Tag Archives: LBJ

When does POTUS become too much of a ‘distraction’?

You hear it all the time from public officials who get embroiled in public controversy or scandal, if you wish to call it that.

“I don’t want to become a distraction,” they say. “Being such a distraction makes it impossible for me to do my job. Therefore, I resign from this office to make way for public policy to continue without these other side issues swirling around.”

With that, I believe it’s fair to ask: When does a president of the United States of America himself become too much of a “distraction” for his agenda?

Let me say this straight up and straight out: I do not believe Donald J. Trump is going to resign. Nor do I believe he should quit … at least not yet.

A man nominated to join the U.S. Supreme Court testified today before the Senate Judiciary Committee. That’s a huge deal, yes? Then, kaboom! The New York Times publishes an anonymously written op-ed from a senior White House official saying that he or she is part of a team effort to protect the United States from the president’s more dangerous impulses.

This essay comes directly on the heels of a preview of a book, “Fear,” written by The Washington Post legendary Bob Woodward, that speaks to the interminable chaos, confusion and, yes, “fear” within the White House.

How does the president govern with all these, um, “distractions” threatening to swallow him whole.

President Johnson said on March 31, 1968 that he could not put his own political future ahead of the issues troubling the nation; he told the nation that “I will not seek, and will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your president.”

Six years later, President Nixon spoke of distraction, too, as he tendered his resignation in the wake of the Watergate scandal. He couldn’t govern. He couldn’t move any legislative priorities forward.

What is the threshold? Where does it rest? When do these “distractions” become too much even for a president who calls himself a “stable genius” and a self-proclaimed expert on every issue known to the presidency?

These are questions that well might begin to boil to the top of the public discourse over what we’re witnessing in real time.

If LBJ could attend RFK’s funeral …

What makes the Donald Trump exclusion from John McCain’s funeral so very bizarre is that their hatred for each other barely rivals the open hostility felt between two other political giants that didn’t interfere one of them from paying tribute to the other.

President Lyndon Johnson hated Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. The feeling was quite mutual. Yet when RFK was gunned down in Los Angeles in June 1968, LBJ found time to deliver a televised statement saluting Sen. Kennedy’s service to the country.

Then he took the time to attend RFK’s funeral in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

Sen. McCain made it clear he didn’t want the president to attend his funeral. It would be in the president’s best interests to heed the late, great American war hero’s desire.

The LBJ-RFK rift, though, and the fact that the president paid his respects to the late senator makes this latest statement of mistrust and disrespect so darn strange.

Longing for a return of bipartisan ceremony

I cannot remember the last time I saw a president posing for pictures with politicians of both major political parties.

You remember those days, right? President Lyndon Johnson signed landmark civil rights legislation into law, and handed pens out to Republicans and Democrats gathered around him.

President Richard Nixon did the same thing with, say, creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Same with President Ronald Reagan as he signed significant tax legislation.

President Bill Clinton worked hand in glove with Republican congressional leaders to balance the federal budget and both sides sought to take credit for that noble achievement. Fine. Let ’em!

I remember the time not long after 9/11 when GOP President George W. Bush embraced Democratic Senate Leader Tom Daschle on the floor of the House after delivering a speech that called the nation to arms after the terror attacks.

These days, presidents are photographed only with pols of their own parties. President Barack Obama would be photographed at bill signings only with Democrats. The current president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, meets almost exclusively with Republicans and wouldn’t be caught dead sharing space with Democrats.

Legislating is a team sport. Teamwork often requires pols of both parties to work together.

We see so little of it these days, and indeed over the course of at least two presidential administrations. Republicans and Democrats have declared the other guys to be the enemy. They aren’t just mere opponents.

It’s a toxic time in Washington, D.C. It is threatening to poison the system for far longer than can possibly benefit the cause of good government.

McCain wants Trump to stay away, but wait …

Sen. John McCain reportedly has made his feelings known about Donald J. Trump: He doesn’t want the president of the United States to attend his funeral, according to what the media are reporting.

That is Sen. McCain’s call. I won’t challenge it, nor should anyone else.

But let me put out just another perspective on this kind of antipathy and whether it should follow someone to the grave.

Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was running for president when a gunman shot him to death on June 5, 1968. He sought to succeed President Lyndon Johnson, a man he detested with virtually every fiber of his being. What’s more, the feeling was so very mutual, as LBJ loathed RFK with equal fervor.

Sen. Kennedy was just 42 years of age when he died and likely didn’t give much thought to who should attend his funeral, let alone express it to anyone close to him.

RFK’s requiem took place at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Among the attendees were President Johnson, along with first lady Lady Bird Johnson.

It was generally known in 1968 that Sen. Kennedy and President Johnson detested each other. I don’t recall in the moment much public discussion about whether the president should attend the funeral of his bitter political foe.

So, he did.

It begs the question, though, for the present day: Given Sen. McCain’s reported desire that Donald Trump stay away from his funeral, should the president honor the senator’s request when that sad day arrives?

The nature of today’s media climate suggests to me the president would be smart to stay away. Memories are long and my hunch is that Trump’s presence at a ceremony that would pay tribute to a war hero whose service he once denigrated would dilute the honor that Sen. McCain will so richly deserve.

O’Rourke making a return to the Panhandle

I’m thinking a good friend and former colleague is right about Beto O’Rourke’s unfolding political strategy.

The Democratic challenger to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is crawling back into the belly of the beast — so to speak — in May. O’Rourke is planning an Amarillo town hall meeting on May 13. I understand details are coming out soon.

My old pal theorized during a recent visit my wife and I made to the Golden Triangle that O’Rourke, who hails from El Paso, is seeking to cut his expected losses in heavily Republican rural Texas. Meanwhile, the Democratic congressman is hoping to hold on to his base of progressive support in urban Texas.

So, the theory goes as explained to me by my buddy: If O’Rourke can avoid getting skunked in the country and hold his own in the big cities, he wins the November election against The Cruz Missile.

Indeed, the idea that O’Rourke is coming back yet again to the unofficial heart of Texas Republicanism tells me that the young man is serious about this part of the state.

I’m sure he’s been told the story — or the myth, depending on your point of view — about how President Lyndon Johnson closed the Amarillo Air Force Base in the late 1960s because so many Panhandle counties voted for Sen. Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election.

Fact check: Of the 26 counties comprising the Panhandle, exactly eight of them went for Goldwater. That was eight too many to suit the Texan who was serving as president of the United States, or so the legend goes in these parts.

I won’t argue the point here about whether LBJ was pi**** off enough to put thousands of Texans out of work by closing the air base.

The point, though, is that a young Democratic candidate for statewide office is coming here to make his case for why he should be elected over a Republican incumbent U.S. senator.

Yes, I want him to win. Now that we have (re)established that bias, my hope is that his political brain trust isn’t sending him on a fool’s errand with a town hall meeting in the belly of the beast.

2018: the year of memorable commemorations

Fifty years in a marriage is a big deal, I trust you’d agree.

It’s the “golden anniversary” of a couple’s taking vows to stay together “for as long as you both shall live.”

This year marks the 50th year since the occurrence of astonishingly important historical events. I hesitate to call many of these occurrences “anniversaries,” given that very word connotes a happy event. What we’re going to mark as this year progresses too often are much less than that.

For instance:

  • On Saturday, it will be the 50th year since President Lyndon Johnson announced the suspension of bombing in North Vietnam — and then told the nation he “would not seek, nor … accept my party’s nomination for another term as your president.”
  • This coming Wednesday marks the date 50 years ago that James Earl Ray assassinated the great Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was standing on that motel balcony. I’ll have more to say about that in a few days.
  • Fifty years ago on June 5, 1968, U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy — my first political hero — won the California Democratic Party presidential primary, only to be gunned down in a hotel kitchen pantry. More on that tragic day will come later as well.
  • The summer of 1968 produced a bloody confrontation in Chicago as Democrats sought to nominate someone to run for the presidency. Vice President Hubert Humphrey won the nomination, but the story of that event was the bloodshed in the streets.
  • The 1968 presidential election gave us Richard Nixon. The rest, as they say, is history.
  • Finally, that tumultuous year came to a close with a glimmer of hope. Three men took off atop a Saturn V rocket and roared into space, toward the moon. They orbited the moon and on Christmas Eve, Americans heard these men — Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders — read from the Book of Genesis about the creation of our world. Borman, the mission commander, then wished “all the people on the good Earth” a Merry Christmas.

I will look back on that year as a time of tumult, terror and tempest. I also will remember it as a year that ended with the perfect salutation.

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 anĀ  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.

Maddening.

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.