to get rid of a few thousand unused nuclear devices: Guacamole salad, mesquite-smoked peppered beef tenderloin, fried catfish, fire-roasted potatoes with poblano peppers, green beans, Texas onion butter with cornbread or grilled sourdough bread. For dessert they had pecan pie with vanilla ice cream. After the grub, the two world leaders enjoyed an Austin country-western band, the Ranch Hands. National security advisor Condoleezza Rice demonstrated the Cotton-Eyed Joe for the Russian president. “The best diplomacy starts with getting to know each other,” Bush said of Putin’s visit. But good Texas cooking doesn’t hurt.

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