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Whatever Else, the Man Had Guts

Robin Alexander

Posted on July 26, 2018 11:07

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I compared all of this with the open wound we call a White House and the void we call a Congress. And I cried.

I’ve written in this space that I used to cry at inaugurations - in a loftily sentimental way. This past weekend I found myself crying at a movie about 1960s politics. Clearly the crying thing has taken a new turn.

The movie in question was “LBJ” starring Woody Harrelson.

Maybe it’s only based on fact with elements of fiction. I don’t know.  It doesn’t matter.

I watched the unfolding of an inflated ego mixed with insecurity, fear of not being liked, jealousy of the Kennedy clan, anxiety over legacy, an acute awareness of American history and principles, an extreme aptitude for legislative maneuvering and manipulation after a lifetime of building relationships, and displays of the coarsest bullying on either side of the Mississippi River, mixed with awe-inspiring flashes of decency and guts (we can’t forget the guts) – like a fully-formed albeit flawed human being. And I cried.

I watched the sparring of partisan politics, the severe clash of educations and ideologies and generations and geographies, as people ran all over town for power meetings and planning sessions and whispered discussions and adversarial personal harangues. But fierce as it was, with everything at stake, these men were somehow in it together (there weren’t any women anywhere, except for Lady Bird in the Johnson dining room and the black cook in the Johnson kitchen, but that’s how it was). Even adversaries respected each other on some level. And I cried.

And there was something I’d forgotten, not having lived in Texas for 40 years now -- that special something that’s just different from the Old South, alliances aside. Let’s call it the pioneering spirit. Just how much that spirit influenced LBJ I don’t know enough to say.  But I reckon it had something to do with his incredibly bold decision to go to Congress with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 refusing to negotiate or compromise, even while Kennedy’s minions were debating which points to give up on.  It wasn’t reckless, because Johnson knew exactly what he was doing. And still, he risked his entire career doing it. And I cried.

Do I need to remind everyone that he won?

It wasn’t a one-man show. As so often happens, this country-changing legislation was the result of pressure applied both internally and externally to the Beltway. It took the intensity of a martyr’s cause along with the tempest that was Johnson working from within; and it took the strength of MLK’s inspired leadership along with the tsunami that was Malcolm X working from without. And so many others … and so many others. And I cried.

LBJ‘s Great Society included  legislation promoting civil rights, a war on poverty, aid to education and the arts, Medicare, Medicaid, protection for consumers and the environment, provisions for housing and labor, and the development of rural areas.

I compared all of this with the open wound we call a White House and the void we call a Congress. And I cried.

Robin Alexander

Posted on July 26, 2018 11:07

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Source: TIME

The basic facts of what happened to Lyndon B. Johnson in the years surrounding 1963 will likely be well known to anyone...

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