The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, The National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and many other acts are owed to one Lyndon Baines Johnson, the only true president from Texas. He embarked on what he called "The Great Society." As with all things his legacy is deeply complicated - mainly by Vietnam.
Discussing Lyndon B. Johnson is difficult. I was born in 1972, I only know the aftermath of his presidency. But I can still feel those effects in the laws and policies he put in place. It is very important to remember that LBJ, before becoming Vice President, was the Senate Majority leader. Robert Caro's Master of the Senate pretty much spells it out. (Will there ever again be a Majority Leader like him in the Senate?)
Sunday, on Melissa Harris Perry's show, one of the commentators mentioned that Obama's legislative healthcare achievement was the greatest since Truman. Wait one minute. How can we forget Medicare and the man who got it through Congress?
Before I go further, I feel the need to address how I view history. I think events have ripples that move through time. The greater the event the greater the ripples and how they continue to affect future events. I consider it kind of like gravity with how it warps space/time. Sorry it is hard to explain, but relevant to this subject. Why? because I feel like context is often lacking when discussing history.
Vietnam colors so much of LBJ's place in history and I am not going to minimize those events. Vietnam did damage to a generation and to the psyche of the nation. The Cold War and the legacy of colonial imperialism drove events in Vietnam as much as the Red Scare and the "Domino Theory". Those items framed Vietnam in my mind. An entire generation was divided by that war and it haunts much of our politics today.
But we must examine what LBJ tried to do for this country. Medicare is one those programs that people don't want touched. It helped reduce poverty among seniors. The security it provides is incalculable. The program has fewer costs than private insurance, making a lie of the GOP talking point that markets are the most efficent means to provide healthcare. When there is a profit motive, they aren't. The core of Democratic priorties in the near term should be expanding Medicare.
Much of what LBJ wrought the GOP seeks to undo. Remember the attacks on the NEA or how some conservatives *cough Romney cough* attack public television. To say nothing of the attacks on Medicaid expansion now or the role of the federal government in Education.
Hell, look at the current Governor of Texas and his take on a voter ID law he signed. It is an affront to the 24th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which allowed people to vote when obstacles had been placed in their way prior to the Amendment and legislation.
We focus on how much of the New Deal conservatives hate. FDR was a traitor to his class. LBJ sought to build on the New Deal and eradicate poverty and build a Great Society. He was a Southerner and to many whites, be betrayed his race. He has a complicated legacy, but we should remember what he built and the amazing accomplishments he achieved.
However, the more I think about it, the more I feel we have owe a debt to LBJ for what government could try to do. For too long it feels like the Left has settled for what the Republicans were willing to keep in place. Medicare should be expanded for all citizens. Every person has the right to vote without obstruction. Every person deserves an equal opportunity and access to a good education. LBJ wanted to build a Great Society and we should try to build it again. It is time to draw a contrast between the modern GOP and the historical role Democrats saw for government. We need to remember LBJ.