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Hullabaloo


Friday, April 11, 2014

 
From someone who was right in the middle of it all: Bill Moyers 

by digby

This week has seen a celebration of the passage civil rights act accompanied by lots of interesting commentary about whether or not Lyndon Johnson was truly a leader who made a difference as the common myth holds or whether he was really just another powerless figurehead who stood by and took credit for legislative accomplishment over which he had little influence, as much of the the current thinking about the presidency holds.

Bill Moyers was in the room:



Bill recalls Johnson facing down a Congress controlled by Southern Democrats who were “die-hard racists—all of them, including some of his old mentors, white supremacists who threatened to bring the government, if not the country, to its knees before they would see blacks eat at the same restaurants, go to the same schools, drink from the same fountains, and live in the same neighborhoods as whites.” 
Despite those convictions and other challenges, such as an unpopular war and growing unrest at home, Johnson was able to pass an impressive number of initiatives on his “Great Society” agenda, more than any president since. As The New York Times noted in an article about this week’s summit, Johnson’s presidency “represented the high-water mark for American presidents pushing through sweeping legislation — not just the Civil Rights Act, but the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, the Fair Housing Act and major measures on immigration, education, gun control and clean air and water.”

I certainly agree that this couldn't have been accomplished without legislative leadership. I would even argue that it probably couldn't have been accomplished without the background horror of a martyred president. But there is simply no doubt that Johnson had unusual legislative skills for a president, along with many relationships and a keen knowledge of human character and the nature of power. It's hard for me to believe that being a Southern politician with his talent and experience wasn't a decisive factor.


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