Wednesday, May 09, 2012

LBJ: The Man We Hate to Love

"I am concerned about the whole man. I am concerned about what the people, using their government as an instrument and a tool, can do toward building the whole man, which will mean a better society and a better world."

-Lyndon B. Johnson
Whenever I hear someone waxing idiotic about the "radical liberalism" of a Barack Obama or a Bill Clinton or a Jimmy Carter I'm usually torn between the urge to giggle or to vomit. Show me a person who seriously believes that the aforementioned are real live, bona fide lefties and I'll show you a person seriously lacking even a remedial understanding of the history of the United States of America. Time for a history lesson. The last, truly liberal president left the White House on January 20, 1969. His name was Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Last week, like every other history junkie in the country, I was looking forward to the publicatio
n of Robert Caro's fourth volume that ponders the life of this strange and extraordinary man. The first volume was published in 1982, Volume Three came out over a decade ago - and we still have volume five to look forward to. What a long, strange trip it's been. Caro, who is in his late seventies, has said that he is not sure he will live long enough to finish this epic biography. Keep your fingers crossed and your hands folded.

When Lyndon Johnson left the White House I was just a child and only beginning to faintly under
stand the machinations of American politics. At the dawn of 1969 all I knew about the man was that he was the president and that a lot of people (my Democratic father among them) were pretty pissed off at him. Less than a year earlier on March 31, 1968, he had stunned the country by announcing that he would not seek a second full term as president. He knew he was finished. The Vietnam war had polarized the country in general and the Democratic party - his party - in particular. The ultimate irony is the fact that he died on January 22, 1973, two days after that second term would have ended. I often wonder whether a second term would have extended his life - or killed him sooner.

Next year wi
ll mark the fortieth anniversary of the day former President Johnson died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack. Time heals all wounds as they say. For almost a half a century Lyndon Johnson has been the Democratic party's Invisible Man - much in the same way the Republicans today ignore the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt (although for entirely different reasons). To many minds, the "Great Society" of his dreams seems quaint and utopian. The man himself is seen as the anti-JFK; awkward, graceless - even vulgar. He's become the liberals' eccentric uncle - an embarrassment. It shouldn't be that way. The time is long overdue for progressives in this country to reassess this great - and greatly flawed - American.

Like his idol Franklin Roosevelt,
Lyndon Johnson loved being president - or at least until Vietnam started to consume him. His twelve years as the most powerful man in the senate and nearly three years as John F. Kennedy's vice-president had prepared him well for the job. By the time he entered the White House he knew damned-near everyone on Capitol Hill. He knew their wives. He knew their kids. He knew what they wanted and - most importantly - he knew what they feared. He knew where they were vulnerable politically - and in some cases personally! Old Lyndon was the politician's politician. The guy was the wheeler-dealer supreme. He got things done and he usually got what he wanted.
He was the type of politician that makes liberals want to tear their hair out. But for that "stupid fucking war" (as Molly Ivins always called it) he would today be remembered as one of the greatest presidents in American history. He's not. In fact he's remembered as a colossal failure of Shakespearean proportions. He trusted the "Harvards" (as he called men like Robert McNamara and Dean Rusk) to advise him on foreign and military policy and it blew up in his face, destroying his administration. His hand-picked successor, Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey, could not undo the damage done. The 1968 Democratic convention disintegrated into a police riot, the party ripped apart. The year ended with President-elect Richard Milhaus Nixon preparing to enter the White House. Remember how nicely that worked out?"A man without a vote is man without protection."

-Lyndon Baines Johnson

s most outstanding legacies are the Civil and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965. When he entered the White House on November 22, 1963 (we all know what happened on that day) liberals were lukewarm toward the idea of a Johnson administration. As Democratic leader in the senate during the 1950s, his civil rights record was mediocre at best. Although he was instrumental in getting the Civil Rights Act of 1957 passed, by the time it reached the floor for a vote it had been so watered-down there wasn't much left in it - mere scraps thrown to a people starving. Within six months of taking the oath of office it was clear to everyone that LBJ was committed to the equal rights of all Americans. I'll always respect the old son-of-a-bitch for that reason alone. A long overdue tip of the hat to the guy.

When the Ci
vil Rights Act finally became the law of the land, he turned to his aids Bill Moyers and the late Jack Valenti and said to them, "Boys, we've lost the south for a generation". By "we" he was referring to the Democratic party. It turned out to be the understatement of the twentieth century. By the end of the 1960s, the racist Dixiecrats who had dominated that party in the south for over a century, fled en masse - like diseased rats - into the loving arms of the GOP. And that is where they (or their ideological heirs) reside to this day. The "solid south" has been solidly Republican ever since.

By 1980 the bigots had formed a strange alliance with the plutocrats. The result was the so-called "Reagan Revolution". Three decades later, the bigots and the plutocrats joined forces with the terminally brain-damaged. Thus was born the Tea party. Bye bye, America.
Vietnam forever - and rightly - tarnished his legacy. But his domestic achievements should not be overlooked or underrated. Barack Obama's presidency would not have been possible without the landmark civil rights legislation that Lyndon Johnson made possible. He really tried to make us a Great Society. The man's heart was usually in the right place. Vietnam notwithstanding, we owe the old bugger a deep debt of gratitude. Here's to you, Lyndon. You broke my heart but I still love you.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


Path to Power
by Robert Caro

Means of Ascent
by Robert Caro

Master of the Senate
by Robert Caro

The Passage of Power
by Robert Caro


Here is LBJ addressing congress in 1965 on the subject of voting rights. This was one of his mountaintop moments:

John Lewis says that when he watched this speech on television with Martin Luther King, both men wept.

LBJ (The American Experience)

This excellent two-part PBS documentary is available on DVD. Here's a link to watch Part One on YouTube:



At 11:05 AM, Blogger Joanne said...

A great man who also knew you can't have guns and butter. In retrospect that surtax didn't cover the bill, but then, Cheny/Bush never even attempted.

At 11:17 AM, Blogger Leslie Parsley said...

I lost 10 lbs. campaigning for LBJ. I cheered when he announced he wouldn't seek a second term. I have been reassessing this "great - and greatly flawed - American" ever since. But even when I was actively protesting the Vietnam War, I don't think I ever really felt hatred toward him. Anger, yes. But I was too enchanted with his larger-than-life persona, his "Everyman", if you will, to hate him.

As you say, he died of a massive heart attack but I always felt he died of a broken heart.

A few years ago PBS's American Experience did a series on LBJ, which captured the spirit of the man beautifully, flaws and all. I'm glad you've resurrected his memory. We Americans tend to think only in terms of perfection, not realizing that there is no such thing.

At 12:40 PM, Anonymous Harry from Mass said...


Which war pig president do you hate more, LBJ or Dubya?

At 1:54 PM, Blogger charles moore said...

Love him or hate him, you have got to give Johnson credit for overcoming his own personal prejudices and fighting for what he knew was the right thing to do with regards to civil rights.

Watching him on TV speaking about Vietnam close to the end of his presidency, he did look and sound as if he was beginning to become a bit delusional.

Thanks for another good article. It is time to reevaluate Johnson and admire the good that he did do.

At 6:59 PM, Anonymous John said...


Read this

<a href=">...and this.</a>

At 7:03 PM, Anonymous John said...

...hmm, that link didn't work out as I planned...

At 7:08 PM, Anonymous Barney Fwank said...

I'm glad Obama approve gay marriage today!

At 10:26 PM, Anonymous Liberals Are Sexy said...

Hey Barney, me too! Discrimination is a terrible thing, no?

At 5:15 AM, Anonymous Valerie said...

Excellent post, Tom! I agree with Charles, we liberals gotta give the guy credit for overcoming his own predudices and doing the right thing concerning Civil Rights and the Great Society. Plenty of compassionate and morally decent legislation came out of the Johnson administration.

At 10:14 AM, Blogger Dave Dubya said...

LBJ's great flaw was no different than every other president's flaw since the last wise and humane Republican in the White House warned us.

“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.“

- Dwight D. Eisenhower, Farewell Address January 17, 1961

Military/industrial/banking/ corporate personhood stole our government and is taking us down.

At 12:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous2 said...

Does anybody know how much money was spent on LBJs "War On Poverty"?

And did it only help create a plantation of dependents run by liberals and RINOs who want to continue breast feeding these dependents forever?

At 2:23 PM, Blogger Modusoperandi said...

Does anybody know how much money Marie Antoinette saved by letting them eat cake?

At 3:50 PM, Blogger Jefferson's Guardian said...

Anonymous2: "Does anybody know how much money was spent on LBJs 'War On Poverty'?"

Apparently, not enough. When LBJ initiated his program in 1964, the poverty rate was 19%. Within a decade the rate had fallen to almost 11%, and has remained at between 11 and 15.2% ever since. [Data through 2009, before the full impact of the Bush-created "Great Recession".]

It's more important to ask what has been the cost to society for not spending more to eradicate poverty from the national conversation.

Understandably, there are opportunity costs with every economic decision. What do you think the cost has been -- measured in terms of the value of the next best alternative not chosen?

Modusoperandi: "Does anybody know how much money Marie Antoinette saved by letting them eat cake?"

She lost her head trying to figure that one out.

As I mentioned just recently, Samuel Clemens suggested that history may not repeat itself...exactly, but it sure does rhyme. In the coming decade, it may also be sung in perfect four-part harmony.

At 4:48 PM, Blogger Modusoperandi said...

"Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.
"Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
"And the Union workhouses?" demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"
"They are. Still," returned the gentleman, "I wish I could say they were not."
"The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?" said Scrooge.
"Both very busy, sir."
"Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course," said Scrooge. "I'm very glad to hear it."

At 5:49 PM, Blogger Just the Facts! said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 5:51 PM, Blogger Just the Facts! said...


I strongly disagree with this part of your statement for many reasons.

"By 1980 the bigots had formed a strange alliance with the plutocrats. The result was the so-called "Reagan Revolution". Three decades later, the bigots and the plutocrats joined forces with the terminally brain-damaged. Thus was born the Tea party. Bye bye, America."

The two hall marks of LBJ's term in office were the Voters Act and the Civil Rights Act. Both were well past being over due. Neither of which would have passed if they had not been supported and vote for by the GOP members in both houses. He really did screw things up with his handling of the Vietnam War, which it took a Republican President to bring to an end.

The rest of the post is not bad at all.
I would ask you to investigate the effects of LBJ's Great Society and his War on Poverty some time soon.
They to, are a part of LBJ's Legacy.

At 6:42 PM, Blogger Jefferson's Guardian said...

Just the Facts!, asked of Tom: "I would ask you to investigate the effects of LBJ's Great Society and his War on Poverty some time soon."

Hey, I have an idea! Why not investigate the effects yourself, and then write an article and post it on your own blog? ;-)

At 7:19 PM, Blogger Just the Facts! said...

I hope you will excuse Jefferson Guardian's post. Seems he has become obsessed with me and has become my "personal blog stalking troll". I really thought if I stayed away from posting for a few weeks, his small mind would lose it's interest in me. I guess I underestimated the depth of his sickness.
I truly am sorry for my post bringing his post to your fine blog, thereby bringing it down to the level of his POS blog.

At 3:55 PM, Blogger Jefferson's Guardian said...

Just the Falsehoods!: "Seems he has become obsessed with me and has become my 'personal blog stalking troll'."

Given the fact I've been a regular commentor on Tom's blog since at least
August of 2008
, you do the math. (Oh, I forgot, you're not too keen in that subject either...)

Although your conservative rhetoric is always empty and shallow, and your talking-points unoriginal, any perceived obsession you may feel is my desire to crush you -- figuratively and metaphorically -- due to your underhanded transgressions, your callousness, and your disregard for basic human decency and courtesy. You're a blight on the flowering of truth and understanding, in a world that's desperate for both.

Please, start your own blog so that we may all come visit and marvel at your abundance of wisdom and knowledge and sound judgement. ;-)

At 7:03 PM, Blogger Just My Two Cents said...

"Does anybody know how much money Marie Antoinette saved by letting them eat cake?"

Hey Fatso, looks like you eat a lot of cake often!

At 7:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill Clinton thought so little of President Obama — mocking him as an “amateur” — that he pressed his wife last summer to quit her job as secretary of state and challenge him in the primaries, a new book claims,

“The country needs you!” the former president told Hillary Clinton, urging her to run this year, according to accounts of the conversation included in Edward Klein’s new biography of Obama.

The title of Klein’s explosive, unauthorized bio of Obama, “The Amateur” (Regnery Publishing), was taken directly from Bill Clinton’s bombshell criticism of the president, the author said.


It ain't lookin good for the big bullshitter in the half White House.

At 7:24 PM, Blogger Just the Facts! said...


It has never been my desire to be anything other than a part of the debate on your blog. To site and quote the views of others who I agree with as needed and using their quotes to support my positions I felt were a part of the exchange you wanted for your site.

My question to you Tom is, do you share with Jefferson's Guardian his "desire to crush (me) you -- figuratively and metaphorically -- due to your (my) underhanded transgressions, your (my)callousness, and your (my) disregard for basic human decency and courtesy. You're (I) a(m) blight on the flowering of truth and understanding, in a world that's desperate for both."?

Is the length of time a poster has been interfacing on you blog important, or are you open to new posters, regardless of their ideas or the skill level used to express them?

In short Tom, if you agree with Jefferson's Guardian that my views and my ways of expressing them are not welcome on your blog, please say so, and I will follow your request.

At 8:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just the Facts, stop whining and grow a set of balls. If you can't take the heat, then go away.

At 12:46 AM, Blogger Just the Facts! said...

Not whining, just trying to find out who runs his blog, Tom or the ass hole poster Jefferson's Guardian.
Hows that for a set?

At 8:40 AM, Blogger Jefferson's Guardian said...

Just the Falsehoods! First, you need to get your terminology correct. Tom's the only one who "posts" here (just as I'm the only one who "posts" on my blog). Everyone else -- you (and all your lame aliases), me, Dave Dubya, Modusoperandi, Charles Moore, Leslie Parsley, and whoever decides to participate -- is only "commenting". We're not posting. Okay, do you have that straight? (Somehow, I doubt it.)

Secondly, it should be apparent that Tom runs and monitors this blog. After all, it is his. His name's on it, he has displayed his picture, he writes the "posts" (articles), and he has the power of the "delete" button. That's all there is to it. It's really very simple.

That's why I think you should create and run your own blog. It's obvious you have a lot to say, so why not establish a forum to say it? Then, when I come visit and leave my "liberal" comments, you can delete my messages (like I delete yours). ;-)

At 9:26 AM, Blogger Michael Stivic said...

Tom Degan and comrades,

I just want to let everyone know that if we organize now we still have time to get Hillary to primary the amateur Obama.

Obama will get crushed this fall if we let him run. Lets face it, Obama's only skill is giving us a smooth speech from his teleprompter.

Jefferson's Guardian, we are calling on you to help us organize like you did for all the OWS and May Day events!

At 11:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those trying to oust Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in a June 5 recall election are portraying him as a wild-eyed, Koch-brothers-controlled, right-wing ideologue hell-bent on destroying unions. In reality, Walker is more like a panicked accountant trying to fix the Badger State’s out-of-whack books.

He’s no more anti-union and right-wing than the libs’ beloved FDR—and that’s his real problem.

At 1:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obama, Bill Clinton said, “doesn’t know how to be president” and is “incompetent.”

At 10:02 PM, Anonymous Bennett said...

Hey Tom,

Thanks for the link to the youtube video of Johnson's speech. I hadn't seen that and it is well worth watching.

Best regards,

Bennett Dawson

At 10:11 PM, Blogger Modusoperandi said...

Anonymous "Those trying to oust Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker..."
Walker is such a panicked accountant that Wisconsin decided to follow California's example and
require a 2/3rds majority to raise revenues while at the same time cutting taxes for those at the top and favoured corporations and screwing over small businesses for big one, not to mention sticking it to the least of us by trying to take the administration of Medicaid out of the hands of his own legislature and putting it under him; a plan that has worked out so well that even if you exclude the Public Sector layoffs [...pause for effect...] over the past year Wisconsin still posted the largest job losses in the entire country.
I mean, really, Anonymous. I wish I could quit you, but I can't. I can't not try to help you (hence the links to pages you won't read because you, and this was your excuse, think someone who isn't even me mistreated you). You're just reliably, so righteously, so...perfectly...useless. Frankly, it's a bit adorable. You're like a resentful, colicky baby, punching out at the big bad world with your chubby little fists, repeatedly hitting yourself in the process.

"Obama, Bill Clinton said, 'doesn’t know how to be president' and is 'incompetent.'"
Yeah! Take that, LBJ!

At 4:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look what happens MO, when people talk about LBJ, JG attacks them. So why stay on subject of JG doesn't have to?

At 11:36 AM, Blogger Jefferson's Guardian said...

Anonymous: "...when people talk about LBJ, JG attacks them."

Please cite where I've attacked you when you've spoken about LBJ.

At 12:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the motifs that runs throughout the book is Barack Obama's sheer level of incompetency. He has the fatal conceit of many politicians: an overweening ego. That may be a prerequisite for politicians and leaders, but when it is unleavened by a willingness to consider the views of others, it becomes a fatal conceit. And Obama has that trait in abundance.

Stories tumble out that reveal a man who believes he is all but omniscient -- unwilling to give any credence to the views of others (especially but not limited to those across the aisle). Experts in management are interviewed who point out that he lacks essential qualities of leadership. Indeed, the book gets its title from an outburst from Bill Clinton, who was trying to encourage Hillary to take on Obama in the Democratic primary of 2012:

Obama doesn't know how to be president. He doesn't know how the world works. He's incompetent. He's...he's...Barack Obama's an amateur.

At 12:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why don't you scroll up a few spaces and see JG's comments to those who were talking about LBJ.

At 3:12 PM, Blogger Jefferson's Guardian said...

Anonymous: "...see JG's comments to those who were talking about LBJ."

I did. I don't see any attacks. I do see, however, Just the Falsehoods! being corrected about who's stalking who, and who runs this blog.

There was nothing indicating I was "attacking" anyone due to their views about LBJ. If you can cite the instance(s), please share. I'm sure Just the Falsehoods! would appreciate it. ;-)

At 4:15 PM, Anonymous Just The Half Wit said...

We conned-servatives don't respond to questions and we don't provide information.

We are trolls, and are here only to annoy, distract and smear.

At 8:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stay on topic JG, focus, focus focus. Unless you something to having to say about LBJ, of which so far you've not said one word, your just trolling.
Either that or very poor eye sight ;(

At 3:48 AM, Blogger Jefferson's Guardian said...

Anonymous, please reread your last comment (at 8:44 PM).

Looks like you've been drinking heavily again...

At 8:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 7:06 PM, Blogger Jody Garceau said...

By 1980 the bigots had formed a strange alliance with the plutocrats. The result was the so-called "Reagan Revolution". Three decades later, the bigots and the plutocrats joined forces with the terminally brain-damaged. Thus was born the Tea party. Bye bye, America.

...brilliant. You litterally made me laugh out loud.

At 7:48 PM, Blogger Classof65 said...

Just wanted to mention that LBJ also brought us Medicare...


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