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LBJ a Liberal Hero? In Your Dreams, Pal

LBJ-BW

Michael Kazin writes:  From 1964 to 1968, close to 34,000 Americans died in South Vietnam. We will never know how many Vietnamese women, men, and children perished during those years, but the total, according to most estimates, was at least one million. Among the dead were tens of thousands of civilians—blown apart by explosives dropped from planes, burned to death by napalm, or gunned down by U.S. troops whose commanders told them that, in a village considered loyal to the Vietcong, they should “kill anything that we see and anything that moved.” Their commander-in-chief was Lyndon Baines Johnson.

This past week, on the golden anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, four of LBJ’s successors went to his library in Texas to praise his character and his deeds. George W. Bush lauded him for turning “a nation’s grief to a great national purpose.” Jimmy Carter chided his fellow LBJtallDemocrats for not emulating Johnson’s determination to fight for racial equality. Barack Obama remarked that LBJ’s “hunger” for power “was harnessed and redeemed by a deeper understanding of the human condition, by a sympathy for the underdog, for the downtrodden, for the outcast.” Bill Clinton reflected that Johnson “saw limitless possibilities in the lives of other poor people like him who just happened to have a different color skin.”

Some liberal journalists echoed the chief executives, past and present. LBJ, wrote my friend E.J. Dionne, presided over “a consensual period when a large and confident majority believed that national action could expand opportunities and alleviate needless suffering. The earthily practical Johnson showed that finding realistic ways of creating a better world is what Americans are supposed to do.” Not a word about those countless people in Southeast Asia whose lives reached their unnatural limits when they encountered an American infantryman with an M-16 or a bomb dropped from a B-52.

Of course, to remember what the United States, during LBJ’s tenure, did to Vietnam and to the young Americans who served there does not cancel out his domestic achievements. But to portray him solely as a paragon of empathy, a liberal hero with a minor flaw or two, is not merely a feat of willful amnesia. It is deeply immoral.

LBJtrioIn 1965, as Johnson was pushing Congress to enact the Voting Rights Act and Medicare, he was also initiating the bombing of North Vietnam and signing the orders which eventually sent over 500,000 U.S. troops to occupy and fight to “pacify” the Southern half of that country. At the time, liberal Democrats who opposed the war condemned the hypocrisy of a President who could help millions of Americans win their rights and a degree of medical security while he oversaw the destruction of what he called “a raggedy ass little third rate country.” Fifty years later, powerful Democrats in search of a usable past would just prefer to ignore the contradiction…(read more)

New Republic

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One Comment on “LBJ a Liberal Hero? In Your Dreams, Pal”

  1. […] Pundit from another Planet Michael Kazin writes: From 1964 to 1968, close to 34,000 Americans died in South Vietnam. We will […]


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