On his 100th anniversary is it not time we gave a great liberal his due??

Lyndon Baines Johnson (08/27/1908 - 08/27/2008)

If you ask me if there was one president in the past 100 years who did as much for the progressives causes of fighting poverty, civil rights, equal voting rights, education and healthcare then that person is Lyndon Johnson (a close second to FDR).

Now I am not a historian and I don't pretend to be one, but for most of my life I have grown under the impression that the one great Democratic president in the 60s who fought for progressive causes was John Kennedy. Lyndon Johnson was vilified as a conspirator by the nutjob Oliver Stone in his movie JFK, as a child-killer by the 60s anti-war activists. Yet no president has done more for progressive causes than LBJ.

Unlike his more illustrious contemporary LBJ was born in a poor Texan family and started his life as a teacher for poor Mexican immigrants in Cotulla. It was here as an educator that he first got the seeds of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to "to strengthen the educational resources of our colleges and universities and to provide financial assistance for students in postsecondary and higher education". When he came back to Texas after the act was signed to law he had this to say:

I shall never forget the faces of the boys and the girls in that little Welhausen Mexican School, and I remember even yet the pain of realizing and knowing then that college was closed to practically every one of those children because they were too poor. And I think it was then that I made up my mind that this nation could never rest while the door to knowledge remained closed to any American.

It was during his tenure as president that LBJ pushed through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (that was on the table for many years but Kennedy was too timid to pursue lest he turned off the Southern Democrats whom he needed for re-election), the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Great Society program of 1965 whose main purpose was to "aid to education, attack on disease, Medicare, urban renewal, beautification, conservation, development of depressed regions, a wide-scale fight against poverty, control and prevention of crime, and removal of obstacles to the right to vote"and the 1965 amendment to the Social Security Act that laid the foundations of Medicaid and Medicare for the healthcare of milions of elderly and low income people, culminating finally  in the appointment of Justice Thurgood Marshall in 1967 as the first African American judge to the Supreme Court. At the Howard University commencement address of 1965 he laid out his goals for the government and nation:

To shatter forever not only the barriers of law and public practice, but the walls which bound the condition of many by the color of his skin. To dissolve, as best we can, the antique enmities of the heart which diminish the holder, divide the great democracy, and do wrong -- great wrong -- to the children of God..

Yes, here was a man who put his political career on the line, who in his own words lost the South for a generation all to do the right thing and not the political expeditious thing. Was he flawed? Yes he was. His greatest flaw perhaps was to pursue and expand the failed Vietman policy that was initiated by his predecessor.

Yet on his 100th anniversary we stand on the cusp of electing our first African American president. However neither yesterday nor today have we seen any substantial tribute to this great president, visionary and progressive who gave us the modern ideals of the Democratic party. Is it not time we rectified this wrong?

Tags: Lyndon Johnson (all tags)

Comments

19 Comments

I'll go with that

Did the Dems acknowledge that earlier? Wonder if Obama will.

by vcalzone 2008-08-28 05:40PM | 0 recs
Re: I'll go with that

no, not a peep about LBJ so far.

its kinda sad that he's been overlooked so far during the convention.

by alyssa chaos 2008-08-28 05:55PM | 0 recs
Re: I'll go with that

well there were some "peeps" about him when HRC was called a racist for saying basically the same thing a few months ago. But hey, that was A-OK then...

by zerosumgame 2008-08-28 07:02PM | 0 recs
Happy Birthday Lyndon

Absolutely one of our greatest presidents.  Thank you for putting this up. What he did took great courage and if it were not for his tragic mistakes with Vietnam (and at least he had the sense to step down for Bobby) he would have been up there, named as one of our greatest leaders.  He was also married to a truly gracious and courageous woman, Lady Bird.  

They were quite remarkable people.

by mady 2008-08-28 05:41PM | 0 recs
Well

I'll give the murderous son of a bitch credit.  He did quite a bit to help the least of us, even as he sent thousands of them to death and pain half a world away.  He did a lot of good, but oh my god did he do a lot of evil.

I'm sorry, I simply am incapable of speaking about LBJ without mentioning how incredibly and depressingly short he fell.  This has nothing to do with anything other than his own choices.  My father served in that war.  It's in the family.

The man used to go to the bathroom with the damned door open so he could creep out his staff.  He was a womanizer and he treated people horribly, truly horribly.  Yes, he deserves incredible praise for his efforts on behalf of the Civil Rights legislation, and I am not mincing words.  That bill would not have passed for many more years had LBJ not fought for it.  He truly moved us forward, and I thank him for that.

But I cannot claim to like or indeed even respect the man.

by Reaper0Bot0 2008-08-28 06:01PM | 0 recs
Re: Well

That same vulgar ability he used to bully, he also used to get some of the most important legislation in the history of this country passed.  It simply could not have been passed without him.

And yes, he Vietnam was evil, no question.  And you are right about all of that.

I don't think the good makes the bad any better, but it is what it is and his impact on America long-term was profoundly positive.

by mady 2008-08-28 06:05PM | 0 recs
he invited members of Congress

into the sauna with him so he could intimate them with his large penis. That is creepy, but on the other hand, he got legislation through that probably no one else could have at that time in American history.

by desmoinesdem 2008-08-28 07:07PM | 0 recs
Re: he invited members of Congress

look if we have to take Robert Caro's innuendos and use them to bring him down we can do the same with Sy Hersh's Dark Side of Camelot to show that John Kennedy was in fact a worthless president who lived off a cult of personality but had no significant contribution to the USA. However this is not about personal quirks or moral failures because god knows all of them have had that beginning with Thomas Jefferson. This is about giving the man his due and recognizing him for what he has given us.

by tarheel74 2008-08-28 07:21PM | 0 recs
Re: he invited members of Congress

well said...

by SevenStrings 2008-08-28 07:45PM | 0 recs
Very simplistic analysis

Everyone else--including the sainted Kennedys--took a pass on Civil Rights, as well as on Vietnam. Kennedy got all excited about going to the moon, and did little else during his time in office. Poor Johnson inherited his mess.

by BJJ Fighter 2008-08-28 08:52PM | 0 recs
Barring Vietnam, he remains one of the best...

a visionary...

by louisprandtl 2008-08-28 06:15PM | 0 recs
I have a running argument with a friend

I say LBJ was a better president than JFK. He says LBJ was a terrible president because of Vietnam.

I say JFK got us into the Vietnam mess and would never have been able to deliver the domestic policies LBJ got through Congress.

LBJ was a transformative president. He changed this country for the better in a lot of ways.

by desmoinesdem 2008-08-28 07:06PM | 0 recs
You are absolutely right, my friend.

Many have often wondered why President Johnson hurried to get Civil Rights legislation done so quickly (aside from the fact that all of his predecessors took a pass on the issue...) Like many other visionaries/students of history, he realized that in the wake of a national tragedy, leaders generally have a very narrow window in which to accomplish great things.

Relative to Vietnam, no President has ever agonized more about a military conflict or national tragedy. Before going to bed each night, President Johnson reviewed any air strikes that were to occur during overnight in Vietnam, and asked to be awakened when the results were known. And people wonder why he died only 4 years after he left Washington...suffice it to say that he lived and agonized every moment of that war. Somehow, I doubt that the current occupant of the White House has the same level of interest in the Iraq conflict.

When he took office, LBJ kept on all members of the Kennedy cabinet...even the weasly Attorney General who was constantly ramming a knife in his back. Early on, he sought each member's advice relative to Vietnam...McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, Dean Rusk....all urged the President to escalate the conflict. John Kennedy's own take on Vietnam might be gleaned from a conversation he had with Rusk in mid-1962: "If we bail out of Vietnam, I'll always be remembered as the guy who let Ike down..." Such was the quality of leadership during the New Frontier.

For those who value substance over style, get a copy of Lyndon Baines Johnson's speech outlining "The Great Society". And for those who may argue that the Great Society was a failure, ask them which part they would like to do away with today...Medicare? Medicaid? Head Start? Vista?

And for early clues as to the nature of real leadership, take a look at the Senate careers of JFK and Lyndon Johnson. LBJ was a dynamo, always in action. Kennedy never really did anything substantive during his years in the Senate...just decided one day that it was time for a promotion.

Thank you for remembering this great American, on what would have been his 100th birthday. We are a greater nation, and a more generous people, because of the tireless work of Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson.

by BJJ Fighter 2008-08-28 08:47PM | 0 recs
Don't forget Hubert Humphrey

The man whose speech at the Democratic Convention in 1948 forced the Party to go on record in support of Civil and Human rights...

And who was the leg man in the Senate getting those Civil Rights Bills passed...

by SaveElmer 2008-08-28 07:43PM | 0 recs
Re: On his 100th anniversary is it not time we

In addition to the birth of the man that pushed the Civil Rights act and the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's wondrous "I Have a Dream" speech, today is the 53rd anniversary of the horrible racially motivated killing of Emmett Till, who's death was one of the seminal sparks behind the push for Civil Rights.  And now, it's also the day that the first African American has accepted the nomination of a major party to run on a Presidential ballot.

August 28th.  What a day for this country, both tragic and euphoric.  I'm glad that I can say that I was here for part of it.

by hello world 2008-08-28 08:06PM | 0 recs
I went to his 100th birthday party

The LBJ Library & Museum (on the University of Texas campus) had a giant birthday party, complete with free cake, BBQ, ice cream, soda, etc. They showed the DNC on a bunch of big-screen TVs, had live music, opened a new space-race exhibit, and all sorts of other stuff. Luci Baines Johnson (his daughter) spoke about him.

It was a great time, and much of it was themed around things he would have liked.

I've felt somewhat differently about LBJ and Vietnam after a previous visit to the museum. It's obvious, to me at least, that he agonized about Vietnam. In the end, I think he made the wrong choices, but he didn't make them out of stupidity or malice (unlike some other Presidents one could name), he made them in the belief that, as horrible as they were, the alternative was worse. I think he was wrong, but we'll never truly know that. Vietnam left deep scars on the nation, and LBJ has blame for that; at the same time, I don't doubt that he was doing what he thought was right, in the very same way that he thought all of the positive legislation he championed was right.

Happy Birthday LBJ, and thank you for all of the great work you did.

by Texas Gray Wolf 2008-08-28 09:03PM | 0 recs
LBJ, Obama, and The Movement

I absolutely agree. I think after Roosevelt, LBJ was our greatest president ever, somewhat ahead of Washington and Teddy Roosevelt.

The reason he is not remembered as such is partly because of Vietnam, partly because he wasn't telegenic (at the dawn of the age when TV first started impacting politics), partly because of the petty egotistical squabbles that existed between him and the Kennedy's (and their allies in the East Coast establishment), and partly because he came to office during the deification of a fallen president.

Most of that is immaterial after 40 years, and should have been immaterial after 4. Regarding Vietnam, at least you can say that his thinking reflected that of the general consensus-inside Washington and throughout the country-of his day. Unlike Bush, who charged into a strategic blunder at the acquiesance of Washington and the media, LBJ was fulfilling the general perception of America's role in the world. Ironic that we would demonize him for Vietnam, yet idolize JFK's "go anywhere, bear any burden"...what's the difference?

At least LBJ took personal responsibility for Vietnam, and actually resigned over it. Can you think of another time an American president voluntarily resigned over a failed policy?

What's more, if you read between the lines of Thom Hartmann's book Ultimate Sacrifice, LBJ might have pursued Vietnam (in part) in order to draw attention away from Cuba, and a likely WWIII.

Having just watched the convention, you have to conclude that in many ways, Johnson's voice was there tonight, represented by the speakers as well as the crowd. The TV commentary on the historic nature of HRC for women, and Obama for African-Americans, missed the larger message of tonight, a message that is the very heart of the movement that Obama now captains. It's a focus on the "WE"-an expanded WE that we're all a part of...that was Johnson's message, and MLK's as well.

In essence, it's becoming LBJ's party once again...

by Zach in Phoenix 2008-08-28 09:59PM | 0 recs
He did some great stuff but I hate the SOB

The Vietnam war was hell. I can never forgive LBJ for that regardless of what great stuff he accomplished in domestic policy. I am glad he has not been given recognition.

by berkeleymike 2008-08-28 10:47PM | 0 recs
Re: On his 100th anniversary

No politician is perfect.  They all have their faults.  Some of them are relatively minor (Bill Clinton's and John Edwards' private lives), others are much more devastating.  LBJ's name will never be separated from Vietnam, but that doesn't mean we can't recognize what good he did do.

by Skaje 2008-08-29 01:05AM | 0 recs

Diaries

Advertise Blogads