Johnson was a man of his time, and bore those flaws as surely as he sought to lead the country past them ~ Quote from a 4/11/2014 article "Lyndon Johnson was a civil rights hero. But also a racist" by Adam Serwer. Via MSNBC.
One of the primary things the 36th President of the United States (1963–1969), Lyndon Baines Johnson, is known for is signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. As Johnson feared, signing this legislation meant the Southern vote was lost to the Democratic Party for a generation or more. Because LBJ signed these bills is why the South is solidly Republican today. Republicans - as well as Conservatives - HATE the fact that LBJ signing this legislation resulted in a flip from Republicans being the party that "freed the slaves" and the Democrats being the racists to the Republicans representing the racists and African Americans overwhelmingly voting Democratic.
Quotes At Odds
This anger regarding Democrats and the African American vote explains why Conservatives, when the topic comes up, often/usually proffer a specific LBJ "quote" that has him saying he signed Civil Rights legislation in order to trick Black folks into voting for Democrats.
|Lyndon Baines Johnson 1963... "These Negroes, they're getting pretty uppity these days and that's a problem for us since they've got something now they never had before, the political pull to back up their uppityness. Now we've got to do something about this, we've got to give them a little something, just enough to quiet them down, not enough to make a difference... I'll have them niggers voting Democratic for the next two hundred years". (Source).|
When I blogged about this on 1/22/2014 (SWTD #228) I referred to the quote as "highly dubious". This was my conclusion based (in part) on LBJ's White House Press Secretary Bill Moyers reflections on LBJ's thoughts following his signing of the legislation.
|Bill Moyers: When he signed the act he was euphoric, but late that very night I found him in a melancholy mood as he lay in bed reading the bulldog edition of the Washington Post with headlines celebrating the day. I asked him what was troubling him. "I think we just delivered the South to the Republican party for a long time to come", he said. (as quoted on page 167 of the 2004 book, Moyers on America).|
I said "highly dubious" because these two secondhand quotes obviously don't square with one another. If Civil Rights only amounted to "a little something" but was "not enough to make a difference" then why would LBJ (according to Moyers) worry about delivering the South to the Republicans? And if it was "not enough to make a difference", then what of the claim that LBJ signed the legislation "because he thought it was politically expedient"? .
Are we to believe that LBJ signed the legislation because it would cause (or trick) African Americans into voting Democratic (and therefore signing the legislation was "politically expedient") but that he would also worry about "deliver[ing] the South to the Republican party for a long time to come"?
Either LBJ cravenly signed the legislation because he believed it would be advantageous for him to do so (because Blacks would be tricked into "voting Democratic for the next two hundred years") or he signed it for the right reasons KNOWING doing so would "[deliver] the South to the Republican party for a long time to come". Believing both quotes (the one provided by Kessler and the other via Moyers) accurately represent LBJ's reasoning and worries is illogical.
Was It Kessler or Moyers Who Lied?
So LBJ used the N-word a lot and was obviously fairly racist. He was also "a man of his time, and bore those flaws as surely as he sought to lead the country past them"... The point is he championed the bill and he signed it - angering the racist Southern Democrats and losing the Southern vote for the Democrats. So much for "political expediency".
This is why I don't believe the quote from Ronald Kessler's book. Although I do not believe this necessarily means Ronald Kessler lied. Despite working for the far-Right NewsMax and authoring a book titled In The President's Secret Service. A book that some describe as "the juiciest gossip he could get... mixed... with a rambling list of [Secret Service Agent] complaints".
I think he might have lied given that resume. More likely? The quote might be genuine, but the sentiment was not. As the following rated "best" comment from Reddit's "Ask Historians", which "aims to provide serious, academic-level answers to questions about history", explains.
|...the quote is attributed to LBJ in Ronald Kessler's book, and was supposedly said to two southern governors. But in the absence of a reliable objective record of that quotation, among the best sources to answer your question are the presidential recordings made during the Johnson administration, which I've listened to at length during my undergrad studies. Several hundred conversations were recorded dealing with issues of racial politics and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.|
Now, a quote like [the one from Kessler's book] is not found in any of these recordings... But they do provide excellent insight into how LBJ talked about these issues in private. For example, it is simply undisputed that LBJ did use the prevailing southern racial slurs of the time... That being said, for a rural-born white Texan in the late 1960s, the collected recordings show that LBJ had some astonishingly progressive views on race in America, but his nomenclature leaves something to be desired.
It is also worth noting that LBJ knew his audience, and would speak differently to a Georgia state legislator than, say, a Connecticut governor. It's very difficult to tell when LBJ is putting on an act for audience or when he's speaking with his "true" voice. Additionally, I tend to detect a bit of self-aware irony in some of LBJ's discussion of these issues. I think that's key to understanding how LBJ could say the most radically progressive statements while simultaneously using a racial slur.
...it seems unlikely that we will ever know if those exact words were uttered... [but] ...It's the kind of thing LBJ might say to a Dixiecrat to convince them not to oppose the CRA. Thus, if anyone got "tricked" over the CRA, it wasn't black America - it was Southern conservative democrats. In other words... while the quote might be genuine, the sentiment was not.
...I am convinced that LBJ is putting on an act to these two southern governors to quiet their rancor over his pursuit of the CRA... that this single quote, robbed of its context, would be used by some to imply that LBJ was a heartless racist manipulator [is a] notion that I think the historical record soundly disproves. (Excerpt from Reddit by x--BANKS--x).
Sure, this reply might be easy to dismiss as "opinion", but I think the argument is solid and I agree with it. Solid because, as the Reddit author points out, the sentiment contained in the quote (from Kessler's book) is inconsistent with past comments... those that were recorded for posterity. LBJ championed and signed the CRA to "to eliminate the last vestiges of injustice in our beloved country [and] to close the springs of racial poison"... as he stated when he spoke to the American people in a televised address after signing the legislation.
Re Libertarian Blogger Who Claims Thom Hartmann Says Kessler Fabricated LBJ Quote
|Willis Hart: On Partisan Stooge, Thom Hartmann, Suggesting that a 2-Time Winner of the Peabody Award and an Individual Who Has Consistently Criticized Presidents From Both Parties Would Risk His Entire Career and Reputation to Create Out of Whole Cloth a Quote Simply to Tarnish a Fellow (Lyndon Baines Johnson) Who Everybody Already Knew was a Racist... Exceedingly bizarre and yet par for the course. (10/22/2014 AT 4:05pm).|
What is TRULY "exceedingly bizarre" is Willis attributing (and slamming) Lefty radio talker Thom Hartmann for something he absolutely NEVER said. I assume that Willis took a look at my previous post on this subject (SWTD #228), misread what I wrote, and then decided (based on his misreading of my commentary) to label Thom Hartmann, a man who has demonstrated an extremely high level of integrity, shamelessly as a "partisan stooge" (SWTD #66).
I did do a Google search to see if I could find such a statement by Mr. Hartmann... but, nothing. So I presume Willis glanced at my prior commentary and misread A CALLER mentioning the quote came from Kessler's book as Thom Hartmann saying Kessler lied. I did link to it in a comment on the rAtional nAtion blog, and Willis saw my comment and posted a reply.
But Willis is wrong, as this summary of the exchange from the 10/23/2013 airing of the Thom Hartmann Program proves (as quoted in SWTD #228).
|Caller: [the quote] has never been corroborated by anyone else. [Kessler] is the only person who ever alleged that LBJ said that... that I can find.|
Thom Hartmann: [it] doesn't make any sense that LBJ would say such a thing... it's not how he spoke; it's not how he thought; and it certainly wasn't his motivation. ... Thanks for sharing that with us.
Perhaps the argument could be made that THE CALLER implied Kessler lied - although all he actually said was that he could not find the quote verified by anyone else. And Thom Hartmann only said "Thanks for sharing that with us". But in the mind of Willis Hart that's the same as Thom Hartmann out and out accusing Kessler of fabricating a quote? Bizarre indeed.
More Questionable "Facts" from The Libertarian Blogger
Concerning the Hartster's reply to my comment about the LBJ quote from Kessler's book, Willis submitted the following diatribe...
|Willis Hart: BS (the same guy who accused Nixon and Reagan of treason on far more flimsy grounds). LBJ said this on Air Force One to not one but two governors and Kessler has it on tape... And take a listen to this from your racist hero who consistently opposed civil rights legislation (including the 1957 Civil Rights Act initially) and who only did a 180 when he decided to run for President [Link to YouTube Video]. My God, even MSNBC has conceded that Johnson was a racist [Link (10/22/2014 AT 02:23:00 AM EDT & 10/22/2014 AT 02:37:00 AM EDT).|
Who are these two governors and where is the tape? I presume the governors are not named (conveniently), because I found the quote easily, but NOTHING in regards to who these governors might be. Likely Dixicrats LBJ was attempting to bamboozle into supporting (or at least not opposing) him when it came to the CRA.
And I've never see anything concerning a audiotape, which I find odd. If it existed WHY would there be so much discussion regarding whether the quote is genuine or not? If there were a tape we would KNOW it was genuine. Instead Willis links to a YouTube video I've heard before (a commenter who responded to my last LBJ commentary posted a link to it).
As for the "My God, even MSNBC has conceded that Johnson was a racist" (Willis' link is to the article I quote at the top of my commentary)... Willis misreads what I wrote AGAIN! I said the quote was fake and that "LBJ never said he was going to trick N-words into voting Democratic". I did not say LBJ was not racist. But Willis calls BS on that "assertion" anyway. My God.
I will, however, walk back my referring to the quote as "fake"... a smidge. It might be fake or it might have been an example of code-switching (speaking to racists using racist language), but it absolutely did not represent how he viewed the "Ni**er bill" (the CRA).
|In conservative quarters, Johnson's racism – and the racist show he would put on for Southern segregationists – is presented as proof of the Democratic conspiracy to somehow trap black voters with, to use Mitt Romney's terminology, "gifts" handed out through the social safety net. But if government assistance were all it took to earn the permanent loyalty of generations of voters then old white people on Medicare would be staunch Democrats. So at best, that assessment is short sighted and at worst, it subscribes to the idea that blacks are predisposed to government dependency. (excerpt from MSNBC article quoted at the top of this commentary).|
That African Americans are predisposed to government dependency is obviously a racist argument. Is Willis making this argument? I asked but he did not answer. But Conservatives think all (or most) poor people are lazy and want "unearned gifts" so they can continue in their slothful ways. So, it isn't necessarily racist, but it is still pretty damn insulting if you ask me - to suggest Black people have been tricked into voting Democratic. And the blogger Willis Hart definitely suggests this (i.e. his "subsiding poverty" BS).
The Party of the Real Racists (Currently)
In any case, it's obvious Conservatives and Libertarian continue to attack LBJ for signing the CRA because they KNOW African Americans vote Democratic because the Democratic Party is on their side. In this regard they are SMARTER than many poor and middle class Whites who vote against their own best interest (by voting Republican).
But the TRUTH is these Conservative arguments which attempt to strip LBJ of this accomplishment are all bullpucky. He didn't sign it for "political expediency" or to "trick" Black folks into voting Democratic, as LBJ's signing of the legislation HURT the Democratic Party by delivering delivered the South to the Republican party for a long time to come.
But Republicans continue to argue that it's Democratic politicians who are the "real racists". The Kessler LBJ "quote" their "proof" that Blacks are being tricked into voting Democrat by giving them "a little something" (voting rights and welfare "gifts") in order to "quiet them down"... and get them dependent on the Democratic Party. But this is a racist argument, as I already pointed out.
And it is the GOP that embraced the racists after the Democrats abandoned them. Initially with Nixon's Southern Strategy - done for political expediency, unlike LBJ. And continuing to this day with their state-based disenfranchisement strategies (SWTD #171 and SWTD #172). Made possible with an assist from the Conservative SCOTUS judges.
So, LBJ a racist? Sure, but he also ended the racism of the Democratic Party, for which he absolutely deserves credit. And not for reasons of "political expediency"... that was Richard Nixon who decided the way for the Republicans to win was to embrace the racists. And the GOP is still embracing them. Proof is their going whole hog with the disenfranchisement route while lying that they're acting to prevent "rampant voter fraud" (which is a myth).
In short, that is what matters. The GOP could join with the Democrats and reject racism. But they would suffer as the Democrats suffered after LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Democrats did it - bit the bullet and did the right thing - but the Republicans aren't willing to. In fact, they've done the exact wrong thing. And every indication is that they intend on continuing to do the wrong thing for as long as they possibly can.
For example, NJ governor Chris Christie recently urged voters to elected Republican governors so the GOP will be in charge of the "voting mechanism" in 2016. Obviously Mr. Christie sees his path to the White House as one that will require the GOP maximizing their cheating.
Political Expediency Then A Change of Course
As for LBJ's previous opposition to Civil Rights legislation - this is true. From 1937 when LBJ was first elected to the US House of Representatives until early 1957, Johnson consistently voted against any such legislation. But later in 1957 he reversed course.
|President Barack Obama: On one level, it's not surprising that anyone elected in Johnson's era from a former member-state of the Confederate States of America resisted civil-rights proposals into and past the 1950s. But given Johnson's later roles spearheading civil-rights measures into law including acts approved in 1957, 1960 and 1964, we wondered whether Johnson's change of course was so long in coming. (an excerpt from Obama's address during the Civil Rights Summit at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library on April 10, 2014).|
Obama also noted the following concerning Johnson's early career in politics...
|Barack Obama: ...he was ambitious, very ambitious, a young man in a hurry to plot his own escape from poverty and to chart his own political career. And in the Jim Crow South, that meant not challenging convention.|
So maybe it was "politically expedient" to not challenge convention because he would have had no career in politics otherwise... but eventually he did the right thing. Even though it proved NOT to be politically expedient for the Democratic Party. But, even *if* you believe Johnson's flip was for expediency, consider this... which is better - doing the right thing for political expediency as Johnson did (if you believe that was his reasoning), or doing the wrong thing for political expediency as Nixon did with the Southern Strategy? .
My conclusion is that I'm sticking with calling the quote fake with the caveat that, if he did say it, it is an example of code-switching, in that he was telling these "two governors" what they wanted to hear. Because it's total BS that LBJ would speak of "tricking" Blacks in voting Democratic and then worry about what he did benefiting the Republicans. It's completely illogical. This said, however, while acknowledging that LBJ was pretty racist. But also a Civil Rights hero.
Video Description: President Lyndon Johnson using the "N" word. This video, which WTNPH links to in his comment above, is audio of LBJ on the phone in the White House - and NOT the "has it on tape" audio Kessler *might* have recorded on Air Force One (0:44).
 "LBJ... only promoted and signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1965 Voting Rights Act because he thought it was politically expedient. He disagreed violently and kept it a secret"... according to "The Relentless Conservative". Quote from a 8/24/2011 Huffington Post article, "The Democratic Party's Two-Facedness of Race Relations".
 Nixon quote re the Southern Strategy... "From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don't need any more than that... but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That's where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats".