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Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Reconsidering Lyndon B. Johnson

I'm so glad that Salon ran this article today about the liberal legacy of Johnson. Johnson is so firmly remembered at the President who got us deep into Vietnam that many people don't realize how many good things he did. Or they give Kennedy credit. Hopefully this will help correct certain misconceptions.

Last time I was at the LBJ Library here in Austin with my boyfriend and his stepmom, the topic came up as we descended the stairs into the actual LBJ display of where the hell Bush is going to put up his library. There's no doubt that it'll be in Texas, and we feverishly hoped that he wouldn't put it in Austin to pick up the tourist traffic that the Capitol and the university attracts. Presidential libraries are great places to take visiting parents, but what if your parents are the sort that are obsessed with what welfare queens are getting away with these days? Yeah, the LBJ library isn't the best idea. But boy a Bush library would be a perfect wingnut alternative.

After all, in so many ways, Bush is the anti-Johnson. This hit us like a ton of bricks as we walked into the room that displayed all the pens Johnson used to sign different pieces of historic legislation. The list of bills was like reading an internal memo of stuff that the Bushies would like to overthrow--the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, National Endowment for the Arts, bills creating the student financial aid system so many of us relied on to get us through school, bills setting up valuable welfare programs, the entire underpinnings of the Great Society that actually did become more than a pipe dream. I imagine Bush & Co would keep the Civil Rights Act for nostaglia purposes, but that's it. Granted, now they are overshooting and trying to overturn FDR's legacy first, but I think that's only so that overturning the Great Society will look like the middle ground when all this is over.

Vietnam overshadows Johnson's legacy for a lot of us on the left, but his legacy is crystal clear to conservatives. If you've ever had the pleasure of hearing Limbaugh sputter on about Johnson, two things become very clear--that Johnson is the Great Satan to many on the right and that in Limbaugh's house growing up a certain word starting with N was probably tossed around freely . Sometimes I wonder if anyone has actually up and said out loud in a White House meeting that Vietnam was the only thing that Johnson got right.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

well, there's more than just Vietnam casting a shadow... i think many folks might also find his continual appeasements of racist Southern Democrats to be more than a little questionable & lacking in integrity as well. for instance, his lack of support for the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party was pretty shameful. his putting them under FBI surveillance was even more so.

for me his signatures on various bills amounts to very little in the face of the time, struggle & sacrifice others (like Fannie Lou Hamer) made to get the issues such bills address even looked at by those in power.

anyhoo, i like yr blog. found you via feminist blogs.



Blogger Roxanne said...

I'm glad you wrote about this. The Great Society saved a lot of lives. We forget about how things like WIC stamps, school lunches, etc. can really make a difference in the lives of children.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Texas A&M offered him land beside his father's library, and I got the impression from the discussion at the time that Bush Jr. had already chosen the Austin area. Maybe Austin will get lucky, and the pres will decide to put his library near his actual home town and place of residence in MAINE once he's not pretending to be a cowyuppie anymore.


Blogger Amanda said...

Jam, it's true that Johnson sided with the traditional Southern Democrats--initially. And he also sold them out to get the CRA passed. He did it, not Kennedy, who gets the credit so much of the time. Johnson realized for whatever reason that the Democrats could no longer be the party of racism and deserves credit for completely flipping the party around and making the Democratic party what it is now.


Blogger lawrence krubner said...

I imagine the current White House faults Johnson for not pursuing the Vietnam war agressively enough. They likely feel that things would have gone better had Barry Goldwater won in 1964. Johnson, I think, did as many progressive things as he could, while trying to appease enough conservatives so as to hold together the Democratic "big tent" alliance of the 1932-1968 era. But that alliance was doomed and I don't think he could save it.

There is an Herb Block cartoon from 1965 that sums up the politics behind that war. Two men are walking down the street and the one says to the other, "They said that if I voted for Goldwater we'd be at war within 18 months. Well, I did vote for Goldwater, and they were right!"


Blogger FoolishOwl said...

I don't think Johnson would be remembered as a "progressive" if it weren't for those mass political movements that wouldn't let him sleep at night.


Blogger lawrence krubner said...

At issue is whether America will ever have a progressive alliance that can grow big enough (to get things done) without making morally fatal compromises. The coalition of the progressive era of 1932-1968 was flawed because the Democrats were still the party of Jim Crowe. The progressive era of 1900-1920 was flawed big business refused to let the Republicans become a purely progressive party. Roosevelt's mildly reformist agenda of 1900-1908 was mostly undone by Taft 1908-1912, and when Roosevelt decided to run again, 1912, the reactionary elements in the Republican party were willing to resort to blatantly illegal tactics to keep Roosevelt from getting the nomination.

The classical liberalism of the Adam Smith sort expresses a philosophy that appeals to property owners, and America has always had a higher rate of property ownership than any other nation on Earth. Therefore, the center of political gravity in America tends toward classical liberalism. For that reason, I think, America has lead the way on issues of civil rights (universal white male suffarage in the 1820s, slavery in the 1850s, women's suffarage in the 1900s, Jim Crowe in the 1950s, gay rights in the 1990s), but not on issues of economic equality.


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