Tag Archives: LBJ

Is this the language of a head of state?

First things first … I will stipulate that I am not a language prude. I have been heard peppering my speech with pithy epithets. Curse words don’t offend me.

However, I do expect more from the president of the United States than what we hear from the current occupant of that exalted public office.

The other day he referred to Chuck Todd, moderator of “Meet the Press,” as a sleeping “son of a bitch.” It wasn’t so much that he cursed; my outrage occurs because he did so while speaking to a campaign rally, in public, into a microphone.

Do you remember his rhetorical riff about the pro football players who knelt in protest during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner,” how he said team owners should fire those “sons of bitches”?

During the campaign Trump was heard dropping f-bombs in public, the term used to describe fecal matter, along with the SOB adjective.

I get that he’s not the only high-profile politician to use salty language in public. Vice President Biden was caught whispering to President Obama after Congress passed the Affordable Care Act that it was a “big f***ing deal.” Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush once referred to a New York Times reporter as a “major league a**hole.”

Presidents Nixon and Johnson were legendary in their spewing of potty-mouth verbiage.

Prior presidents all had to face their share of critics when they would let these words fly. Trump? His base — which includes the evangelical Christian community — is silent! Weird, yes? Yeah! It is!

I continue to shake my head in utter amazement that the president of the United States, our head of state and government, continues to speak about other human beings in the manner that he does.

I expect much better of the individual who purports to speak for my country. What’s more, I am trying to figure out how I am going to explain to my granddaughter how the president gets away with using that kind of language in public.

She will hear it and, given the fine-tuned curiosity she already is exhibiting, I will need to prepare my explanation.

Wish me luck.

What happened to Lincoln’s political party?

Two hundred nine years ago, Thomas and Nancy Lincoln welcomed a little boy into their lives. Little Abraham came into the world and went on to become the 16th president of the United States of America.

I thought I would take a brief look on Little Abe’s birthday to ponder the question that has befuddled many of us today: What has become of the Party of Lincoln?

President Lincoln was elected in 1860 and re-elected in 1864. The Civil War darkened his presidency. He vowed to preserve the Union, which split apart when the Confederate States of America went to war with the United States of America.

The Party of Lincoln became known as the party that sought equality for all Americans. It strove for unity. It became the party that fought against the enslavement of black Americans. President Lincoln embodied that righteous cause.

A century after the end of the Civil War, another president — Lyndon Baines Johnson of Texas — fought to enact the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. He needed congressional Republicans to counteract the resistance he was getting from his fellow Southern Democrats who opposed both landmark pieces of legislation.

In the 50 years since LBJ’s time, the parties’ roles have reversed. Johnson predicted that the civil rights legislation would cost Democrats the South — and it has. Republicans now are the dominant party south of the Mason-Dixon Line and the GOP — not the Democrats — is now perceived by many to be the party of those opposed to the cause of civil rights.

One of the more stunning examples of that role reversal arguably occurred this past year when the current president, Republican Donald J. Trump, proclaimed that there was blame to go around on “many sides” in the riot that erupted in Charlottesville, Va. White supremacists, neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen rioted to protest the taking down of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

The president’s response was breathtaking when he said there were “many fine people — on both sides” of the dispute. Yes, the president called Klansmen, Nazis and white supremacists “fine people.”

The Republican Party once branded itself as the Party of Lincoln, largely on its history of seeking equality for all Americans and for its intolerance of racial hatred.

Wherever he is, President Lincoln is an  unhappy man.

If only we could bring Honest Abe back from the great beyond to scold his political descendants on the degradation they have heaped on the party that once bore his name.

This is not how to govern, Congress

What a way to govern … not!

Congress is fighting over how to pay for immigration measures. It cannot settle a dispute over whether to pay for construction of a wall along our nation’s southern border or whether to extend protection for those U.S. residents who were brought here when they were children as their parents sneaked into the country illegally.

The consequence of this dispute?

The government might shut down — if only partially — in the next 24 hours.

Republicans who run both congressional chambers are scrambling to find yet another stop-gap solution that will delay the next shutdown threat for a couple of weeks.

Oh, and then we have the president of the United States. Donald J. Trump reportedly is a non-player in the negotiation over how to find a longer-term solution to this problem. Media reports say that Trump is making zero phone calls to congressional leaders, suggesting he’s leaving it exclusively up to lawmakers to find an answer.

Even congressional Republicans are complaining about the lack of a “reliable partner” in the White House.

Trump torpedoes GOP strategy

I’m trying to imagine Lyndon Johnson leaving a matter such as this to Capitol Hill. The late former president came to the presidency after a distinguished career in the U.S. Senate. President Kennedy plucked him from his Senate majority leader post to run with him as vice president in 1960. LBJ never lost his congressional connections.

Trump, though, has none of that kind of history. Zero, man!

Effective governance is supposed to comprise a partnership between the legislative and executive branches of government. It’s not happening these days.

Republicans are barely talking to Democrats in Congress, and vice versa. The president, meanwhile, is maintaining a position that I suppose he might say is “above the fray.”

As a result, Congress might stumble and bumble its way to another short-term Band-Aid repair, only to wait for the next deadline to approach before we face yet another government shutdown threat.

How about trying this: Work together for a change in the hunt for common ground. Fund the government, repair the problem — and stop threatening to shut down a government that is supposed to serve all Americans all the time.


No armchair diagnoses, please

You may count me as one who takes a dim view of those who think they can diagnose medical matters from a distance.

There’s a good bit of that going around these days as it relates to the behavior of the president of the United States, one Donald John Trump Sr.

Yes, he’s acting squirrely. And yes, he tweets messages that sound as if they come from a junior high schooler. He goads a dictator with nuclear bombs. He insults media representatives, politicians and a particular book author … not to mention at least one key former White House aide.

Does any of this mean the man is certifiably crazy? Is he nuts? Is he unfit mentally to be commander in chief?

I am not qualified to answer any of that. Neither are the “experts” who keep insisting the president needs to be kicked out of office on the basis of someone’s long-distance assessment of Trump’s mental fitness.

They don’t know of which they speak.

More than 50 years ago the nation had this same discussion about the late Republican U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater, who ran for president in 1964 against President Johnson. Goldwater was deemed to be nuttier than a fruitcake because he talked openly about going to war with the Soviet Union, the world’s other great nuclear power at the time.

Someone wrote a book about Sen. Goldwater and put in writing what many were saying out loud. Goldwater sued the author for libel and won. Then came something called the “Goldwater Rule,” which disallows people from issuing medical diagnoses without examining the person about whom they are talking.

I believe we should keep that in mind as we discuss Donald Trump’s conduct of the high office he occupies.

There might be political reasons to remove this guy. They haven’t emerged; perhaps they never will emerge. Medical assessments are best left to those who get close enough to the subject to offer them.

The rest of us are just firing pot shots from the peanut gallery.

Trump declares ‘war’ on California? Hmmm …

California Democrats believe Donald John Trump has declared war on the nation’s most populous state.

They cite the president’s recent actions regarding (a) recreational marijuana use, (b) offshore oil drilling and (c) increased enforcement of immigration laws.

Let’s ponder that for a moment.

I cannot define any president’s motives. People who are  “done wrong” by presidents often accuse them of political retribution.

It was said during the late 1960s that Democratic President Lyndon Johnson hated the Texas Panhandle so much because several counties voted for Republican Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election that he took it out on the region by closing the Amarillo Air Force Base. Many longtime Panhandle residents still hold a grudge against LBJ for that decision.

Now we have the current president — a Republican — imposing policies deemed detrimental to the nation’s most staunchly Democratic state. Democrats say they are certain that Trump is angry enough to punish the state for purely partisan reasons.

I, um, don’t know about that.

Trump vs. California?

The president’s offshore drilling proposals also involve the Gulf Coast, which comprises states that all voted for Trump in 2016. Immigration enforcement? Texas, too, is affected by whatever stricter policies come from the Trump administration.

I suppose one might make a case that California’s recent legalizing of recreational pot use might be construed as some sort of payback. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the federal government is rescinding Obama administration rules softening punishment for those caught using marijuana, which the feds still consider a “controlled substance.”

And while we are talking about President Obama, I will mention that Barack Obama could have ordered one of the decommissioned space shuttles to be displayed in a museum in Texas. Hey, the state is home to the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Neil Armstrong’s first words in July 1969 from the moon’s surface were, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

Texas was shunned. Why? Well, some have said President Obama had no love for Texas, given that the state voted twice for his Republican opponents.

I am not a big fan of this kind of political conspiracy theory.

Still, California Democrats do make a fascinating point. They say Donald Trump is the first president since Dwight Eisenhower to fail to visit California during the first year of his presidency.

Hey, the state qualifies as the world’s fifth-largest economy.

What gives, Mr. President?

U.S. needs to get back into manned space exploration

I grew up waiting for and watching space launches from Cape Canaveral, Fla. They thrilled me to the max and I still miss waiting for those launches.

Accordingly, I was heartened to hear Donald Trump call for a return to manned space flight. The president’s signature this week on a directive for NASA to develop a return of human explorers to the moon and to launch missions to Mars won’t guarantee it will get done, but my hope springs eternal that the space agency will kick start its effort to return to American-made space travel.

The space shuttle program got grounded before Trump took office nearly a year ago. The three remaining flight-ready spacecraft — Atlantis, Endeavor and Discovery — were sent to boneyards around the country under an order signed by President George W. Bush. We’re still sending astronauts into space, where they’re doing important scientific research.

NASA praises Trump

But they’re flying aboard Russian rockets. I’m trying to imagine how Presidents Kennedy and Johnson would react to knowing that tidbit.

Donald Trump said his directive aims to return the United States to its leadership role in space travel. I do hope it comes to pass.

NASA already is developing a new launch vehicle it hopes will be ready for deployment on missions to the moon and beyond. There’s launch date set yet. Indeed, test flights are still beyond the foreseeable future.

“NASA looks forward to supporting the president’s directive strategically aligning our work to return humans to the moon, travel to Mars and opening the deeper solar system beyond,” said acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot.

Of course it does. It should.

President Kennedy declared in 1961 that the United States would send humans to the moon “and return (them) safely to the Earth” by the end of the 1960s. “We don’t do these because they are easy,” he said. “We do them because they are hard.”

He energized the nation, which was caught flat-footed when the then-Soviet Union was first to launch a satellite and then was first to send a human into space. JFK was having no part of playing second fiddle to the Soviets.

We aren’t engaged in a Cold War these days, although that’s becoming more debatable in light of the current geopolitical climate.

Still, my hope is that the president’s directive lights a fire under NASA’s engineers and scientists as they continue their work to restore our country to its place as the world’s premier space trailblazer.

POTUS uses executive authority … but wait!

I normally wouldn’t complain about Donald Trump’s use of executive authority, given that he’s doing what the Constitution allows him to do.

But you see, the president has been a royal pain in the posterior over his gripes about the executive orders signed by the man he succeeded, Barack H. Obama.

Now he has set a sort of dubious record. Trump has just signed his 49th executive order, the most orders signed at this stage of the presidency since President Lyndon Baines Johnson. The LBJ standard stood for the past 50 years.

CNN reports: Why does it matter? Because Trump was a vociferous critic of then-President Barack Obama’s use of executive orders — casting them as a purposeful end-run of the legislative branch.

I happen to believe strongly in presidential prerogative. Trump is using the authority granted to him by the U.S. Constitution.

But the president doesn’t respect that the same authority also has been bestowed on others who came before him. President Obama’s use of that authority often came amid strong criticism by those who were hell bent on opposing everything he sought to do.

Trump was among those critics.

Trump signs ’em quickly

Given that the president has been unable to push any significant legislation through Congress in the nine months he’s been in office, it stands to reason he would rely on the executive authority he has been handed.

Except that he launched a ridiculous tirade against Barack Obama for doing the very thing that he, too, had the power to do.

Oh, by the way, President Obama signed 26 executive orders at the same point in his presidency … a little more than half of what Trump has signed. I won’t say that Trump is abusing his authority.

But still …

Is the party over for ACA repeal? Let’s hope so

On the day earlier this summer when he voted “no” on a plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., made an impassioned plea for the body where he has served for three decades to return to “regular order.”

Meaning that both parties, Democrats and Republicans, need to work for common ground, to seek compromise, to actually get things done for the good of the citizens they all serve.

The Vietnam War hero’s plea fell on deaf ears. Senate Republicans decided — against logic and good judgment — to proceed yet again with a GOP-only repeal of the ACA.

Sen. McCain has stuck the shiv into the GOP’s efforts by announcing he plans to vote “no” once again on this ACA repeal effort. It likely blows the effort to smithereens. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., will vote against it because it doesn’t go far enough in getting rid of the vestiges of the ACA; Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is a likely “no” vote, as is Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

Senate Republicans — who have hardly any room for defections given their slim Senate majority — face a Sept. 30 deadline to get this deal done with a 50-vote plus one (Vice President Mike Pence) majority; after that, Senate rules return to a 60-vote supermajority requirement.

So, what about that “regular order” thing that McCain sought earlier this year?

The ACA isn’t perfect. It likely isn’t even a good piece of legislation. Barack Obama’s signature bill needs work. It needs to be amended, nipped and tucked. To do that, though, requires that “regular order” that McCain wants to see restored. That would mean bipartisan cooperation, the search for commonality.

That’s how legislation gets done.

President Lyndon Johnson knew how to legislate. He employed his overpowering persuasive skills to bring Republicans along. President Richard Nixon was no slouch, either, at working with Democrats. Nor were Presidents Ford, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton or Bush 43.

President Obama needed to work better at developing that skill. Then again, the Republican intransigence was too big a hurdle for him to overcome.

Sen. McCain has called repeatedly for a return to the old way of legislating. His decision today only drives home that call even more deeply.

The question now becomes: Is anyone in a leadership position going to heed those calls ever again on Capitol Hill?

Recalling a chance meeting with an architect of tragedy

Watching the PBS documentary series “The Vietnam War” brings to mind a chance meeting I had in late 1995 with one of the villains of that national tragedy … Robert McNamara.

I like telling the story, so I’ll provide it here knowing, of course, that it involves only two people — and one of them is dead.

Morris Communications Corp. had convened a meeting of newspaper editors and publishers in Washington, D.C., to discuss how the group had planned to cover the upcoming 1996 presidential election. I was editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News, so I got to attend the meeting.

One Sunday morning right after we arrived, we had a day off. I took the time to walk from the hotel to Arlington National Cemetery. The morning was quiet. Traffic was light. Streets had few pedestrians.

I waited at a corner for the light to turn green so I could cross. I noticed an elderly gentleman walking toward me from another corner. He was carrying a shopping bag full of groceries.

I looked and then looked more intently at the gentleman. It was Robert McNamara, secretary of defense during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. He had just published a book, “In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam.”

In the book, McNamara acknowledged that he knew as early as 1963 that the Vietnam War was a lost cause. He also admitted that he kept quiet about what he believed at the time. He continued to advise Presidents Kennedy and Johnson to keep sending young men to die in Vietnam.

I was one of the young men he allowed to go to Vietnam; I got my orders in the spring of 1969 and reported for duty at Marble Mountain, Da Nang, to work on Army surveillance aircraft.

I was filled at the time of the book’s publication with anger that McNamara would have kept those thoughts so damn private, that he wouldn’t have spoken out in real time about what he believed about the future of that tragic conflict.

He approached me on that quite D.C. street that Sunday morning. “Mr. Secretary,” I said, “I want to introduce myself. My name is John Kanelis. I live in Amarillo, Texas and I just want to tell you how pissed off I am at you after learning about what you wrote in that book you just published. I was one of those men you sent to Vietnam.”

McNamara smiled and said, simply, “You are a very observant young man.” I smiled back at him and offered a conciliatory follow-up. “I am glad that you finally came clean,” I said.

He thanked me. We shook hands and he walked away.

I continued on to Arlington National Cemetery and paid my respects to President Kennedy and his brother, Robert Kennedy.

And I felt better for getting those thoughts off my chest.

ACA is actually doing what it’s supposed to do

Let’s talk about health insurance, OK?

The highly partisan agency, the U.S. Census Bureau, has come up with some data that illustrate the difficulty the Republicans in Congress — and the pseudo-Republican in the White House — have had difficulty in repealing the Affordable Care Act.

The Census Bureau reports that the rolls of uninsured Americans has continued to decline since the enactment of the ACA. It’s now down to 8.8 percent this past year, down 0.3 percent from 2015.

Prior to implementation of the ACA, the uninsured rate stood at 13.3 percent, according to the Census Bureau.

Oh, by the way, I’m joking about the Census Bureau being full of partisan hacks.

The news isn’t all good for the ACA. A Gallup Poll indicates an increase in uninsured Americans stemming largely from the uncertainty over the ACA’s future.

Mend it, don’t end it.

I remain committed to the notion, though, that the ACA can be fine-tuned, improved, tweaked and tinkered with. It need not be scrapped, tossed onto the scrap heap, which is what congressional Republicans and Donald J. Trump want to do.

Need I remind readers of this blog that Medicare’s enactment in 1965 was followed by the a round of tinkering? President Lyndon Johnson managed to persuade his fellow Democrats and his many Republican allies on Capitol Hill to improve the landmark health insurance program. The program works well for elderly Americans.

Why in the name of compromise and cooperation can’t we find that formula today? What is stopping congressional Republicans who control Capitol Hill from working hand-in-glove with Democrats to improve the ACA? President Barack Obama implored both sides on Capitol Hill to improve it if they were so inclined; he said he was all in on any effort to make the ACA work better for more Americans.

Republicans were having none of it. “We gotta repeal it!” they bellowed. Well, they had their chance after Trump got elected president. The president failed to deliver the goods. GOP leaders in Congress failed as well. The ACA remains the law. It figures to stay that way for the foreseeable future — if not longer.

Republicans say they intend to keep yapping about repealing the ACA and replacing it with something else. The voices are growing a bit more muted in sticking to that mantra.

That’s fine with me. Repeal isn’t the only answer. Surely there’s a way to make the ACA work for even more Americans.