Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Unsung Hero

I don't want to take anything away from all the black civil rights leaders who paved the way for Obama's victory. And I wish I could find a picture of Jesse Jackson crying last night in Grant Park, waving and American flag - I saw it on CNN and spent way too much time today trying to find the image on YouTube and Google and Flicker (if anyone can point me to a copy I would appreciate it) - but I want to take a moment to acknowledge a man too often demonized - Lyndon Johnson. Yes he was wrong on Vietnam. But he was right on civil rights, and poverty, and so much more.

When Johnson signed the the 1964 Civil Rights Act, he is quoted as saying "I have lost the South to the Democratic Party for 40 year." He was a southern Democrat and he knew of what he spoke. But he signed it anyway. Not only that, he had been its chief author, and cheer leader, and help push it through Congress, against the wishes - and votes - of many of his fellow Southern Democrats lead by Senators Al Gore Sr. (D-TN), William Fulbright (D-AR), and Robert Byrd (D-WV).

President Kennedy had been reluctant to introduce civil right legislation, but Johnson argued continuously, and ultimately effectively, for it. He then fought effectively against attempts to water it down in the Senate.And of course when Kennedy was shot, it was President Johnson who signed the bill, and then sent federal agents to enforce it throughout the south. Johnson later introduced, and had passed, the even more influential voting rights act or 1965. This act can be said to be the true beginning of Obama's victory - based as it was on overwhelming support from African Americans, many of whom would have been disenfranchised without it.

As for Johnson's prediction that the Democrats would lose the south for 40 years. In 1964, 5 deep south states voted Republican for the first time since Reconstruction, after the Civil War. Four of them have not voted Democratic since them. In 1968, the Democrats lost all 12 southern states.

In this election Obama won Virginia and Florida, looks to be taking North Carolina, and made Georgia close. Maybe Johnson's predicted 40 years in the wilderness have ended.


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