Tom Degan

Tom Degan
Location
Goshen, New York, United States
Birthday
August 16
Bio
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: TOM DEGAN is a fifty-one year old video artist who in 2006 became so thoroughly disgusted at the state of America's national political dialogue, he decided to take time off to become a freaking civics teacher. He was born in Goshen, NY in 1958 and, after living all over the United States and Canada, moved back there in 1992. He is a high school dropout who in 1977 received an equivalency diploma (HEY, IT'S LEGAL!) He attended SUNY in Middletown, NY and in 1986 studied journalism at the New School in New York City. He is the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and has worked as a truck driver, a radio DJ, and a metal worker... OK, he didn't ACTUALLY receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, but he DID get some kind of ribbon of sorts when he was in the Cub Scouts. He is the inventor of Cheez Whiz and lives off the royalties on the sales of that fine product. He loves children and little baby duckies. FULL DISCLOSURE: He didn't really invent Cheez Whiz. His address is: 2590 Rte 17M (PO BOX 611) Goshen, NY 10924 (845) 294-5714

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MAY 14, 2012 9:28AM

LBJ: The Man We Hate to Love

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LBJ: The Man We Hate to Love

 
"I am concerned about the whole man. I am concerned about what the people, using their government as an instrument and a tool, can do toward building the whole man, which will mean a better society and a better world."

-Lyndon B. Johnson

Whenever I hear someone waxing idiotic about the "radical liberalism" of a Barack Obama or a Bill Clinton or a Jimmy Carter I'm usually torn between the urge to giggle or to vomit. Show me a person who seriously believes that the aforementioned are real live, bona fide lefties and I'll show you a person seriously lacking even a remedial understanding of the history of the United States of America. Time for a history lesson. The last, truly liberal president left the White House on January 20, 1969. His name was Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Last week, like every other history junkie in the country, I was looking forward to the publicatio
n of Robert Caro's fourth volume that ponders the life of this strange and extraordinary man. The first volume was published in 1982, Volume Three came out over a decade ago - and we still have volume five to look forward to. What a long, strange trip it's been. Caro, who is in his late seventies, has said that he is not sure he will live long enough to finish this epic biography. Keep your fingers crossed and your hands folded.

When Lyndon Johnson left the White House I was just a child and only beginning to faintly under
stand the machinations of American politics. At the dawn of 1969 all I knew about the man was that he was the president and that a lot of people (my Democratic father among them) were pretty pissed off at him. Less than a year earlier on March 31, 1968, he had stunned the country by announcing that he would not seek a second full term as president. He knew he was finished. The Vietnam war had polarized the country in general and the Democratic party - his party - in particular. The ultimate irony is the fact that he died on January 22, 1973, two days after that second term would have ended. I often wonder whether a second term would have extended his life - or killed him sooner.

Next year wi
ll mark the fortieth anniversary of the day former President Johnson died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack. Time heals all wounds as they say. For almost a half a century Lyndon Johnson has been the Democratic party's Invisible Man - much in the same way the Republicans today ignore the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt (although for entirely different reasons). To many minds, the "Great Society" of his dreams seems quaint and utopian. The man himself is seen as the anti-JFK; awkward, graceless - even vulgar. He's become the liberals' eccentric uncle - an embarrassment. It shouldn't be that way. The time is long overdue for progressives in this country to reassess this great - and greatly flawed - American.

Like his idol Franklin Roosevelt,
Lyndon Johnson loved being president - or at least until Vietnam started to consume him. His twelve years as the most powerful man in the senate and nearly three years as John F. Kennedy's vice-president had prepared him well for the job. By the time he entered the White House he knew damned-near everyone on Capitol Hill. He knew their wives. He knew their kids. He knew what they wanted and - most importantly - he knew what they feared. He knew where they were vulnerable politically - and in some cases personally! Old Lyndon was the politician's politician. The guy was the wheeler-dealer supreme. He got things done and he usually got what he wanted.

He was the type of politician that makes liberals want to tear their hair out. But for that "stupid fucking war" (as Molly Ivins always called it) he would today be remembered as one of the greatest presidents in American history. He's not. In fact he's remembered as a colossal failure of Shakespearean proportions. He trusted the "Harvards" (as he called men like Robert McNamara and Dean Rusk) to advise him on foreign and military policy and it blew up in his face, destroying his administration. His hand-picked successor, Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey, could not undo the damage done. The 1968 Democratic convention disintegrated into a police riot, the party ripped apart. The year ended with President-elect Richard Milhaus Nixon preparing to enter the White House. Remember how nicely that worked out?

"A man without a vote is man without protection."

-Lyndon Baines Johnson


LBJ'
s most outstanding legacies are the Civil and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965. When he entered the White House on November 22, 1963 (we all know what happened on that day) liberals were lukewarm toward the idea of a Johnson administration. As Democratic leader in the senate during the 1950s, his civil rights record was mediocre at best. Although he was instrumental in getting the Civil Rights Act of 1957 passed, by the time it reached the floor for a vote it had been so watered-down there wasn't much left in it - mere scraps thrown to a people starving. Within six months of taking the oath of office it was clear to everyone that LBJ was committed to the equal rights of all Americans. I'll always respect the old son-of-a-bitch for that reason alone. A long overdue tip of the hat to the guy.

When the Ci
vil Rights Act finally became the law of the land, he turned to his aids Bill Moyers and the late Jack Valenti and said to them, "Boys, we've lost the south for a generation". By "we" he was referring to the Democratic party. It turned out to be the understatement of the twentieth century. By the end of the 1960s, the racist Dixiecrats who had dominated that party in the south for over a century, fled en masse - like diseased rats - into the loving arms of the GOP. And that is where they (or their ideological descendants) reside to this day. The "solid south" has been solidly Republican ever since.

By 1980 the bigots had formed a strange alliance with the plutocrats. The result was the so-called "Reagan Revolution". Three decades later, the bigots and the plutocrats joined forces with the terminally brain-damaged. Thus was born the Tea party. Bye bye, America.

Vietnam forever - and rightly - tarnished his legacy. But his domestic achievements should not be overlooked or underrated. Barack Obama's presidency would not have been possible without the landmark civil rights legislation that Lyndon Johnson made possible. He really tried to make us a Great Society. The man's heart was usually in the right place. Vietnam notwithstanding, we owe the old bugger a deep debt of gratitude. Here's to you, Lyndon. You broke my heart but I still love you.
 

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

SUGGESTED READING:

Path to Power
by Robert Caro

Means of Ascent
by Robert Caro

Master of the Senate
by Robert Caro

The Passage of Power
by Robert Caro

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I love Caro's books and have read all of them, minus the newest one, which I have just purchased. I also loved his book, "The Power Broker," about Robert Moses.

Politics is the "art of the possible."

LBJ shows us that one can be a master at Realpolitik and still have principles. One just needs to know what one stands for.

Sadly, most liberals today don't know what they stand for and they blow around in the wind as a result.

They're mostly mush.
LBJ was a president at America's apex. And it's been pretty much a downhill journey since then. Actually, Richard Nixon was our last liberal president. Remember the EPA, EOCC, and China?
As a fellow LBJ admirer (of sorts), I thank you for this piece. Yes, the man was rude, crude, vulgar, drank too much, probably messed about too much too. But he truly thought poor people deserved better. And that injustice toward others was wrong. Better to have a vulgarian promoting good than a polished and polite politician pushing piffle and evil.
Old New Lefty....

While I wouldn't go as far as to say that Richard Nixon was our "last liberal president", I must concede your well-made point. Given the atmosphere of today's GOP, he would be perceived as a far out lefty.

Cheers!

http://www.tomdegan.blogspot.com

Tom Degan
Mary Stanik,

It took me over two hours to write that piece. You said it all in one paragraph.

Cheers!

Tom Degan
I remember LBJ as I saw the effect of desegregation in Georgia.
The early sixties brought much change and LBJ can rightly take credit for bringing it.
Vietnam and personal habits aside. I always thought he was an honorable man.
I was just a little girl during LBJ's presidency, so I never had a good handle on him as a man, politician or leader. I always just thought of him as the man who stepped up after JFK was murdered. Later, I grew to respect what he did for civil rights in the United States. You've whet my appetite for more information. I look forward to reading Caro's books. r.
LBJ's coarseness and earthiness made the Ivy League upper class students loathe him. That said, its what enabled him to understand so many southern politicians and get so many bills passed.

JFK and RFK, despite the messianic aura that surrounds them among the Phi Beta Kappa folks, really never accomplished as much, nor could they have ever accomplished, as much as LBJ.

LBJ was successful precisely because of his "class position."
I can hardly begin to tell you how much I loved this rant. It took me years to forgive LBJ for the war and begin to realise what a truly great president he was. Hell, one of the reasons I could afford to be in college and protest the war in the first place was because LBJ made college more accessible for kids from working class families like me. While people complain about politicians and Washington insiders...it's also part of the job and part of getting things done...LBJ understood politics as "The Art of the Possible"...and worked to get important things done. Getting the Civil Rights Act passed was monumental in itself. Wouldn't it be wonderful if Democrats joined together and crushed the Reaganomic Rhetoric of Small Government and once again worked to achieve the Great Society. It is odd that he is more respected and loved by Australia's older left than he is in the US. I remember ex-premier of NSW Neville Wran using LBJ's famous insider quote..."It's better to have the bastards inside the tent pissing out then outside the tent pissing in."...Thanks Mr Tom Degan.
I can hardly begin to tell you how much I loved this rant. It took me years to forgive LBJ for the war and begin to realise what a truly great president he was. Hell, one of the reasons I could afford to be in college and protest the war in the first place was because LBJ made college more accessible for kids from working class families like me. While people complain about politicians and Washington insiders...it's also part of the job and part of getting things done...LBJ understood politics as "The Art of the Possible"...and worked to get important things done. Getting the Civil Rights Act passed was monumental in itself. Wouldn't it be wonderful if Democrats joined together and crushed the Reaganomic Rhetoric of Small Government and once again worked to achieve the Great Society. It is odd that he is more respected and loved by Australia's older left than he is in the US. I remember ex-premier of NSW Neville Wran using LBJ's famous insider quote..."It's better to have the bastards inside the tent pissing out then outside the tent pissing in."...Thanks Mr Tom Degan.
It pains me to remember how often I and my roommate (who was black) used to ridicule LBJ's cornpone manner and Texas drawl, his use of phrases like "come let us reason together:" and "we shall overcome," and 'we seek no wider war." I don't think we were any better than the JFK idolizers who sneered at him for sytlistic reasons--he wasn't chic, "cool", stylish, urbane, witty, ironic. I saw a documentary a few years ago on TV that brought home to me his genuine desire to make America a better place for everyone. Digby reposted his March 15, 1965 civil righs speech and now I found it very moving, compassionate, and judicious. When we look at what came after LBJ, he looks better and better in retrospect. It was that damned war that sank his presidency and his historical legacy. I think you make that point very well. [r]
Yeah, I didn't hate him.

I probably didn't love him either.

But at some point I came to see that he got more one by accident than most presidents have gotten done on purpose...and I started to like and respect him.

I hate that I like and respect him!
Obviously that was "done" not "one."
TD, perhaps old new lefty meant that Nixon was "the last liberal REPUBLICAN president." B/c whatever pocket of hell he resides in today, Nixon would never recognize his party now...

Excellent post, BTW. I've read lately that what this country needs right now IS an LBF, precisely b/c of his negative traits as a master manipulator and a big bully. Would that Obama had enough balls to move forward even a fraction of what LBJ accomplished on the domestic front.
Oops, I meant "LBJ," not "LBF..."
"By 1980 the bigots had formed a strange alliance with the plutocrats. The result was the so-called "Reagan Revolution". Three decades later, the bigots and the plutocrats joined forces with the terminally brain-damaged. Thus was born the Tea party. " This is a new favorite!
Great post - rated.
First, an admission: I haven't read one of Caro's books. But I will. I keep promising myself.

Second, somewhere on an exposed truss for a supermarket roof in a suburban San Francisco town there is scribbled in ink "F**k LBJ" It was put there by me in 1967. I was 24 years old. I occasionally wonder if anyone ever discovered that little rant of mine.

I hated him for succeeding JFK. I hated him for his crappy speeches and I hated him for that god-awful war.

It took me years to come to understand and, yes, appreciate him. Not by his policies, but by his incredible ability to get people to do his will. He was the best politician this country has ever had of all of them from FDR forward. He was peerless.
LBJ's downfall was worthy of a Sophocles or a Shakespeare. As one who used to stand outside the White House chanting, "Hey, hey! How many kids did you kill today!," it was his ultimate moral cowardice that upset me the most.

When the moment of truth came to tell the Extreme Right, the liberal Cold Warriors and the Military-Industry Complex that the USA was saying no to their nasty little imperialist wars, LBJ failed us. It broke him as a man, caused death and destruction of Biblical proportions and put this nation on the road to perdition.

Lyndon, you could have been a contender....