CNN glorifies Lyndon Johnson … with SOME legitimacy (BHM – Part 5)
As I have reported in previous commentaries that CNN has used the so-called documentaries and townhall meetings as infomercials for the Democrats – either by glorifying Democrats and/or vilifying Republicans. CNN does not present the history in an objective and factual manner – but rather spins the history in one direction. They are not as much documentaries as they are propaganda films.
The latest in the series involves the presidency of Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ). There were four major elements of the LBJ legacy – the failed war policy in Vietnam (and the ignoble retreat), the abysmal failure of his “War on Poverty,” the passage of the Medicare program and the passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965.
The mishandling of the War speaks for itself – and it more than anything forced Johnson to withdraw his candidacy for re-election in 1968. The War on Poverty was a boondoggle that cost the taxpayers trillions of dollars over the decades — and did nothing to even reduce poverty in America. Medicare is popular among the general public, but like all such massive government programs, the services are inadequate (that is why retirees need the supplemental plans), is far too great of a burden on the economy and is rife with waste and corruption.
Because it is Black History Month, the primary motivation for the so-called documentary is Johnson’s roll in the pursuit of justice for black Americans. It is there that CNN does history a great disservice by not telling the whole story. So, I shall fill in some of the gaps.
Lyndon Johnson was a born-and-bred Texas racist. He was part of – and a leader of – the southern Democrat racist coalition. He used the n-word so frequently that Adam Serwer — writing for MSNBC Online — said that “Johnson was practically a connoisseur of the n-word.”
In his memoir, “Capitol Hill in Black and White,” long time Johnson chauffer, Robert Parker, recalled Johnson asking if he would prefer to be addressed by “Robert” rather than “boy” or “nigger.” When Parker said he would prefer “Robert,” Johnson shot back:
“As long as you are black, and you’re gonna be black till the day you die, no one’s gonna call you by your goddamn name. So, no matter what you are called, nigger, you just let it roll off your back like water, and you’ll make it. Just pretend you’re a goddamn piece of furniture.”
As Senate Majority Leader, Johnson led the fight against the ultimately successful 1957 Civil Rights Bill introduced by congressional Republicans and backed by President Eisenhower. Incidentally, another senator also voted against that bill – Jack Kennedy. In 1960, Johnson and Kennedy both voted in favor of the second Eisenhower/Republican civil rights bill – but only after the enforcement provision was removed. That is what necessitated the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The why and how the 1964 Civil Rights Bill got passed is a complex and interesting story. Contrary to contemporary opinion, President Kennedy’s reputation among black leaders was not good.
When running for President in 1960, Kennedy promised to enact a civil rights bill. Black leaders were skeptical since Kennedy often ran on civil rights and then aligned himself with the southern Democrats when in Congress.
With much fanfare, Kennedy proposed a civil rights bill BUT had it assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee headed by staunch segregationist James Eastland of Mississippi — who declared the bill dead-on-arrival. And it was.
Kennedy resurrected the legislation for the 1964 campaign – and again it was assigned to the Eastland Committee, where it would again die without so much as a hearing until …
Kennedy was assassinated and Johnson took over. Unlike Kennedy, Johnson got serious about the civil rights legislation to the surprise of many. There is no disputing that the one-time southern segregationist was using his enormous clout to pass the bill. But he did not have sufficient support from congressional Democrats. In fact, they mounted a filibuster to stop the 1964 legislation.
However, Johnson knew that he had the full support of the Republicans in Congress. The question was: Was it enough to stop the filibuster? With overwhelming support of the GOP, Johnson needed some of the northern Democrats – just a few.
Illinois Republican Senator Everett Dirksen (picture atop with LBJ) led the cloture vote to end the filibuster, saying “The time has come for equality of opportunity in sharing in government, in education, and in employment. It will not be stayed or denied. It is here!’”
In the final vote for cloture in the Senate, 82 percent of Republicans vote in favor – but only 66 percent of Democrats. Without overwhelming GOP support, the southern Democrats would have again blocked civil rights legislation. It was the first time there was a successful cloture involving a filibuster of a civil rights bill.
Next came the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That was a steeper hill. Initially, Johnson did not want to have the Voting Rights Bill introduced, but he changed his mind after witnessing “Bloody Sunday” – the day a contingent of black marchers – on their way to Selma, Alabama — were attacked by police and citizens on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. But again, Johnson lacked sufficient support from his fellow Democrats in Congress. He needed major GOP support.
The principal drafter and lead sponsor of the Voting Rights Bill was Dirksen – working with Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach. It was informally known on Capitol Hill as the “Dirksenbach Bill.” Dirksen introduced the bill, saying “… this legislation is needed if the unequivocal mandate of the 15th Amendment is to be enforced and made effective, and if the Declaration of Independence is to be made truly meaningful.”
This time there was no filibuster, but Johnson had to rely on overwhelming support from congressional Republicans in both the Senate and the House. And again, he got it.
The bill was subsequently passed by the Senate. As with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Republicans provided even greater support (96 percent) than the Democrats (74 percent). Looking at it another way, 26 percent of the Democrat senators opposed the bill while only four percent of the GOP voted in opposition.
The part of the story that has been lost in history is that without OVERWHELMING support of congressional Republicans, there would not be the Civil Rights and Voting Rights laws … period. Dirksen’s essential role in drafting and passing the civil rights legislation of the 1960s got him the cover of Time Magazine.
An interesting – and unanswered question – was what motivated Johnson to put his weight behind the civil rights legislation. Nothing in his history would have predicted that. There are three theories.
It had been reported that his legacy as President of the United States would not look good if he continued to be a civil rights opponent. A more pragmatic theory was that he wanted to ride what the public believed to be the dead President’s wish. Some historians argue that if Kennedy had not been assassinated, the civil right legislation would never have come out of the Judiciary Committee – where it was intended to die.
Finally, many say it was a moral conversion. He had come to see the error of his ways. Whatever the reason, the one thing is historically certain. Johnson was unequivocal in his support of the civil rights bills. But he could not have done it without overwhelming Republican support.
If history were accurate and fair, black Democrats would be attending Dirksen Day Dinners instead of the Democrats’ iconic Jackson Day Dinners – a tribute to America’s worst white supremacist slave-owning President.
So, there ‘tis.