Tag Archives: LBJ

Still miss the wisdom that RFK brought

I cannot help but feel wistful — and sad to this day — when I watch videos of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

Indeed, it is the coarseness of today’s debate that makes wish we had another RFK on the horizon, waiting to grab our attention, speak to our better angels, prod us to think beyond our own self-interest.

This video comes from a 1967 interview that Bobby Kennedy had with “Face the Nation” questioners. His answers were full, complete and yes, a bit wordy at times. He spoke about the Vietnam War, which was Topic No. 1 on all the TV news talk shows in that era.

RFK waffled during this interview about whether he would be a candidate for president in 1968. He straddled the fence until the moment in the New Hampshire Democratic primary when Sen. Eugene McCarthy came shockingly close to upsetting President Johnson.

In came Bobby Kennedy. His campaign launched and in March 1968, LBJ shocked the nation by declaring he would “not seek” nor would he “accept my party’s nomination for another term as your president.”

I want to hear RFK’s wisdom again. Today’s political debate has devolved into insults, innuendo and an utter lack of compassion, particularly when it comes from the White House. I always have thought we are better than that. We deserve better than what we’re hearing in this era.

Then I look back at 1968, a terrible year for this country. The Vietnam War was killing hundreds of Americans each week. RFK sought an end to a conflict in which he — as attorney general during his brother’s administration — was a key architect.

RFK spoke to us at a level we haven’t heard since his death in June 1968 at the hands of an assassin. He told us stark, brutal truth about the bitterness and division that tore at our nation.

RFK had the “it” factor that is difficult to define. It is missing throughout the ranks of those who might seek to become the next president. It most certainly is nowhere to be found anywhere near the individual who currently holds that office.

It’s been more than 50 years since Robert Kennedy left this good Earth. I miss him every day. I miss him especially when I have to swallow today’s toxic mess that comprises political debate.

Presidential libraries seek to establish legacies

I spent some time this week at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas; it’s the fourth such exhibit I have seen.

I intend to see them all eventually.

However, I have to acknowledge publicly a thought that I harbored privately as I walked through the Bush library/museum. Here goes:

What in the world is the Donald J. Trump library going to look like? How will the eventual former president portray his service? Will he even be able to develop a theme for an exhibit that traditionally is designed to portray some semblance of whatever legacy he leaves behind.

I know that some might view this as a cheap shot, as a stretch, as a way to stick it once more into the president’s eye. However, one’s mind cannot help but go to these places while touring an exhibit that is both somber and joyful simultaneously. The Bush library devotes plenty of text, audio and video to 9/11, the horrendous event that defined George W. Bush’s presidency. It also addresses his work to combat HIV/AIDS, his joyous and boisterous family and the man’s post-presidential work to help with disaster relief and his on-going support for our wounded warriors.

My wife and I have toured the Herbert Hoover library in West Branch, Iowa, the Jimmy Carter Center in Atlanta and the Lyndon Johnson library in Austin. They all speak to the presidents’ signature moments; the Hoover exhibit tells also of the former president’s humanitarian efforts.

What in the world is the Donald Trump library going to salute? What tone will the tributes take? How does this president manage to highlight the nation he serves without calling attention to himself?

That all assumes, of course, that Donald Trump is able to finish his term in office. There is increasing chatter that he, um, might not finish it. He is becoming entangled and enmeshed in growing legal difficulties. Those legal matters only exacerbate the political troubles that are sure to erupt as a consequence.

I am willing to admit to thinking of these things. If only the president of the United States would learn how to govern, learn how to behave the way his office compels him to behave, would understand the solemn responsibility he has assumed.

Donald Trump’s penchant for publicity — especially when it’s negative — makes it impossible for me to avoid thinking these things even when touring a presidential library and museum worthy of its name.

Bush 41’s death means end of ‘old’ GOP? Let’s hope not

More than a few talking heads have ruminated since the death of former President George H.W. Bush about the future of the Republican Party and whether the party of which Bush was a proud member will return in its former image.

Some have said “no.” I don’t subscribe to that idea.

Today’s Republican Party has been taken over by those loyal to a president who doesn’t define his own ideology — such as it is — by anything resembling traditional GOP values.

The GOP has taken a dramatically different course from where it used to travel. I’ll offer three examples

  • President Bush was a supreme coalition builder. He did that very thing when assessing how to kick Iraqi forces out of Kuwait in the late summer of 1990. He brought together more than 30 nations to (a) provide fighting forces on the field or (b) give money to finance the military initiative that became known as Operation Desert Storm; some nations, of course, did both.
  • The Republican Party of old once touted fiscal responsibility. It loathed a federal budget deficit. It preferred to curb spending and, yes, curb taxes. The current GOP has enacted a tax cut but has done damn little to curb spending. Thus, the deficit is ballooning again.
  • The Party of Lincoln used to be an inclusive outfit. It welcomed people of all races, ethnicities, creeds. It has become another kind of party these days. It is seeking to shut the door on those seeking asylum from tyranny in their homelands. Politicians who belonged the former Republican Party helped a Democratic president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, enact the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of the mid-1960s over the objection of many southern Senate Democrats who clung to their segregationist history. Imagine that happening today.

I cannot predict whether the old Republican Party will return, let alone when that might occur. I try like the dickens to avoid cynicism. My hope still springs forth that there will be a better day ahead.

President George H.W. Bush — although he was far from perfect — still in many ways embodied the ideals of a once-great political party. Those ideals have been pushed aside. We’ll bury Bush 41 in a few days. While we’re at it, how about trying to exhume the remains of a Republican Party that he represented?

‘Florida’ becomes new synonym for election incompetence

Move over, Texas. You — I mean “we” — are being replaced as the butt of jokes related to election incompetence and possible corruption.

There once was a time when Texas was known for dead people casting ballots in, say, tiny Duval County in the southern part of the state. It was thought that the cadaver vote vaulted Lyndon Baines Johnson into Congress.

As a transplant who moved to Texas more than three decades ago, I am not proud of the state’s former reputation as a cesspool for political corruption. In that regard, I feel sorry for the conscientious Floridians who now are living with the same level of skepticism.

Broward County, Fla., is in the news again. It isn’t good.

Trouble looms for 2020

They’re trying to determine the winner of two red-hot races in Florida: the campaign for governor and for U.S. Senate. The attention focuses on Broward County, home to around 2 million residents. Thus, they cast a lot of votes in that south Florida county.

They can’t seem to get ’em counted. There might be an automatic recount. Or maybe it’ll be a manual recount.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott holds a narrow lead over U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson — at the moment! GOP U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis is barely ahead of Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. Scott and DeSantis have (more or less) declared victory. Nelson and Gillum aren’t conceding. They’re waiting … and waiting … and waiting for all the ballots to be counted.

Of course, this is far from the first time Florida has been at the epicenter of questionable electoral issues. You remember the 2000 presidential election, yes? It came down to an aborted recount of the contest between Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Albert Gore Jr. The winner would rake in the state’s Electoral College votes and win the presidency. The U.S. Supreme Court ended up ordering the vote count stopped and when it did, Gov. Bush had 537 more votes — out of more than 5.8 million ballots cast — than Vice President Gore. The court ruling came on a 5-4 vote; the five GOP appointed justices voted to stop the count, with the four Democratic appointed justices dissenting.

Well, the rest — as they say — is history.

This resident of Texas is glad to have my state kicked off the (alleged) voter fraud pedestal.

As a patriotic American, though, I do hope that our fellow Americans in Florida can cure what ails that state’s electoral process. Our political process needs to be free of this kind of turmoil.

I just pray the Russians aren’t involved.

Trump admits to preferring ‘Democrat Party’ epithet

Donald J. Trump flew off the rails on one of those impromptu campaign-rally riffs in West Virginia … and proceeded to acknowledge what many of us have known all along.

Republicans like referring to their political foes as members of the “Democrat Party,” even though the party to which they refer is the Democratic Party.

Trump said he likes using the term “Democrat” as an adjective because it grates on Democrats and because their party — according to Trump and other Republicans — isn’t too democratic these days.

It’s an idiotic and feeble attempt to stick it in the eye of those who oppose GOP doctrine and the rants of the Republican (In Name Only) in chief, Donald Trump.

And that brings me to what’s so damn funny about Trump’s association with the once-great Republican Party. He’s the classic RINO, the very personification of the term that hard-core Republicans used to describe the more moderate members of their political party.

Trump had zero political grounding prior to announcing his candidacy for the presidency. He wasn’t involved in partisan politics. His entire adult life was dedicated to one thing only: Trump’s personal enrichment.

So now that he has hijacked the Republican Party, he claims to be a political purist, the standard-bearer of a party that once stood for inclusion and that once joined hands with a Democratic president — Lyndon Baines Johnson — in advancing the cause of civil rights and voting rights for African-Americans.

Listening to Trump proclaim his desire to refer to those on the other side of the aisle as belonging to the “Democrat Party” tells me only one thing: He is pandering to that shrinking, but still vocal, political base that hangs on this carnival barker’s every word.

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.