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.

 

More articles by:

Jesse Jackson is the founder of Rainbow/PUSH.

Weekend Edition
November 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Thank an Anti-War Veteran
Andrew Levine
What’s Wrong With Bible Thumpers Nowadays?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The CIA’s House of Horrors: the Abominable Dr. Gottlieb
Wendy Wolfson – Ken Levy
Why We Need to Take Animal Cruelty Much More Seriously
Mike Whitney
Brennan and Clapper: Elder Statesmen or Serial Fabricators?
David Rosen
Of Sex Abusers and Sex Offenders
Ryan LaMothe
A Christian Nation?
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Finger on the Button: Why No President Should Have the Authority to Launch Nuclear Weapons
W. T. Whitney
A Bizarre US Pretext for Military Intrusion in South America
Deepak Tripathi
Sex, Lies and Incompetence: Britain’s Ruling Establishment in Crisis 
Howard Lisnoff
Who You’re Likely to Meet (and Not Meet) on a College Campus Today
Roy Morrison
Trump’s Excellent Asian Adventure
John W. Whitehead
Financial Tyranny
Ted Rall
How Society Makes Victimhood a No-Win Proposition
Jim Goodman
Stop Pretending the Estate Tax has Anything to do With Family Farmers
Thomas Klikauer
The Populism of Germany’s New Nazis
Murray Dobbin
Is Trudeau Ready for a Middle East war?
Jeiddy Martínez Armas
Firearm Democracy
Jill Richardson
Washington’s War on Poor Grad Students
Ralph Nader
The Rule of Power Over the Rule of Law
Justin O'Hagan
Capitalism Equals Peace?
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: From the Red Sea to Nairobi
Geoff Dutton
The Company We Sadly Keep
Evan Jones
The Censorship of Jacques Sapir, French Dissident
Linn Washington Jr.
Meek Moment Triggers Demands for Justice Reform
Gerry Brown
TPP, Indo Pacific, QUAD: What’s Next to Contain China’s Rise?
Robert Fisk
The Exile of Saad Hariri
Romana Rubeo - Ramzy Baroud
Anti-BDS Laws and Pro-Israeli Parliament: Zionist Hasbara is Winning in Italy
Robert J. Burrowes
Why are Police in the USA so Terrified?
Chuck Collins
Stop Talking About ‘Winners and Losers’ From Corporate Tax Cuts
Ron Jacobs
Private Property Does Not Equal Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Mass Shootings, Male Toxicity and their Roots in Agriculture
Binoy Kampmark
The Fordist Academic
Frank Scott
Weapons of Mass Distraction Get More Destructive
Missy Comley Beattie
Big Dick Diplomacy
Michael Doliner
Democracy, Real Life Acting and the Movies
Dan Bacher
Jerry Brown tells indigenous protesters in Bonn, ‘Let’s put you in the ground’
Winslow Myers
The Madness of Deterrence
Cesar Chelala
A Kiss is Not a Kiss: Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children
Jimmy Centeno
Garcia Meets Guayasamin: A De-Colonial Experience
Stephen Martin
When Boot Becomes Bot: Surplus Population and The Human Face.
Martin Billheimer
Homer’s Iliad, la primera nota roja
Louis Proyect
Once There Were Strong Men
Charles R. Larson
Review: Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones
David Yearsley
Academics Take Flight
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail