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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Squandered Presidency

Obama, on one of his summer holidays, took with him a copy of Lou Canon’s book ‘President Reagan: The role of a life time’. He might have done himself a favor, if instead he had spent some time reading a biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th President of the United States of America. Lyndon Johnson became President following the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dulles, Texas on November 23, 1963. The motorcade driving John F. Kennedy through that fateful trip included Lyndon Johnson who, as throughout his tenure as Vice-President, had been relegated into a rented vehicle far behind the President. A fellow Texan senator Yarborough refused share ride with Johnson. Lyndon Johnson obviously was at the lowest ebb of his career. Texas, though being his home state he was losing influence there, and Kennedy didn’t have much incentive to keep him on ticket in Presidential election in fall of 1964.

Those shots from Oswald’s gun irreversibly changed the course of history, which placed at that difficult time Johnson at the helm: Right from the time when Lyndon Johnson lay buried on the floor his vehicle under a hefty secret service agent through the burial of assassinated President, he assumed and displayed a leadership to bring sweeping changes in the society that few could have predicted. Lyndon Johnson went on to get through, in the course of twelve months into his presidency, a recalcitrant congress dominated by southern Democrats legislations including a broad civil rights bill that ended racial segregation. The civil rights bill, though, had been sent to the Congress by Kennedy administration, only to be stalled irretrievably in the senate. It was only through the deftness; grit, leadership and brinksmanship Lyndon Johnson not only got the legislation through, but also later in his presidency went on to get voting rights bill passed that for the first time empowered blacks with power to vote throughout the country.

Obama through his campaign during primaries against Hillary Clinton in 2008 displayed a disdain for the record of Bill Clinton’s presidency and instead imagined him becoming a transforming President like Reagan. The only trouble with that vision is, though almost a heresy, that narrative of Reagan presidency being transformative is nothing more than a fictitious fairy tale; as a matter of fact that to some measures was a sham. Reagan’s role in his presidency was not much beyond being an actor on a large stage and prosperity attributed to those years turned out to be the poisonous chalice. The manner Obama squandered his presidency, and if that brings Romney to White house, would be nothing less than a Greek tragedy both modern and mythical.
-Rajiv Kumar
Note: The information about Lyndon Johnson is from the book "The years of Lyndon Johnson: The passage of power" by Robert A. Caro