Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Johnson Treatment

The Startlegram had an interesting story on the new-found interest in Lyndon B. Johnson. Writes John Moritz: "The death of Lady Bird Johnson last month and the outpouring of tributes to the former first lady's quiet influence during her husband's tumultuous presidency have rekindled a resurgence of interest in the Texas couple's years in Washington. Attendance at the LBJ Library and Museum at the University of Texas at Austin reached about 36,000 from July 15 to Aug. 1. That's twice what would typically be expected from such a stretch during the summer."

I've always been an LBJ fan, which surprises some people. Most folks -- mainly boomers -- still think about Vietnam and "Hey, hey, LBJ, who many kids did you kill today?" And certainly Vietnam, or "that dirty old bitch of a war" as he would call it, will always color many people's opinions about the man. The great American writer Ralph Ellison told him as much. But Ellison, who was grateful to Johnson for the great strides he achieved in civil rights, said: "When all the returns are in, perhaps President Johnson will have to settle for being recognized as the greatest American president for the poor and for the Negroes, but that, as I see it, is a very great honor indeed." Agreed.

I still think that what made the man great was he believed in a vision of American greatness. Look at his record: aid to education, attack on disease, Medicare, urban renewal, beautification, conservation, development of depressed regions, a wide-scale fight against poverty, control and prevention of crime and delinquency, removal of obstacles to the right to vote. Maybe the Great Society was an overreach, but the fact is that the lives of millions were improved under his leadership. In my opinion, he's still the greatest president from Texas. He truly believed that no person should be left behind.

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