LBJ's grand scale
In domestic affairs, history will likely judge Lyndon Johnson as one of our greatest presidents. Under his leadership from 1964-66, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, the war on poverty, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
These were transformative pieces of legislation. After Lincoln, Johnson is considered the president who did the most to overcome the nation's shameful history of slavery and racial discrimination and advance the ideal of racial equality.
Whatever his personal flaws and however critically he may be judged on foreign affairs, Johnson, the domestic president, exhibited inspiring qualities of political leadership.
• He had a powerful vision about giving minorities and the poor a better opportunity to succeed in American life which connected with the most basic promises of the American Dream.
• He seized the moment after Kennedy's death and after election of massive Democratic majorities in 1964 to act with speed and boldness.
• He had almost unique understanding of the Congress and preternatural political skills to drive his agenda home but with support from both sides of the aisle.
• Most importantly, he had the courage to spend political capital on great tasks even though he, of all people, knew that it would split the Roosevelt Coalition, drive away Southern whites, weaken the Democratic Party and put his own re-election in jeopardy.
LBJ's combination of vision, timing, skill and courage is reminder, on a grand scale, that getting important things done is vastly more important than anodyne political or bureaucratic survival or personal accretion of wealth. It is a lesson that all who are given the privilege to lead must remember, and it is a lesson that so many of our leaders, in politics and in business, seem to have forgotten as narrow personal agendas, not great national ones, are the order of the day and issues of enormous consequence go unattended.
Benjamin W. Heineman, Jr.
February 18, 2010; 11:32 AM ET
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