I REMEMBER LYNDON TOO!
On November 25, an interesting piece, entitled "LBJ Daughters Remember, If Few Others Do," appeared in the Dallas Morning News. The commentary was by Carl P. Leubsdorf, Washington bureau chief for that newspaper.
He, along with Luci Johnson Turpin and Lynda Johnson Robb, reminds readers that "[President Lyndon B. Johnson] . . . the members of Congress, and the great civil rights leaders worked desperately hard to open the doors of opportunity for social justice." The fact that Barack Obama walked through them, with Hillary Clinton close behind him, is viewed by Robb as a "very exciting" part of her father's legacy to African-Americans and women. She speculates that "Daddy would have been very pleased" and, besides, "it was wonderful it happened in the year of his 100th birthday." "Expansion of civil rights," Leubsdorf stresses, "remains one of their father's most enduring achievements."
There is no doubt that Lyndon used the power of the presidency to expand civil rights. His accomplishments were unequaled in this sphere by any previous holder of the office, with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln himself. The programs of Lyndon's Great Society were geared toward assisting the poor and underprivileged, many of whom were black and unfortunate women. The scope of these efforts were unprecedented then and would still be regarded as massive even today.
Yet Lyndon was no visionary. By that, I mean he was not an intellectual who was captivated by books and ideas. Far from it. Curling up with John Stuart Mill's On Liberty was not exactly the thirty-sixth president's definition of pleasure. Nor was he a fellow of eloquence, charisma, or magnetic media appeal. He admitted, in a way that only he could put it, that anytime he went on television he lost money. That was because he was a rube. Governor John Connally once described how Johnson, at a large state dinner, reached over and, without a word, forked up off the governor's plate an item of food that he (Johnson) particularly liked. Not too long on etiquette either.
So what accounts for this man's enormous political success? Well, bluntly put, he understood power and especially its relationship to money. One of his biographers, Robert Caro, points out that, in Johnson's bid for the Senate in 1948, he purchased hundreds of thousands of votes, not just the ones which turned out being disputed in Jim Wells County. About that infamous Box 13, old Lyndon would privately laugh and explain that he was one of the most popular statesmen ever to be supported by Texas Hispanics, since even a few of them actually came back from the grave to vote for him in Alice, Texas! One could examine their names and add "yes, and in alphabetical order too!" With an unrestrained, totally ruthless approach to power, aided in full measure by Brown and Root's financial resources, "Landslide Lyndon" became the majority leader of the Senate in no time flat. He controlled the institution with an iron fist, and made it his business to know every other senator's intimate dealings as if they were his own. He was, and always will be, in a class by himself as a power broker of the U. S. Senate.
As much as I respect the man for his political genius, I do not share his daughters' and Leubsdorf's enthusiasm and excitement about the LBJ legacy. In some key respects, Johnson represents what went wrong with America. His is – and forgive me for the uncharitable tone of my language here – a story about lying, cheating, manipulation, and self-aggrandizement. It was always, first and foremost, about Lyndon.
What do you say about a fellow who assured the American people that, if elected president, he would not escalate the Vietnam War, but then did precisely that? That war may well have been one of the most futile, demoralizing episodes in our history. But Lyndon dug in his heels and, by darn, was never going to be the first American president to lose a war! Thousands of names carved in black today bear sad witness to the fact.
What do you say about a guy who, under the euphemism of "affirmative action," injected racial and gender preference into countless aspects of American life? The demise of excellence in American education and industry are attributable largely to forces that he himself set in motion. When one, nowadays, enrolls in a university or college course, taught by an instructor who is a member of a "protected class," somewhere in the back of discerning minds is the gnawing awareness that but for the instructor's race, ethnicity, or gender he or she might not have made it to the university, much less to the position of professor! The same holds true when we take our child to a pediatrician who, in spite of his ethnic pedigree, is not able to recognize a simple ear infection. Perhaps LBJ's daughters, as well as Leubsdorf, rest more comfortably at night knowing that "preferential hiring" has been implemented in the offices of Homeland Security, air traffic comptrollership, and the Central Intelligence Agency, but the idea sends shivers up and down my spine.
Vietnam and affirmative action are far from the end of it. As if a coup de grace, old Lyndon gave us – (a drum roll please, sir) – the Immigration Reform Act of 1965! To demonstrate to the world how open-minded we were and are as a nation, we began accepting immigrants primarily from the Third World. And not only that, but with a so-called "family reunification" provision and no cap on the numbers of immigrants who could come in any one year. As a result of this haphazard, ill conceived legislation, United States culture has drastically changed over the last forty years. The country has become increasingly fragmented. America is a land of squabbling tribes. The middle class is vanishing. Whether the Act will be repealed, or immigration curtailed, is anybody's guess.
I said it about Justice Hugo Black, who was incidentally instrumental in propelling President Johnson to national prominence, and I will say it of old Lyndon himself: he should be exhumed, buried face down, and his name never again spoken publicly.
And now you have heard the other side of the story.
December 2, 2008