The Texas Observer FEB. 16, 1968 A Journal of Free Voices A Window to The South 25c What’s Right with I. B J ? Austin Any president who deals firmly with great problems is going to be criticized from many quarters, and President Johnson is certainly getting the full treatment. We here ignore the extremists from both right and left because no human can please for long many from either group. I am concerned with criticisms from those who in the past have fought for much LBJ has brought about but Who now seem to have their eyes fixed only on the things they disagree with. All else has shrunk to insignificance. Some, on being pressed, admit a bit of good here or there but insist LBJ has fought for it for the wrong reasons or that it is insignificant in the light of this or that mistake, and Vietnam is the major mistake. As one who has long hoped for many of the social and other reforms which now have been at least to a degree achieved, I find myself falling back on the practice of making a balance sheet on LBJ. This seems logical because it is senseless to expect any president to do everything exactly as you would have it. It is logical to balance the assets against the liabilities and see how the man stacks up. It seems to me that this method can be better followed by starting with a careful look at the past. In view of some similarity in the bitterness of criticisms of LBJ now and those made in 1960 when he was seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, I reviewed some of the records of that time. It is, of course, one of life’s secret satisfactions to find that time and events prove a deeply held opinion to be correct. I confess to feeling a deep’ satisfaction after reading what I wrote in The Texas Observer nearly eight years ago about the qualifications of LBJ. My judgment then was that Lyndon Johnson “can point to a record of advancing liberal causes which is equalled by no other political figure on the American scene today.” Of course, this opinion, based on Johnson’s record as Senate majority leader, would have to be amended somewhat today, for the record clearly shows that his achievements in advancing liberal causes have been equalled by no other president in our history. Mr. Hall is a longtime Democratic leader in Texas, a supporter of both President Johnson and Sen. Ralph Yarborough, and a dedicated liberal. He owns several banks in the Galveston area. Looking back on my article of March 25, 1960, I find one paragraph in particular possesses a prophetic ring: “The important thing about a leader,” I wrote, “is that he is able to advance the cause for which he serves under all circumstances when the enemy forces are strong or W alter G. Hall when [they] are weak; when the weather is good or when [it] is bad; in hard times and in good times. And by this test, Lyn don Johnson has not only succeeded, but has succeeded superbly.” I would not change a word of that eightyear-old paragraph today. For Johnson’s persistence, determination, and courage have been the towering strengths of his presidency. C ONSERVATIVES disapprove of Lyndon Johnson for his leadership in enacting over 200 major legislative proposals since becoming president, including Medicare, aid to education, economic development, voting rights, conservation ? and beautification. This disapproval is consistent with conservatives’ past positions, and I think the great majority of them sincerely feel that these measures are not in the best interest of the country. It seems to me that most of these attacks are not so violent as most of those made by some liberals. Many Southerners disapprove of President Johnson for the historic civil rights programs he has created and for Negro cabinet and Supreme Court appointments he has made. Many middle class suburbanites disapprove of him because they feel he has done too much for the urban poor and not enough for them. Such disaffections are the result of presidential decisions which have challenged the status quo by creating a new order of national priorities. Lyndon Johnson’s ‘stewardship of the nation is very similar to Franklin Roosevelt’s in vision and purpose. But, unlike Roosevelt, Johnson occupies the White House at a time of unprecedented economic prosperity. The question then is how can Lyndon Johnson direct the nation’s attention and energy to social and economic inequities in the midst of vigorous prosperity? Roosevelt could rally business, labor, intellectuals, farmers, and all sections and special in terests to his cause because of the depression. We had no problems then of Americans spending too much money on European vacations. President Johnson’s task is to persuade the nation to share his administration’s commitment to the war on poverty, civil rights, and urban reconstruction, not because these problems are pressing upon the most sensitive nerves of the American majority, but because they are slowly sapping our society’s strength and purpose. T IS NOT an easy task. But the president has performed superbly in enlisting the support of key segments of society in sharing the commitment to onefifth of our population that is still outside’ the mainstream of American national life. Much remains to be done on this, and certainly most liberals can be expected to support it vigorously. Too, is this itself not worth much on the asset side, when liberals consider the Johnson presidency? The -president believes, and rightly, that the tasks of rebuilding our cities and correcting social inequities cannot be limited to government action. If America is to live up to its promise of greatness, it will be because the American people were fully committed to the burdens of today and tomorrow. Liberals know full well that this, like every other major social reform, will have the opposition of those who fear change. Is not the president’s stand on these issues worth much to liberals on the asset side? It seems to me that Lyndon Johnson’s greatest legacy to this nation has been to divert America’s attention from affluence and pleasant living to the so-called “invisible America” where a suffering minority black and whitehave lived neglected and forgotten lives for many generations. We are a better people today because of Lyndon Johnson’s leadershipand that is the best test of political leadership that I know. Much has been written about the president’s attempt to form a political consensus in Johnsonian terms. As a practical matter I see it as an effort to get support for his programs. I am not at all impressed by discussions about the Johnson personality which seek to impugn the sincerity of his dedication to the liberal causes he professes to champion or about the “credibility gap,” a “gap” which seems to be perceived,
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