If perfection were a requirement for induction the Progressive Hall of Fame would likely be empty – so would Heaven. The concept is modeled after the Baseball Hall of Fame. Just to pick two denizens off the top of my head, few would try to make a case that Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb were flawless human beings but there is no question that they were great ballplayers. I’m not even sure that today’s inductee into the Progressive Hall of Fame was a good person let alone anything approaching perfect. Nonetheless a couple of his achievements would have him standing tall in the annals of progressive history in America even if he were not 6’4” in stature. I speak of America’s 36th President Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Johnson was certainly a flawed individual. His schoolmates nicknamed him Bull – and not for physical strength. He treated his devoted wife badly including numerous affairs that she had to be aware of. Until he gained the Presidency he almost always chose the politically pragmatic over good policy despite what his heart may have been telling him.
His Presidency was far from perfect. While several presidents were involved in the Vietnam War, Johnson more than any other was directly responsible for its escalation and indirectly for many of its ugliest chapters. He was a master politician in one of the senses of the word that the public hates the most. However, in the final analysis he did more for the progressive cause than any post World War II President. In the 20th century only the Roosevelt cousins, Theodore and Franklin, rival his achievements. It was largely because he was a master politician – not a great mind – that he was able to achieve objectives others failed to.
Without Johnson’s mastery of the American political system the Civil Rights Bill of 1964, The Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Medicare would have never happened. There are other progressive achievements under his watch, but those three individually and certainly collectively warrant enshrinement. They are the baseball equivalent of a down one run down, runner on first, ninth inning, two out, 3-2 pitch home run to win the seventh game of the World Series three years in a row.
I take enshrinement in the Hall very seriously. It’s not easy for me to open the gates. Johnson is only the seventh inductee. He and five of his six predecessors are dead. There are only three currently serving politicians that I am strongly considering for induction upon their retirement. I read well over 3,000 pages while researching LBJ; for a long time I was leaning against induction and didn’t finally decide in his favor until very near the end.
I’m still not sure I can admire his methodology but facts are facts and he did more for civil rights than any President since Abraham Lincoln while making a significant addition to the New Deal programs of Franklin Roosevelt. I for one am satisfied that Lyndon Baines Johnson belongs among the immortal heroes of the American progressive movement!
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