LBJ's legacy and Obama's
by Jules Witcover
President Obama's speech at the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the Civil Rights Act inevitably invited further comparisons with its ultimate champion, President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Obama pointedly talked of LBJ's crowning achievement in terms of his own political rise to the Oval Office, as a man of mixed racial heritage and the educational advantages that paved the way for his route to the presidency. Thanks to Johnson's leadership, he said at the
But the occasion also inevitably encouraged further comparisons of the Johnson and Obama presidential styles. LBJ's in-your-face aggressiveness toward
Obama in Austin cited a certain kinship between his beleaguered health-care insurance law and LBJ's efforts for what became
Johnson owed much of his success not only to his famous personal brow-beating of senators who bent to his will as perhaps the
But LBJ had more than a decade in that position to build positive working relationships there, and he faced a different breed of Republican opposition. It was personified by the
In pursuing the civil rights legislation already undertaken by John F. Kennedy before his death, Johnson invoked the tragedy of the assassination by pleading memorably to
Obama, on assuming the presidency, seemed to some members of the
LBJ's comprehensive Great Society program of social justice was also honored at the event, including his War on Poverty that many critics have declared a failure despite demonstrable gains short of "victory." That and his pursuit of the war in Vietnam remain blights on his overall presidential legacy. Without Vietnam, Johnson might have been considered among the most effective of American chief executives.
Obama's legacy is already assured as the first African-American to attain the presidency. But it is tainted so far by difficulties with his health-care law that keep it shrouded in controversy and an uncertain future. Unlike LBJ and his Vietnam albatross, however, the judgment on Obama and Obamacare is yet to be resolved, with nearly three more years left in his term.
Unlike Johnson's fate, Obama's performance as a wartime president offers hope of a more credible outcome, with American combat troops already out of Iraq and in the process of withdrawal from Afghanistan.
LBJ in 1968 said he chose to leave the presidency to concentrate on ending his war, but he failed. Obama is getting out of his wars without being able to declare real victory in either place. So, tentatively at least, the two Democratic presidents may in the end share of the same unfulfilled legacy.
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"LBJ's legacy and Obama's"