Tomorrow night, an African-American will receive the presidential nomination of one of America’s two major parties, for the first time in this nation’s history.
It will be the fulfillment of the dream of countless Americans, of all races. One or another of the parade of orators at the Democratic National Convention in Denver is bound to point this out, or express similar sentiments.
But it will also be the fulfillment of the dream of one American, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who, were he alive, would turn 100 years old tomorrow – a man who, when he signed the Civil Rights Act into law in 1964 after getting it through Congress by means of heroic persuasion, cajoling, and pressure, did as much as any single person to bring into being a world in which Sen. Barack Obama could become President of the United States.
But I wonder if anyone – in the nominating and seconding speeches for Obama, or Sen Hillary Clinton, or in the rest of the oratory tomorrow – will take note of this? Are leading Democrats willing to acknowledge that, no matter how they feel about how LBJ handled Vietnam, his legacy deserves recognition, even if some who have laid claim to it have later cast it aside without a murmur of apology?
Apart from a round of speeches in Congress last May, Washington has done little this year to note Lyndon B. Johnson’s 100th birthday. Nor has it received much attention in the national media, apart from Hillel Italie’s AP interview with Robert Caro, in which it turns out that he is, maybe, halfway through the fourth and, supposedly, final volume of his biography of Johnson, which indicates that Knopf may publish it sometime around 2015.
Most of what interest there has been in the anniversary has come out of Texas, including this reminiscence by LBJ’s aide Harry Middleton, and various columns and articles in the Lone Star State’s newspapers. Tomorrow there will be a big Pedernales-style barbecue (and that makes me wonder: does the name of that mighty river evoke any kind of sensation at all in anyone under 40?) at the LBJ Library in Austin, but in Denver’s bars and hotel lounges I suspect the minds of the delegates will be on other matters. (If only Jack Valenti were still with us, to flash his smile, wield his phone, and see to it that his old boss got his due.)
I’ll leave you with the opening and closing words on President Nixon from his statement to the nation on January 22, 1973:
To President Johnson, the American Dream was not a catch phrase–it was a reality of his own life. He believed in America–in what America could mean to all of its citizens and what America could mean to the world. In the service of that faith, he gave himself completely.
In over thirty years of public life, he knew times of triumph and times of despair-he knew controversy and adulation. Yet, no matter what the mood of the moment, at the center of his public life–and at the center of his spirit–was an unshakable conviction in the essential rightness of the American experience…..
….In my Inaugural Address just two days ago I spoke of how my thoughts went back to those who stood in that place before me and of the dreams they had for America. No man had greater dreams for America than Lyndon Johnson. Even as we mourn his death, we are grateful for his life, which did so much to make those dreams into realities. And we know that as long as this Nation lives, so will his dreams and his accomplishments.