FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Legacy Under Siege

by

Fifty years later, former President Lyndon Johnson got the tribute he more than earned. Four presidents praised his contributions: The Great Society, the War on Poverty, Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act opened doors that had been locked. “I lived out the promise of LBJ’s efforts,” said President Barack Obama, rejecting the cynicism of those who would dismantle Medicare and food stamps, signature LBJ achievements. Bill Clinton praised LBJ for demonstrating “the power of the presidency to redeem the promise of America.”

Getting our history right is vital. For decades, LBJ’s achievements have been slighted. Liberals scorned him because of the war in Vietnam, and finally drove him to not seek re-election. Conservatives loathed him because of the civil rights achievements, with Republicans moving to displace Democrats as the party of the South. The War on Poverty, which dramatically reduced poverty in America, was dismissed as a failure, as the anger of the cities exploded. New Democrats dismissed him for believing in big government, as they tacked to a conservative era.

In fact, as the Civil Rights Summit at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas recognized last week, Johnson was a giant, standing with Franklin Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln as presidents who saved America. Under Johnson, the scourge of segregation was finally ended, and equal protection under the law moved from a lie to a promise. Millions were lifted from poverty, as the poor were provided a ladder up out of despair. Johnson’s reforms — civil rights, voting rights, immigration, Medicare, child nutrition, food stamps and more — were nearly as great as those of FDR, and never matched since.

Johnson was propelled by a massive movement for civil rights, as Americans moved at the courage and dignity of ordinary heroes willing to stand up or sit down, protest or march, suffer abuse and jail for their rights. He was helped by allies like Dr. Martin Luther King. In the wake of the assassination of JFK, he had a legacy that he could invoke. But his leadership, passion, energy and skill were indispensable. President Obama invoked one of LBJ’s famed lines: “what the hell is the presidency for if not to fight for causes you believe in?”

Acknowledging Johnson’s greatness in our rear view mirror is important in part because it may help our vision looking forward through the windshield.

Today, America is more unequal than ever. Our schools are segregated, by race and by class, separate and unequal. We rank second to the lowest among industrial nations in the assistance we provide to the poor. In LBJ’s time, we enjoyed a broad middle class — for many, there were good jobs and good benefits. Now the middle class is sinking; we suffer mass unemployment with the jobs that are being created too often low pay and part time. The millennial generation is graduating into the worst economic straits since the Great Depression.

And across the country, basic rights are under assault. State after state, particularly across the South, are passing measures to suppress voting — limiting voting days, ending Sunday voting, demanding voter ID, stripping the right to vote from nonviolent drug offenders who have served their time, and more. The Supreme Court has weakened the Voting Rights Act and is rolling back affirmative action. Republicans in the Congress want to turn Medicare into a voucher, gut Medicaid and turn it into a block grant, slash food stamps, Pell grants and other support for the vulnerable. A detailed analysis by the Center of Budget and Policy Proposals finds 69 percent of the cuts in the budget just passed by Republicans in the House come from programs from poor and low wage workers.

We do well to honor Lyndon Johnson. He understood the power of government to make America better. But it is not enough to honor his legacy. It is time to stir ourselves, as he pushed himself, to not simply defend his contributions, but to extend them to meet the challenges of our day.

 

Jesse Jackson is the founder of Rainbow/PUSH.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

December 08, 2016
John W. Whitehead
Power to the People: John Lennon’s Legacy Lives On
Mike Whitney
Rolling Back the Empire: Washington’s Proxy-Army Faces Decisive Defeat in Aleppo
Ellen Brown
“We’ll Look at Everything:” More Thoughts on Trump’s $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan
John Stauber
The Rise and Fall of Obamacare: Will the Inside Story Ever be Told?
Ted Rall
Ameri-Splaining
Michael J. Sainato
Mainstream Media Continues Absolving Itself From Clinton, Trump Election Failures
Ralph Nader – Mark Green
Divest or Face Impeachment: an Open Letter to Donald Trump
Gareth Porter
US Airstrikes on Syrian Troops: Report Data Undermine Claim of “Mistake”
Martha Burke
What Trumponomics Means for Women
Ramzy Baroud
Fatah, Hold Your Applause: Palestinian Body Politic Rotten to the Core
Steve Horn
Jeff Sessions, Trump’s Attorney General Pick, Introduced First Bill Exempting Fracking from Drinking Water Rules
Joe Ware
The Big Shift: Why Banks Need to Stop Investing Our Money Into Fossil Fuels
Juliana Barnet
On the Ground at Standing Rock
Franklin Lamb
Aleppo Update: An Inspiring Return to the Bombed Out National Museum
Steve Kelly
Hidden Harmony: on the Perfection of Forests
December 07, 2016
Michael Schwalbe
What We Talk About When We Talk About Class
Karl Grossman
The Next Frontier: Trump and Space Weapons
Kenneth Surin
On Being Caught Speeding in Rural America
Chris Floyd
In Like Flynn: Blowback for Filth-Peddling Fascists
Serge Halimi
Trump, the Know-Nothing Victor
Paul DeRienzo
Flynn Flam: Neocon Ex-General to Be Trump’s National Security Advisor
Binoy Kampmark
Troubled Waters: Trump, Taiwan and Beijing
Tom Clifford
Trump and China: a Note From Beijing
Arnold August
Fidel’s Legacy to the World on Theory and Practice
Dave Lindorff
Is Trump’s Idea To Fix a ‘Rigged System’ by Appointing Crooks Who’ve Played It?
John Kirk
Cuba After Fidel
Jess Guh
Repeal of Affordable Care Act is Politics Playing with the Wellbeing of Americans
Eric Sommer
Team Trump: a Government of Generals and Billionaires
Lawrence Davidson
U.S. Reactions to the Death of Fidel Castro
John Garvey - Noel Ignatiev
Abolitionism: a Study Guide
Clancy Sigal
Caution: Conspiracy Theory Ahead!
December 06, 2016
Anthony DiMaggio
Post-Fact Politics: Reviewing the History of Fake News and Propaganda
Richard Moser
Standing Rock: Challenge to the Establishment, School for the Social Movements
Behrooz Ghamari Tabrizi
Warmongering 99 – Common Sense 0: the Senate’s Unanimous Renewal of Iran Sanctions Act
Norman Solomon
Media Complicity is Key to Blacklisting Websites
Michael J. Sainato
Elizabeth Warren’s Shameful Exploitation of Standing Rock Victory
David Rosen
State Power and Terror: From Wounded Knee to Standing Rock
Kim Ives
Deconstructing Another Right-Wing Victory in Haiti
Nile Bowie
South Korea’s Presidency On A Knife-Edge
Mateo Pimentel
Some Notes and a Song for Standing Rock
CJ Hopkins
Manufacturing Normality
Bill Fletcher Jr – Bob Wing
Fighting Back Against the White Revolt of 2016
Peter Lee
Is America Ready for a War on White Privilege?
Pepe Escobar
The Rules of the (Trump) Game
W. T. Whitney
No Peace Yet in Colombia Despite War’s End
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail