Here was a white southerner, a guy who just weeks before signing this law complained to an aide in a perplexed Texas drawl, "Goddamnit. I just learnt to say negra and now they want to be called black?" (One need not to ask what he called African Americans before he learned to say "negra" instead.)
"President Johnson realized that supporting this bill would risk losing the South's overwhelming support of the Democratic Party. Johnson told Robert Kennedy aide Ted Sorensen; "I know the risks are great, and we might lose the South, but those sorts of states may be lost anyway." Senator Richard Russell, Jr. warned President Johnson that his strong support for the civil rights bill "will not only cost you the South, it will cost you the election." The South indeed started to vote increasingly Republican after 1964." (More)
And so it came to pass. The Dems did indeed lose the South -- and what of the South they held was only held by putting up for office closet Republicans masquerading as Democrats (AKA "Blue Dog Democrats.")
Over the decades that followed Johnson's personal profile in courage, Republicans gained ground. As the South went red it laid the foundation for Newt Gingrich Republican revolution. From that switch from blue to red flowed many awful things; Ronald Reagan, George H. Bush, George W. Bush, a conservative-leaning federal judiciary, the near-total destruction of America's once robust industrial base, the knee-capping of the American middle class, an illegal war, torture, financial collapse, and more.
So, did Lyndon Johnson really do the right thing?
I only mention this because right now, this month and next month are President Barack Obama's Lyndon B. Johnson moment. He will either do the right thing, and go down in history alongside Johnson and Lincoln and FDR, or he won't.
In this case the right thing is for Obama to have a little chat with two groups:
First a chat with House and Senate Republicans:
Look you guys, I gave you all the rope you needed to hang yourselves on healthcare reform, you took it all and demanded more. Well, there is no more. Consider yourselves hung. Your goal has nothing to do with reforming our broken healthcare system. Rather your goal is to make damn sure Democrats don't have a historic legislative success to campaign on in 2010 and 2012. So, we're done talking to you. If you want to vote for healthcare reform, we're going to give you a chance to do just that. If you want to vote against it, you'll have that chance too. Until then, don't call me, I'll call you .. but no time soon.
"Okay gang, it's crunch time. This is one of those rare moments when every one of your constituents have their eyes focused on you like laser beams. Last November they didn't go to the polls to vote for Republican-lite. They voted for genuine change. And healthcare legislation that includes a strong "keep-em honest" public option is precisely the kind of change they sent you here to accomplish. So, let's get-er done.
Now, to you Blue Dogs; either get onboard fellas or else. Or else what, you ask? Hello boys, recognize me? I'm President of the United States of America. You're just a member of Congress. You represent one state. I represent the nation. So, don't be 'co-equal-ing' me. Go ahead, cross us on this one and I promise you, you'll live to regret it. Now, if you don't like it that way, fine. Change parties, or do a Lieberman. Otherwise get on board, get on now, or get the hell out of the way.
That's how Lyndon handled his anti-civil rights Dems. In fact, when one southern Democratic senator called Johnson to complain about the bill, Johnson turned the tables on him, telling he that he was not only going to vote for the bill, but that he needed to do more to show his support for civil rights. He told him to hold what we call today a town hall meeting back home and to make sure "you put a little black girl right there in the front row."
"I never trust a man unless I've got his pecker in my pocket." Lyndon Johnson
Cynical? Manipulative? You bet. But in that moral morass in Washington, it's also called "leadership."
"If it's an important vote, I try to tell them how important it is to the Senate, the country, the president " But I'm not very good at twisting arms. I try to be more verbal and non-threatening. So there are going to be""I'm sure""a number of opportunities for people who have different opinions not to vote the way that I think they should. But that's the way it is. I hold no grudges." (Harry Reid)
Well Harry, we do. We hold grudges. Believe it Harry Plodder.
Same goes for you Barack. So, are you going to be our Lyndon Johnson? Or did we elect just another mediocre occupant of 1600 Penn Ave?
"It's the price of leadership to do the thing you believe has to be done at the time it must be done" Lyndon Johnson