The Kennedy Assassination>Lyndon Johnson>Great Society>Barack Obama
I need to be up in about five hours, so naturally I can’t sleep. Sleep always seems to work like that; if I’ve got a paper due or need to read, I’m falling asleep in my chair. Then, the minute I want to get to sleep, I can’t. Frustrating. I wanted to blog something, but I didn’t have anything on my mind grapes, as Tracy Jordan would say. I started looking through my computer for old pictures, and came across this one that I’ve always liked:
On the day he was assassinated in Dallas, angry protestors handed out these fliers. During my junior and senior year of high school, I got really into the Kennedy assassination, a fascination that has continued up to today. It all started when I watched Oliver Stone’s classic film JFK, which had me thinking that the assassination was a part of a massive conspiracy involving Lyndon Johnson and the CIA. I still think it was a conspiracy, but I’m not so sure that LBJ was involved.
I wrote a paper a couple years ago where I argued that, had Kennedy not been assassinated, Obama probably never would have been elected. Here’s why: the slaying led to a landslide victory for Lyndon Johnson (he beat conservative wing-nut Barry Goldwater by almost 400 electoral votes), which gave him a huge mandate. Johnson used the emotions left over from Kennedy’s death as well as his own political maneuvering to enact a huge number of liberal reforms. Among these was the monumental Civil Rights Act of 1964. This landmark piece of legislation outlawed “unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public.” Although it would be a while before it would be fully enforced, this was a huge victory for minorities and women.
Had Lee Harvey Oswald not gunned down JFK in 1963, the Civil Rights Act would probably never have happened. Kennedy was a fairly liberal president, but he was preparing for a tough campaign. The Bay of Pigs had shaken his popularity and the nation was divided over Vietnam and a number of domestic issues. It is highly unlikely that Kennedy, had he won the election, would have had a mandate. Johnson was able to use the sympathy surrounding Kennedy’s death to push his “Great Society” and the most liberal political agenda in U.S. history. Unfortunately, the backlash from these policies played a large part in the rise of the conservative Republican movement (Nixon, Reagan, Pat Buchanan, etc.) and the fracturing of the country which still exists today, but that’ s a story for another day.
Two final things. First, I can say with a pretty high degree of certainty that without LBJ and the Civil Rights Act, it’s doubtful that Barack Obama would be our president today. In 1963, schools, restaurants and many other public institutions were still largely segregated. A few months after coming into office, Johnson set in motion the legislation that would make this horrific system a thing of the past. The second thing is about the image of Johnson himself. I’m not saying he’s a great president or even a half-way decent human being. He lied to just about everyone about Vietnam and cost the lives of thousands of Americans in a pointless war. But in terms of his domestic policy, he should be lauded for what he accomplished.