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Presidents Kennedy and Johnson
I thought my posting speaking well of President Johnson would mollify Texans offended by my earlier remarks about him, but in so doing I have waved a red flag before some Texan thoroughbred bulls. Speaking on their behalf, Cathie Adams writes:
"As a Texan, may I offer a different view of LBJ. I travel a highway named for him frequently, and that also reminds me of his politics. He was a bully by nature, a despicable example of the void of leadership skills. And his morals met evenly with those of an alley cat. No one can convince me that he was genuinely interested in any person's well-being. He was, instead, interested in manipulative controls of the masses. His politics weren't different from Cicero's observations that men would sell their souls for a loaf of bread and circuses."
This raises an important point: the power of television. The C-Span series on the American Presidents, broadcast from their home state and home, has featured people interested in and sympathetic toward the Presidents and thus has glamorized them. They also are a Washington product, and really give the Northern viewpoint. I would have liked to hear a Southerner speaking frankly about Lincoln.
The Johnson program featured perhaps the closest associate of Johnson: Joseph Califano, born in Brooklyn of Italian parents. As a lawyer, I thought he would respect the majesty of the law, and I was shocked when he told with amusement how as a rising politician Johnson collected names from gravestones, and, when one was covered with moss, had it scraped off saying they had as much right to vote as all the other dead.
Television necessarily tries to please people, not to offend them, and really critical accounts of a president would have provoked a torrent of abuse. C-Span chose to vote a series of programs on Tocqueville in America. Daniel Boorstin, the scholarly ex-Librarian of Congress, struck a sour note by criticizing the choice, but he was right. Tocqueville gives a picture which flatters a large segment of the American public. Most European travelers gave a much more critical picture of the United States. I remember that Stanford history professor Tom Bailey used intemperate language to discredit them, but they were largely right. Tom was reacting like a good American.
Secondly, TV watchers must keep their critical sense. I like to think I have, but apparently I failed and apologize. Now, have I appeased everyone?
Ronald Hilton - 11/17/99