As we watch our political leaders try to deal (and not deal) with the flood of Central American kids over our southern borders, and as the pundit class wiles a few summer days offering variations on the same themes they always play — Why is Barack Obama ineffective in this crisis? Why is “Washington” broken? Why, darn it, does everything have to be so hard? I’ve heard several “experts” invoke (again) the name of Lyndon Johnson. LBJ is the kind of guy, they insist, who would … get something done. There’d be no mealy mouthed politesse about him. No bogus “reaching out” to virulent enemies crapola. What they’re wetting themselves over is a guy who, on reflex, would threaten your livelihood, your reputation and the well-being of the family dog to get you to do what he wanted done.
Although a lot of them look old enough, the same pundits seem to have overlooked a handful of serious misadventures — The Domino Theory/Vietnam — in Lyndon Johnson’s career of unmitigated success. Likewise, few of them spend much energy imagining LBJ maneuvering through Texas politics, circa 2014. Even fewer bother to wade too deeply into the much more recent reality of the current GOP (House variety to be absolutely specific) blocking the “Gang of Eight” immigration legislation, then cutting off all discussion of a coherent immigration policy, with adequate funding while howling about Presidential ineffectiveness … in order to stay “true” in the eyes of their most rabid, primary-voting base in an election year.
Likewise, I don’t hear much from liberals and Democrats on how the current scenario, with the Tea Party dictating total gridlock to their “leaders”, will be any different with Hillary Clinton in the White House. The Clintons may be more ruthless and better connected through the bureaucracy than Barack Obama. But I don’t see Hillary having any magic wand ability to break the Tea Party spell over the few traditional Republicans left in DC.
My wife has just finished listening to the John Heilmann-Mark Halperin book, “Game Change”,and has been reporting her surprise at how badly the Clintons come off — in the early stages, before the arrival of Sarah Palin and uttter batshittery makes Bill and Hill look like petal-strewing cherubs by comparison. Simultaneously, I finally pulled Seymour Hersh’s late ’90s book on JFK, “The Dark Side of Camelot” off the shelf and have been refreshing my memory of what a gangster the Old Man was and the bubble world of reckless privilege and double-standards Jack and Bobby were born into, molded by and never ever worked too hard to escape.
Point being, the average American knows very little about the true nature of any high-profile politician and an enormous number of us, credulous pawns to a celebrity culture, don’t want to know. We actually prefer the slickly marketed hagiographies, perhaps because raw reality has a nasty way of leaving us even more cynical than we already are. (How we as a culture have clutched at the lacquered veneer-over-rotted wood Camelot myth for so long, proves my point.)
All elections come down to “the choice”, and given the imbecilic levels the GOP has fallen to, the choice these days is profoundly easy. At least with Hillary Clinton or the average Democrat you’re not dealing with someone who is dubious of evolution, climate change, women’s reproductive and employment rights, the desperate need for affordable health care, a less ideological Supreme Court and immediate immigration reform.
But anyone wistful about a “new LBJ” really should read Nick Confessore and Amy Chozick’s piece this week, titled, “Wall Street Offers Clinton a Thorny Embrace”. The reminder, in case you’ve forgotten, is that Bill and Hill are about as tight with the true barons of American-style democracy as any two people can get, and give no indication that they’d go “all-LBJ” on the crowd best-positioned to drain the juice out of the lunatic Right.
Most likely the game has changed so much since Lyndon Johnson’s, uh, uninterrupted march of success that we’ll never see his kind again. But fodder for another post is the peril underlying Democrats’ near-unanimous embrace of a Clinton Restoration.