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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Barack Baines Johnson.
Posted by Jill | 5:19 AM
Remember today, my friends. Because after Barack Obama, purveyor of Hope and Change and Yes We Can, leaves our television screens tonight, he will have officially morphed into Lyndon Johnson.

He won't be the unfortunately nearly forgotten Lyndon Johnson who signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, knowing full well (and accurately) that it meant the Democrats would lose the South for many generations to come, as the warhorses who still revered the old Confederacy would jump ship for the already welcoming Republican Party. In some ways it's a shame that Obama hasn't chosen to be that Lyndon Johnson. For where civil rights were concerned, the situation was very much like it is right now with health care reform:

Lawrence F. O'Brien, President Kennedy's and later President Johnson's chief of liaison with the Congress, recalled it this way:

[Y]ou had a battle on two fronts simultaneously. You had a battle with the conservatives on the committee, the southern Democrats, conservative Republicans, but you had just as tough a battle with the liberals. Their position was the old story of the half loaf or three-quarters of a loaf, and [now they were saying] "we'll settle for nothing less [than the whole loaf.]" . . . We shared their views, and we'd love to do it their way.

We were accused by some of being weak-kneed but, my God, are you going to have meaningful legislation or are you going to sit around for another five or ten years while you play this game? Those liberals sat around saying, "No, we won't accept anything but the strongest possible civil rights bill, and we won't vote for anything less than that." To kill civil rights in that Judiciary Committee was an appalling possibility! And it was not only a possibility, it came darn close to an actuality.

The Kennedy administration had wanted to get past the civil rights fight by the end of 1963, so as not to have the struggle continue into the following election year. That hope had by now gone by the boards, even if the committee reported favorably on the bill, and promptly. It took until November 19 for the measure to make it to the Rules Committee to be scheduled for consideration on the floor of the House. And Rules Committee Chairman Smith was certain to seek ways to stifle the bill first.

But at 12:30 p.m., on a sunny November 22 in Dallas, everything changed.

Jack Valenti, a top aide to Johnson, gave this account of what happened on the night of John Kennedy's assassination:

Twelve hours later, LBJ was in his home in Spring Valley, three trusted friends by his side—the late Cliff Carter, Bill Moyers, and myself. He lay on his huge bed in his pajamas watching television, as the world, holding its breath in anxiety and fear, considered that this alien cowboy was suddenly become the leader of the United States.

That night he ruminated about the days that lay ahead, sketching out what he planned to do, in the almost five hours that we sat there with him. Though none of us who listened realized it at the time, he was revealing the design of the Great Society. He had not yet given it a name, but he knew with stunning precision the mountaintop to which he was going to summon the people.

In his address to the joint session of Congress on November 27, President Johnson gave notice that he wanted quick action on both civil rights and the tax bill:

I urge you again, as I did in 1957 and again in 1960, to enact a civil rights law so that we can move forward to eliminate from this Nation every trace of discrimination and oppression that is based upon race or color. There could be no greater source of strength to this Nation both at home and abroad.

And second, no act of ours could more fittingly continue the work of President Kennedy than the early passage of the tax bill for which he fought all this long year. This is a bill designed to increase our national income and Federal revenues, and to provide insurance against recession. That bill, if passed without delay, means more security for those now working, more jobs for those now without them, and more incentive for our economy.

On November 29, the day after Thanksgiving, Johnson met with Roy Wilkins, executive director of the NAACP, to talk about the civil rights bill.

"He was asking us if we wanted it, if we would do the things required to be done to get it enacted," Wilkins recalled. "He said he could not enact it himself. He was the President of the United States. He would give it his blessing. He would aid it in any way in which he could lawfully under the Constitution, but that he could not lobby for the bill. And nobody expected him to lobby for the bill, and he didn't think we expected him to lobby for the bill. But in effect he said — and he didn't use these words - 'You have the ball; now run with it.'"

This was Johnsonian hyperbole. Given LBJ's legendary record for "lobbying" members of Congress, the President could only have meant that he couldn't get civil rights passed by himself. In fact the President had been on the phone that same day with the minority leader of the Senate, Everett Dirksen, the Illinois Republican.

"If Congress is to function at all and can't pass a tax bill between January and January, why, we&'re in a hell of a shape. . . . They ought to pass it in a week," Johnson told Dirksen. "Then . . . every businessman in this country would have some confidence. . . . We've got an obligation to the Congress. And we've just got to show that they can do something, because we can't pass civil rights. We know that."

Johnson meant that the southern senators were sure to filibuster against the civil rights bill, and there weren't yet enough votes to shut off the debate.

Where civil rights were concerned, Johnson wasn't afraid of Republicans. He wasn't afraid of their filibuster. He wasn't afraid of anything. Now, granted, Johnson didn't have a bunch of poufy-haired, lantern-jawed male and lookalike blond female talking heads acting as on-camera frontmen for executives in industries having nothing to do with journalism who had a vested interest in Republican rule. He didn't have Rupert Murdoch and his army of slack-jawed yokels. He had Chet Huntley and the pre-Archer Daniels Midland David Brinkley and Walter Cronkite instead of the smarmy David Gregory and the hacktacular George Stephanopolous. He had an hour or so every weeknight to deal with in terms of news rather than a 24/7 cable news maw demanding to be fed a steady diet of scandal and innuendo. But still, for a party hack like Johnson to deal this kind of death knell to his own party in the south in order to Do The Right Thing is no small potatoes.

But that is not what Americans think of when they think of Lyndon Baines Johnson. American think of Vietnam.

Then, as now, it was the military, not the president, who wanted greater involvement in Vietnam. And then, as now, it was false information, at that time about the "incident" in the Gulf of Tonkin, that provided the pretext for war, just as the nonexistent WMD provided the pretext for war in Iraq that took attention away from the arguably legitimate mission in Afghanistan. John Kennedy had sent military advisers, but it was Johnson who escalated our involvement in Vietnam.

The U.S. was hamstrung in terms of military policy by two ideas: The first was the domino theory, which held that if you let one country in a region fall to Soviet Communism, the others would inevitably fall. At a time when the Cold War was in full swing, and especially in the aftermath of the fall of Eastern Europe, the domino theory at least had some credibility. But the fatal error, then as now, is in this notion of American exceptionalism. The victory in World War II was still relatively fresh in people's minds; certainly more fresh than the disaster of Vietnam is in the American mind today. That this country could "lose" a war was unthinkable. If you just threw enough weaponry and American lives at a problem, you would eventually prevail -- or so the thinking was.

Barack Obama doesn't have either of those ideas as an excuse. There is no domino theory in the Middle East. The Soviet Union was a large, powerful state, not a ragtag band of guys training on jungle gyms in the desert. And we now have the history of an unwinnable guerilla war under our belts as a reference. And yet, here is Barack Obama, getting ready to send tens of thousands of American young people, many of them already deployed to the edge of madness, to their deaths. And why? It isn't because he has the kind of "terrorists under the bed" fearmongering mindset that drove the military policies of George Bush and Dick Cheney. It can't be that he has any idea that Hamid Karzai is going to be a leader of some kind of free Afghanistan, not after the rigged election that took place earlier this year. The only logical explanation I can think of is that once again, this nation's foreign policy is being held hostage to a man's childhood issues.

With George W. Bush, it was his quite apparent issues with his father, who refused to go to Baghdad rather than fight an endless war that would only destabilize that nation. Bush clearly had a need to gain his father's love and approval while at the same time showing that his own dick was bigger than daddy's. Seven figures of Iraqi and American lives were sacrificed, rather than George Bush going to a good therapist to work these issues out.

For Barack Obama, it's a function of this "straddling two worlds" pattern that characterizes his life -- this need to be the black man who makes white people comfortable, to travel seamlessly in both worlds. Now, as president, it's no longer about black and white; it's about liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican. He ran as a post-partisan, championing an end to the era of hyperpartisanship and a new era of cooperation. The problem is, he had absolutely no evidence whatsoever that the Republicans and the DINOs whose only interest is in keeping their Red State seats, were willing to sign on to this new era. And no matter how often the Republicans show that there is no such thing as good faith negotiation and compromise in their world. Barack Obama is still out there thinking that if he's just NICE enough, or if he just shows Bushian "toughness", that he'll get the military and the Republicans to come around. Never mind that REAL toughness would involve standing up before the American people tonight and telling them the truth, a truth that Bob Herbert heartbreakingly notes today:

Afghanistan is not Vietnam. There was every reason for American forces to invade Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. But that war was botched and lost by the Bush crowd, and Barack Obama does not have a magic wand now to make it all better.

The word is that Mr. Obama will tell the public Tuesday that he is sending another 30,000 or so troops to Afghanistan. And while it is reported that he has some strategy in mind for eventually turning the fight over to the ragtag and less-than-energetic Afghan military, it’s clear that U.S. forces will be engaged for years to come, perhaps many years.

The tougher choice for the president would have been to tell the public that the U.S. is a nation faced with terrible troubles here at home and that it is time to begin winding down a war that veered wildly off track years ago. But that would have taken great political courage. It would have left Mr. Obama vulnerable to the charge of being weak, of cutting and running, of betraying the troops who have already served. The Republicans would have a field day with that scenario.

Lyndon Johnson is heard on the tapes telling Senator Richard Russell, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, about a comment made by a Texas rancher in the days leading up to the buildup in Vietnam. The rancher had told Johnson that the public would forgive the president “for everything except being weak.”

Russell said: “Well, there’s a lot in that. There’s a whole lot in that.”

We still haven’t learned to recognize real strength, which is why it so often seems that the easier choice for a president is to keep the troops marching off to war.

It's not going to happen. Obama is so trapped by his campaign promise of bipartisanship, a promise that the Village is bound and determined he keep, even as he throws the promises he made to those who actually elected him into the garbage, that everything else must be sacrificed to that promise, including human lives.

I don't know what it's going to take for Barack Obama to realize that it's not going to happen, this magic group hug with Republicans for which he's willing to sacrifice the people who seem less enthusiastic about going to the mat for him than we did a year ago. Perhaps he, like his predecessor, is so wrapped up in his childhood issues that he can't see beyond them, and is therefore susceptible to the manipulations of the generals whose business is war, war, and nothing but war. But I for one am sick of watching American kids die because powerful American men have childhood issues they refuse to work through in a psychologist's office.

(UPDATE: Now THIS is the speech Obama SHOULD give.)

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Blogger Cirze said...
Thank you, Jill.

You are speaking for me and millions of others.

Is there anything left that we can do to stop this travesty?

Like maybe taking to the streets and saying "No More War?"


Anonymous Anonymous said...
Hey Suzan...I've got a link for you or anybody else who might or might not be interested. (below) We're attending a local one tonight...maybe I'll stop by later to let you know how many DONT ATTEND and what good IT WONT DO. :(

Working Together For Peace and Justice since 1985

Oh this too!!
Turn Off Fox bumper stickers only $2.50

Blogger Distributorcap said...
sadly - obama is petrified of the republicans - for whatever reason his obsession with bipartisanship and now this folly - because he doesnt want beck and limbaugh to make fun of him - or worse because he just doenst want to lose (it would be bush's loss) - means thousands more will die and trillions more will be spent

for nothing.

sadly - this is where i part with obama too