PRESIDENT JOHNSON’S FRONTIERS Austin Lyndon Baines Johnson becoming the President is a kind of cultural shock to the nation’s politics. Boston is the same country, but another life. The New Frontiersmen from Harvard are not very much like the professors around the University of Texas. Their ways and their contexts are vastly different. Johnson City lies in the rocky, scrubby part of our state, covered with brush and cedar trees. Rivers the color of milky green course over limestone ledges and around and under the boulders the waters carve. The land rolls erratically, as the weather has left the rocks and soil to stay. Lyndon Johnson is therefore the President from the rocky hills where Texas begins to he western. The Johnsots are country people. The President’s father was a frontier Texas legislator. His mother was descended from pioneer Texas educators, people in the genteel tradition, as that tradition proudly maintained itself with memory in the rural western country where “neighbors” meant miles away. To this day around Johnson City and Stonewall, leather-tanned and grizzly ranchers and ranchhands crouch and squat at the filling stations on the roads, talking about the weather and the fences and the stock. These are people who like good stories, and respect a good storyteller. They have a lot of work to do. They have to know what they have to know to do what they have to do, and they don’t have time or the taste for learning they can’t see the use for. They are a tough, hard, always realistic people, who had to scramble for what they got. Lyndon Johnson is just like that. The late President liked to spend an afternoon on a yacht, and he never wanted for things he did not have. President Johnson’s biographies say that he worked his way out of the scrubby hills through Southwest Texas State Teachers’ College. He shined shoes, herded goats, worked on a weekly newspaper, labored on highway jobs, ran an elevator, washed cars, hopped to around a cafe, cleaned up around school, was secretary to the college president, and sold hosiery door to door. He debated in college, and well ; that must have been an arrival for him. It stands to reason that many of the New Englanders, many of the scholarly gentlemen from Harvard, will have less to do in Washington now, and different sorts of people, Western sorts, Texas sorts, and 8 The Texas Observer moderate Southern sorts, will have more to do there. THERE CAN BE no misreading of the general direction of President Johnson’s public record. As his constituency has evolved, from Central Texas, to Texas, to Texas and the United States, and now finally to the United States altogether, and to the world also, so have his political positions become less provincial and more national. President Johnson’s idea of politics is to try to get accomplishments through compromise. His friend Dean Acheson greatly admires him for having been able to maneuver legislation through the tricks and traps of Congress. One wonders to what extent Johnson will be his own majority leader, although informally, as he fights for legislation with the Congress he knows so well. Johnson went to Congress in 1937 as an all-out Roosevelt Democrat. In the House he was a New Dealer, and he often says that Roosevelt was “like a daddy to me.” The relationships between Johnson’s convictions and his assessments of a proposal’s chances for success have been enigmatic and controversial. Liberals who approach politics as trying to get accomplishments by fighting for principles have often criticized Johnson on grounds that he compromises principles out from under them. From conservatives’ points of view, Johnson often won passage for parts of programs they wanted no part of. His will be a very political administration. You know our phrase in Texas, “Let’s get on with the snake-killin’.” Johnson and his people have classified a man pretty quickly as their friend of their foe, and have left no doubt what this means. Johnson’s voting records in Congress now become a part of the national history and prospect. In a few paragraphs, I will summarize, subjectively, but as fairly as I can, what he stood for his 23 years in Congress. He has been from the first and without significant exceptions an internationalist. He voted for lend-lease, Greek-Turkish aid, European Recovery, NATO. He has steadily supported foreign economic and military aid programs. Even in his tough 1948 campaign, which he won by just 87 votes, he declared the United Nations was our greatest hope for peace. He takes the strong line on military preparedness that has dominated American policy since 1947. He flatly opposed all civil rights legislation for the first 17 of his 23 years in Con gress. Texas was Southern then and that’s the way he voted. He voted against an an tilynching bill, for the poll tax. Then, in 1957, he was credited with passing the first civil rights bill since Reconstruction, designed mostly to guarantee voting rights. The idea of federal conciliation of civil rights was a feature of the 1959 civil rights bill with which he is credited. He opposed letting the attorney general institute civil rights suits, and he never wavered in his opposition to changes in Senate filibuster rules. On civil liberties, he was a leader in the Senate in the censure of Senator McCarthy. He participated in criticism of a federal power commissioner which caused objections on grounds of civil liberties. In an article on his beliefs in Texas Quarterly, he led off with free speech for every man. Johnson steadily supported welfare spending and public power and other public works projects. He regularly voted to increase direct government insurance, grants, or aids to individuals. He has upheld the TVA whenever it has been challenged. He cast important votes for public atomic power. He sided with the major oil companies, which are very influential in Texas politics. He opposed federal regulation of natural gas pipelines or producers, and upheld the oil depletion allowance. He is known to assert that he had to support the oil companies, as all Texas congressmen support them, and he resents criticism of him on this count as unfair and unrealistic. Johnson supported a few of the tax reforms proposed by liberals, but opposed most of them. He joined in Democratic oratory against high interest, although on occasion he voted to permit increased interest rates. Coming from Texas, Johnson in the House had a record that many labor leaders regarded as unfriendly. He resisted the minimum wage; he voted for Taft-Hartley. In the Senate, he often supported pro-labor legislation, including the minimum wage. They have just buried the President, Oh God, they have just buried him, and our tears run down to our necks, and we grieve and grieve. As his Vice. President, Johnson backed up President Kennedy on civil rights all the way. His speeches on behalf of equal job opportunities, protected voting rights, and equal access to public accommodations were widely quoted. He also campaigned fervently, in public speeches, for his President’s programs of public works, the domestic peace corps, medicare, and other such matters.
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