Opinion

Commentary: Revisionists are attacking LBJ and FDR's presidential legacies

As I prepare to celebrate the 102nd birthday of one of the greatest presidents in U.S. history, I am more than a little disturbed by the conservatives who are trying to rewrite history about him and others.

It's not enough to recognize that all presidents are human and thus make mistakes. No, these modern-day knaves attempt to tarnish the image and deeds of great men to somehow give credence to their own twisted analysis of the past and present.

The current economic troubles of this country and the challenges faced by a new president are often compared to the Great Depression and the president who led the nation through it.

The new narrative fostered by these pontificating pundits on the one hand and signifying soothsayers on the other is that Franklin D. Roosevelt's policies were a failure, that he had nothing or little to do with the country's economic recovery and that "in truth" his New Deal was a bad deal all around.

After all, Roosevelt saddled the country with Social Security, helped create the welfare state and put too many regulations on our financial institutions and businesses, crippling the free enterprise system. At least, that's their story.

Roosevelt doesn't need me to defend his legacy, and neither does another great president, who served during my lifetime and is now being maligned by these same hypocrites as someone who brought more harm to the country than good.

Johnson, whose birthday is Aug. 27, is criticized for his Great Society initiatives and what some call a massive government takeover. The states' rights violations that his accusers charge him with speak, in reality, to their continued disappointment with passage of the civil rights and voting rights bills -- legislation that Johnson knew would turn the South Republican for a generation but was the right thing to do.

For one who was a direct beneficiary of Johnson's efforts in time of turmoil, I must speak up for this president, a fellow Texan who defied the odds and the conventional wisdom that a man from the South could not or would not bring such universal change to the country.

There is no doubt that he had the greatest legislative agenda since Roosevelt, and he used his experience from the Congress and his sheer power to tackle issues that most thought at the time were unconquerable.

Just passing the two rights acts would have been plenty for a president to hang his legacy on, but LBJ didn't stop there. He added to his agenda Medicare, Medicaid and the war on poverty. And because he knew that the best way to address poverty was through education, Johnson produced major programs for elementary, secondary and higher education.

For those who now preach that all Great Society programs were a failure, I'll simply mention Head Start and dare them to say it has failed by preparing underprivileged kids in this country to enter first grade ready to learn and succeed.

On top of all that, Johnson gave us the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Public Broadcasting Act, all programs that conservatives have been trying to kill for years.

The one area in which I was an ardent critic was the escalation of the Vietnam War, a mistake from the beginning made worse by continued commitment of American lives and dollars. The war would be the thing he regretted most about his presidency and was what kept him from seeking a second full term.

Despite his detractors, some of whom would do away with Medicare today if they got the chance, Johnson's record speaks for itself. It will stand the test of time and most certainly can withstand the uninformed and deceptive attempts to rewrite it.

So, in this month of his birth, I salute the man born in his beloved Hill Country along the Pedernales Rivers, a man who worked his way up the political ladder, a man who became president on a fateful day in Texas in 1963 and a man who would change our nation for the better.

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