Fifty years after Lyndon Johnson
If you live in the Dallas-Ft Worth area, or the Metroplex, as we call it, you are constantly talking about LBJ. It's LBJ to the airport or to Garland or now to I-30 thanks to all of the expansion. Of course, this LBJ, or I-635, is a highway that connects the area from east to west. For the record, we also have a Bush highway farther north. That one was named after our 41st president.
Today, I'm going to remember the other LBJ, or President Lyndon Johnson, the 36th president of the U.S., who died on this day in 1973. He was living in South Texas and watching as his successor announced the end of the Vietnam War:
On the day of Nixon's second inaugural celebration, Johnson watched sullenly as Nixon announced the dismantling of many of Johnson's Great Society social programs and, the next day, that he had achieved the ceasefire in Vietnam that had eluded Johnson.
The following day, while Lady Bird and their daughters were in Austin, Johnson suffered a fatal heart attack at his ranch in Johnson City.
I would argue that few modern Democrats even know who LBJ is. If they do, they rarely talk about him. They are more likely to talk about Beto O'Rourke taking your AR-15 or Senator Bernie Sanders promoting whatever he is promoting.
LBJ's presidency was volatile. It began on the day that President Kennedy was killed in Dallas in 1963. A year later, he won a landslide victory against Senator Goldwater by avoiding the topic of Vietnam and promising not to send troops. By mid-1966, the U.S. involvement in Vietnam had grown to 500,000 troops, and resentment of LBJ's policies divided the Democrats and the nation. By the spring of 1968, President Johnson's fortunes hit bottom, and he did not seek re-election. A week later, Reverend Martin Luther King was killed. Two months later, Senator Robert F. Kennedy was killed, too. That's a lot of history in such a short period.
It is true that LBJ is remembered for the Great Society and significant civil rights reforms. His knowledge of the U.S. Senate and Congress, and persistence, brought many reluctant Southern Democrat legislators along. However, the jury is still out on the billions of dollars spent on the War on Poverty. In other words, did we just throw money at the problem rather than deal with other causes of poverty? I would argue that we threw money at the problems and may have made the breakdown of the family inevitable.
Overall, it was a tragic presidency, and the first one that I remember, having arrived here with my parents in 1964. A few years ago, there was a great book, Master of the Senate, written about LBJ, by Robert A. Caro. It reminded us that he was a strong U.S. Senate majority leader, a better legislator than an executive.
I'll be on LBJ later this week and remember that it was named after the president born in Texas, who died 50 years ago, and the same Democrat whom no one remembers around here.
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Image via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.