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August 30, 2008

Johnson's Dream, Obama's Speech, from the NYT

I'm posting this column not only because it's worth reading in its own right, for Caro's erudition and eloquence, but also because I remember the great hue and cry that was raised, during the primaries, when Bill Clinton reminded people of their country's history.  (Apparently one can't allow historical fact to get in the way of idol worship.)


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I think it was Hillary who had the MLK/LBJ line.

Johnson deserves so much credit for this and so many other things -- Medicare, Medicaid, immigratioon reform, etc. He is second only to FDR in terms of progressive accomplishments and should be an honored figure in the Democratic Party. Unfortunately the war in Vietnam destroyed his legacy and the liberal coalition. We continue to pay for this sin to this day. Hopefully this election will bring an end to this curse.

And, Lyndon Johnson said, “Their cause must be our cause, too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.”

He paused, and then he said, “And we shall overcome.”

Martin Luther King was watching the speech at the home of a family in Selma with some of his aides, none of whom had ever, during all the hard years, seen Dr. King cry. But Lyndon Johnson said, “We shall overcome” — and they saw him cry then.

And now I'm crying, too. Thank you for reminding us how the seemingly-impossible can indeed be achieved when great humans work together, not against each other.

And for reminding us of LBJ's beginnings as a teacher of the poor and the non-White. And for the term "magnolia scent"--I love it! So true, too.

When I see the wildflowers along the roadsides and think of Lady Bird, and the beauty of nature she so loved and for which she actively worked to safeguard for her grandchildren's grandchildren--even as her husband worked to establish and safeguard the rights of every American to vote and be equal members of this society--I am also reminded that in matters of civil rights and environmental protection alike, we still have far to go, all these years later.

Nick, thank you. Another bit of historical fact corrected!

Lisa, the hew and cry about Senator Clinton's misreading of history had to do with issues of context and emphasis. On emphasis, the question remains, should one think about the Civil Rights movement from a top-down or bottom-up perspective. The answer, I think, is both. But Senator Clinton's offhand remark, particularly in the context of a campaign in which race-baiting seemingly became an important tactic, suggested that she viewed the movement exclusively from the top looking down. She gave leaders, and presidents especially, disproportionate credit for the movement's success.

This is hardly surprising for a Senator and former first lady. But it's also a very crimped way of thinking about a broad-based social movement, particularly a movement that the federal government only supported VERY reluctantly and VERY late in the game.

So yes, President Johnson's support of both the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts was remarkable, two of the reasons that LBJ makes my list of great American presidents. But that doesn't mean that Senator Clinton was right or that her critics were wrong.

And, if you'll allow me a question, while we're on the subject of accuracy and fealty to deeper historical truths, who, precisely, are you accusing of worshiping idols? To be clear, I'm not baiting you. I'm just interested, for the record, to know what you're talking about.

charles pierce posted this link to the speech yesterday.


Ari, there were many people, in newspapers, on blogs, at parties, and in my inbox, who were worshipping. They wouldn't brook any criticism, or even just ordinary questions, about Obama. Some stated outright that they were voting for him because he's black and they were excited that a black man was running for president (oops -- now I seem to recall that one or the other Clinton also got into trouble for calling him the black candidate). That made about as much sense as voting for Hillary simply because she's a woman. Not surprisingly, the same idol worship went on with her in certain quarters.

Neither is a good reason for voting for someone. I think it's easy to get swept up in the undeniable historic nature of this election. It is exciting, it is unprecedented, it is worth crowing about. But treating candidates as if they were simply repositories of our hopes and dreams, instead of flesh-and-blood people -- and canny political animals -- does none of us any good.

i'm with lisa on the worship thing. i ran into lots of them. and still do, though the new trick they've learned is to say they are not worshipping or adoring, as they allow absolutely no criticism of obama. i fervently hope he wins the election; i think he has the potential to be an effective president. i think the "it's about you" meme of his campaign is all too true for some---it is about them and their righteousness made flesh. a neat trick for obama to harness that to his advantage, but a bit uncomfortable for those of us who thought politics and politicians were open to discussion with our fellows citizens.


First of all "correcting the historical record?""" Ummm., hasn't Johnson's controversial and critical role always been a part of Democratic history?

As for emotional inspiration and even idol worshiping, there has been plenty of that on 2 sides of the Democratic primary this year.

Not long ago I met a young woman who said she wanted to see Barack Obama shot, the sooner the better, so that her idol could ascend to the nomination and presidency. I certainly have never seen that sort of fanaticism in the Obama camp.

Many political positions were taken during the campaign. Obama didn't give enough specific credit to the Clinton administration, Clinton didn't acknowledge (until his speech last week) that he faced the same accusations of inexperience when he was running. That's natural politics.

The convention last week was a superb display of the values Democrats share. If we want to take our country back, we need to mobilize.

If its all just about personalities, well, then I guess we should just stay on the blogs.

Ref my post above.

To eliminate any ambiguity, the young woman who desired Sen. Obama's assassination was speaking in all seriousness, not as a joke or whimsy.

So I do hope that we can all get beyond our idol worship and get down to the hard work needed to turn this country around.

Given their actions at the convention, I trust the Clintons will be doing so. They certainly realized many things were just politics, not personal. I certainly hope every good progressive will join in.


Yes. That's what I said.

Ref historical record.

I breezed through the comments too quickly. Though your post in response to Nick was a comment on the blog post itself.

Sorry for the confusion on that.

My points on a more balanced view on "idol worship" remain unanswered.

Thanks, Lisa, for clarifying. And I'm sorry that you're still mad at the whirly-eyed Obamabots. I haven't met any, personally, but I run in pretty weird circles. That said, I still think Clinton's reading of history was way off base, as I noted both at the time and above.

"Obamabots"? Oh, that's a good one. Hadn't heard that before. Are people also using "Hillarybots"? And should I be mad at them? Once again, I'm behind the curve on these things.

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