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Posts Tagged ‘Lyndon B. Johnson’

Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ)  es uno de los presidentes más contradictorios de la historia de Estados Unidos.  Le toca el triste honor de ser uno de los principales responsables de que  la guerra de Vietnam se convirtiera en una tragedia que dividió y enfrentó a los estadounidenses. Su insistencia en pelear una guerra que no podía ganar costó la vida de miles de sus conciudadanos y de millones de vietnamitas. Además, abonó al fin de la hegemonía económica global que la nación norteamericana había disfrutado desde mediados de los años 1940.  Sin embargo, el LBJ puede ser considerado el último gran novotratista; el gran heredero de Franklin D. Roosevelt. Bajo su dirección e inspiración se iniciaron importantísimos programas que buscaban extirpar la injusticia racial,  combatir la pobreza y reducir la desigualdad, ampliando el apoyo del gobierno federal a las minorías étnicas y los sectores más vulnerables de la sociedad. Desafortunadamente, por lo que se le recuerda es por el famoso estribillo de una canción de quienes en los años 1960 marchaban y protestaban contra la guerra de Vietnam: “Hey, Hey, LBJ; How many kids did you kill today? “ (Oye, oye, LBJ; ¿Cuántos niños mataste hoy?).

Comparto este breve escrito de la gran historiadora estadounidense Heather Cox Richardson  sobre los logros del que debió ser un programa para rehacer a Estados Unidos sobre bases más justas e igualitarias.  La Dra. Cox es experta en la guerra civil y profesora en Boston College.

Johnson, el sucesor de Kennedy que soñó la gran sociedad21 de mayo de 2022

Heather Cox Richardson

22 de mayo de 2022

El 22 de mayo de 1964, en un discurso de graduación en la Universidad de Michigan, el presidente Lyndon B. Johnson puso nombre a una nueva visión para los Estados Unidos. La llamó “la Gran Sociedad” y expuso la visión de un país que no se limitó a ganar dinero, sino que utilizó su prosperidad posterior a la Segunda Guerra Mundial para” enriquecer y elevar nuestra vida nacional”. Esa Gran Sociedad exigiría el fin de la pobreza y la injusticia racial.

Pero haría más que eso, prometió: permitiría a cada niño aprender y crecer, y crearía una sociedad donde las personas usarían su tiempo libre para construir y reflexionar, donde las ciudades no solo responderían a las necesidades físicas y las demandas del comercio, sino que también servirían “al deseo de belleza y al hambre de comunidad”. Protegería el mundo natural y sería “un lugar donde los hombres están más preocupados por la calidad de sus objetivos que por la cantidad de sus bienes”.

“Pero sobre todo”, dijo, miraría hacia adelante. “La Gran Sociedad no es un puerto seguro, un lugar de descanso, un objetivo final, una obra terminada. Es un desafío constantemente renovado, que nos llama hacia un destino donde el significado de nuestras vidas coincida con los maravillosos productos de nuestro trabajo”.

Johnson propuso reconstruir las ciudades, proteger el campo e invertir en educación para establecer “cada mente joven … libre para escanear los confines más lejanos del pensamiento y la imaginación”. Admitió que el gobierno no tenía las respuestas para abordar los problemas en el país, “si lo prometo”, dijo. “Vamos a reunir el mejor pensamiento y el conocimiento más amplio de todo el mundo para encontrar esas respuestas para Estados Unidos. Tengo la intención de establecer grupos de trabajo para preparar una serie de conferencias y reuniones de la Casa Blanca: sobre las ciudades, sobre la belleza natural, sobre la calidad de la educación y sobre otros desafíos emergentes. Y a partir de estas reuniones y de esta inspiración y de estos estudios comenzaremos a establecer nuestro rumbo hacia la Gran Sociedad”.

La visión de Johnson de una Gran Sociedad vino de un lugar muy diferente a la reelaboración de la sociedad lanzada por su predecesor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, en la década de 1930. El New Deal de Roosevelt había utilizado al gobierno federal para abordar la mayor crisis económica en la historia de los Estados Unidos, nivelando el campo de juego entre trabajadores y empleadores para permitir que los trabajadores mantuvieran a sus familias. Johnson, por el contrario, operaba en un país que disfrutaba de un crecimiento récord. Lejos de simplemente salvar al país, podía darse el lujo de dirigirlo hacia cosas más grandes.

Inmediatamente, la administración se dedicó a abordar cuestiones de derechos civiles y pobreza. Bajo la presión de Johnson, el Congreso aprobó la Ley de Derechos Civiles de 1964 que prohíbe el voto, el empleo o la discriminación educativa por motivos de raza, religión, sexo u origen nacional. Johnson también ganó la aprobación de la Ley de Oportunidades Económicas de 1964, que creó una Oficina de Oportunidades Económicas que supervisaría toda una serie de programas contra la pobreza, y de la Ley de Cupones para Alimentos, que ayudó a las personas que no ganaban mucho dinero a comprar alimentos.

The Great Society - Two Americas & The Great Society: 1960's

Caída de la pobreza en Estados Unidos gracias a la Gran Sociedad

Cuando los republicanos postularon al senador de Arizona Barry Goldwater para presidente en 1964, pidiendo que se revirtiera la regulación empresarial y los derechos civiles a los años anteriores al New Deal, los votantes a los que les gustaba bastante el nuevo sistema dieron a los demócratas una mayoría tan fuerte en el Congreso que Johnson y los demócratas pudieron aprobar 84 nuevas leyes para poner en marcha la Gran Sociedad.

Consolidaron los derechos civiles con la Ley de Derechos Electorales de 1965 que protegía el voto de las minorías, crearon empleos en los Apalaches y establecieron programas de capacitación laboral y desarrollo comunitario. La Ley de Educación Primaria y Secundaria de 1965 otorgó ayuda federal a las escuelas públicas y estableció el programa Head Start para proporcionar educación temprana integral para niños de bajos ingresos. La Ley de Educación Superior de 1965 aumentó la inversión federal en universidades y proporcionó becas y préstamos a bajo interés a los estudiantes.

La Ley del Seguro Social de 1965 creó Medicare, que proporcionó seguro de salud para los estadounidenses mayores de 65 años, y Medicaid, que ayudó a cubrir los costos de atención médica para las personas con ingresos limitados. El Congreso avanzó en la guerra contra la pobreza al aumentar los pagos de asistencia social y subsidiar el alquiler para las familias de bajos ingresos.

El Congreso asumió los derechos de los consumidores con una nueva legislación protectora que requería que los cigarrillos y otros productos peligrosos llevaran etiquetas de advertencia, requería que los productos llevaran etiquetas que identificaran al fabricante y requería que los prestamistas revelaran el costo total de los cargos financieros en los préstamos. El Congreso también aprobó legislación que protege el medio ambiente, incluida la Ley de Calidad del Agua de 1965 que estableció estándares federales para la calidad del agua.

Antiwar Songs (AWS) - Hey, Hey, LBJ

Pero el gobierno no se limitó a abordar la pobreza. El Congreso también habló de las aspiraciones de Belleza y Propósito de Johnson cuando creó la Fundación Nacional de Artes y Humanidades. Esta ley creó tanto el Fondo Nacional para las Artes como el Fondo Nacional para las Humanidades para asegurarse de que el énfasis de la época en la ciencia no pusiera en peligro las humanidades. En 1967 también establecería la Corporación para la Radiodifusión Pública, seguida en 1969 por la Radio Pública Nacional.

Los opositores a este amplio programa obtuvieron 47 escaños en la Cámara de Representantes y tres escaños en el Senado en las elecciones de mitad de período de 1966, y U.S. News and World Report escribió que “la gran fiesta” había terminado.

Y, sin embargo, gran parte de la Gran Sociedad todavía vive, aunque ahora está bajo desafíos más significativos cada día por parte de aquellos que rechazan la idea de que el gobierno federal tiene un papel que desempeñar en la configuración de nuestra sociedad.

“Para bien o para mal”, dijo Johnson a los graduados de la Universidad de Michigan en 1964, “su generación ha sido designada por la historia para lidiar con esos problemas y llevar a Estados Unidos hacia una nueva era. Usted tiene la oportunidad nunca antes ofrecida a ninguna persona en cualquier edad. Usted puede ayudar a construir una sociedad donde las demandas de la moralidad, y las necesidades del espíritu, se puedan realizar en la vida de la Nación.

“Entonces, ¿se unirá a la batalla para dar a cada ciudadano la plena igualdad que Dios ordena y la ley requiere, cualquiera que sea su creencia, raza o el color de su piel?”, Preguntó.

“¿Te unirás a la batalla para dar a cada ciudadano un escape del peso aplastante de la pobreza?…”

“Hay almas tímidas que dicen que esta batalla no se puede ganar; que estamos condenados a una riqueza sin alma. No estoy de acuerdo. Tenemos el poder de dar forma a la civilización que queremos. Pero necesitamos su voluntad, su trabajo, sus corazones, si queremos construir ese tipo de sociedad”.

Notas:

https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/remarks-the-university-michigan

La cita de U.S. News and World Report está en Mary C. Brennan, Turning Right in the Sixties: The Conservative Capture of the GOP, p. 119.

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Comparto con mis lectores esta excelente reseña del más reciente libro de la historiadora Elizabeth Hinton, escrita por Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor del Departamento de Estudios Afroamericanos de la Universidad de Princeton. Titulado America on Fire: The Untold History of Police Violence and Black Rebellion Since the 1960s, el libro de Hinton examina  las rebeliones de las comunidades afromericanas posteriores a la aprobación de las reformas en que culminó el movimiento de los derechos civiles. La Dra. Hinton es profesora asociada en los departamentos de Historia y Estudios Afromericanos de la Universidad de Yale.


Opinion | It's Police Violence That Spurs Black Rebellion - The New York  Times

La historia desconocida de los levantamientos negros

Keeanga-Yamahia Taylor

Black Agenda Report   1 de julio de  2021

Desde la declaración del cumpleaños de Martin Luther King, Jr. como feriado federal, nuestro país ha celebrado el movimiento por los derechos civiles, valorizando sus tácticas de no violencia como parte de nuestra narrativa nacional de progreso hacia una unión más perfecta. Sin embargo, rara vez nos preguntamos sobre la corta vida útil de esas tácticas. En 1964, la no violencia parecía haber seguido su curso, cuando Harlem y Filadelfia se encendieron en llamas para protestar contra la brutalidad policial, la pobreza y la exclusión, en lo que fueron denunciados como disturbios. Siguieron levantamientos aún más grandes y destructivos en Los Ángeles y Detroit, y, después del asesinato de King, en 1968, en todo el país: un tumulto ardiente que llegó a ser visto como emblemático de la violencia urbana y la pobreza negras. El giro violento en la protesta negra fue condenado en su propio tiempo y continúa siendo lamentado como un trágico retiro de los nobles objetivos y comportamiento del movimiento impulsado por las iglesias afroamericanas.

En el quincuagésimo aniversario de la Marcha sobre Washington, en agosto de 2013, el entonces presidente Barack Obama  cristalizó esta representación histórica cuando dijo:  “si somos honestos con nosotros mismos, admitiremos que, durante el transcurso de cincuenta años, hubo momentos en que algunos de nosotros, afirmando presionar por el cambio, perdimos nuestro camino. La angustia de los asesinatos provocó disturbios contraproducentes. Las quejas legítimas contra la brutalidad policial se inclinaron en la fabricación de excusas para el comportamiento criminal. La política racial podía cortar en ambos sentidos, ya que el mensaje transformador de unidad y hermandad era ahogado por el lenguaje de la recriminación”. Así, dijo Obama, “es como se estancó el progreso. Así se desvió la esperanza. Así es como nuestro país se mantuvo dividido”.

America on Fire: The Untold History of Police Violence and Black Rebellion  Since the 1960s (English Edition) eBook: Hinton, Elizabeth: Amazon.es:  Tienda KindleEsta percepción de los disturbios como el declive del movimiento no violento ha marginado el estudio de los mismos dentro del campo de la historia. Como resultado, la creencia generalizada sobre “los disturbios” de los años sesenta subestima enormemente la escala de la insurgencia negra y su significado político. En su nuevo libro, America on Fire: The Untold History of Police Violence and Black Rebellion Since the 1960s, la historiadora de Yale Elizabeth Hinton recupera un período mucho más largo e intenso de rebelión negra, que continuó en los años setenta. Al hacerlo, desafía el rechazo de lo que ella describe como el “giro violento” en la protesta negra, forjando un nuevo terreno en nuestra comprensión de las tácticas empleadas por los afroamericanos en respuesta a la violencia extralegal de la policía y los residentes blancos y los problemas no resueltos de la desigualdad racial y económica.

Utilizando datos compilados por el Comité del Senado sobre Operaciones Gubernamentales y el Centro Lemberg para el Estudio de la Violencia, Hinton compila una impresionante lista de más de mil levantamientos, mucho más allá de aquellos con los que estamos más familiarizados. Hemos subestimado enormemente el grado en que Estados Unidos estuvo literalmente en llamas de 1968 a 1972, años que Hinton describe convincentemente como el “período de crisol de rebelión”. De hecho, sólo en 1970 hubo más de seiscientas rebeliones. Hinton también llega a la conclusión clave de que casi todas estas rebeliones se produjeron en respuesta a la escalada de intervenciones policiales, intimidación y acoso. Ella escribe: “La historia de la rebelión negra en todas las regiones y décadas demuestra una realidad fundamental: la violencia policial precipita la violencia comunitaria”.

En el verano de 1968, en Stockton, California, dos oficiales de policía intentaron sin éxito disolver una fiesta en un desarrollo de vivienda pública. La situación escaló rápidamente cuando llegaron más de cuarenta policías blancos más, escribe Hinton, convirtiendo la “fiesta en una protesta”. La policía ordenó a la multitud que se dispersara; en su lugar, arrojaron a la policía con piedras y botellas. La policía hizo algunas detenciones, pero apenas restableció el orden. Al día siguiente, dos oficiales fueron enviados a investigar los informes de un disturbio en el gimnasio del proyecto de vivienda; los residentes encerraron a los policías dentro del gimnasio y, escribe Hinton, durante más de dos horas, una multitud de doscientas cincuenta personas “lanzó bombas incendiadas, piedras y botellas contra el edificio gritando ‘¡cerdos!’ y otros insultos”. Más de un centenar de policías, agentes del comisarío y patrulleros de carreteras llegaron al lugar; la multitud liberó a los dos oficiales, pero continuó lanzando bombas incendiarias contra el gimnasio, los automóviles cercanos e incluso una escuela primaria. Muchos de ellos eran adolescentes. Finalmente, la policía llamó a sus padres, una estrategia que funcionó cuando los niños finalmente se fueron a casa.

Harvard's Elizabeth Hinton named 2018 Carnegie Fellow – Harvard Gazette

Elizabeth Hinton

En Akron, Ohio, en agosto de 1970, la policía intentó disolver una pelea entre jóvenes negros; una multitud que los atacó con piedras durante varias horas. Al día siguiente, la violencia se intensificó, ya que los jóvenes lanzaron escombros más pesados, como bloques de hormigón y botellas de vidrio, y dañaron automóviles e hirieron a transeúntes. Finalmente, después de dos días de escaramuzas con la policía, escribe Hinton, “mil personas, en su mayoría en edad de escuela secundaria, salieron lanzando piedras y otros objetos”. La policía desplegó más de treinta botes de gas lacrimógeno para dispersar a los rebeldes, pero la presencia de la policía fue, en sí misma, la provocación. Los agentes se trasladaron al perímetro para poder vigilar pero no agitar más a la multitud. Esta fue una estrategia de corta duración: luego hicieron otra demostración de fuerza, lo que provocó otra ronda de conflicto que, según los informes, resultó en la destrucción de la propiedad.

 

Rebeliones similares ocurrieron desde Lorman, Mississippi, a Gum Spring, Virginia, en 1968, y Pine Bluff, Arkansas, a Erie, Pennsylvania, en 1970. Aunque el Sur es visto como el sitio del movimiento no violento de derechos civiles y el Norte como donde murieron sus nobles objetivos, la gran escala de levantamientos negros, desde las ciudades del sur hasta las ciudades del medio oeste, revela una insatisfacción generalizada con la protesta pacífica como un medio para lograr el cambio social, lo que puede sugerir que reconsideremos la suposición de que el movimiento de derechos civiles tuvo éxito. Para Hinton, la magnitud de los levantamientos, que involucraron a decenas de miles de afroamericanos comunes y corrientes, desafía la idea de que estos fueron “disturbios” sin sentido que involucraron a personas díscolos o equivocadas. También lo hace el hecho de que la violencia negra casi siempre vino en respuesta a la violencia blanca dirigida a controlar las aspiraciones y vidas de los negros. Hinton escribe: “Estos eventos no representaron una ola de criminalidad, sino una insurgencia sostenida. La violencia fue en respuesta a momentos de racismo tangible —’un solo incidente’, como dijo [el presidente Lyndon] Johnson— casi siempre tomando la forma de un encuentro policial. Sin embargo, las decenas de miles de afroamericanos que participaron en esta violencia colectiva se rebelaban no sólo contra la brutalidad policial. Se estaban rebelando contra un sistema más amplio que había arraigado condiciones desiguales y violencia contra los negros a lo largo de generaciones”.

Hinton no solo recupera la resistencia negra; también expone una larga, e ignorada, historia de violencia política blanca, utilizada para mantener el estatus subordinado de las comunidades negras. El libro de Hinton comienza familiarizando a los lectores con la historia del vigilantismo blanco posterior a la emancipación, que duró hasta bien entrado el siglo XX. El más infame de estos asaltos tuvo lugar en 1921, en Tulsa, Oklahoma, donde trescientos afroamericanos fueron masacrados  por sus vecinos blancos. Pero, incluso después de la Segunda Guerra Mundial, cuando millones de afroamericanos escaparon del asfixiante racismo del sur de Estados Unidos, fueron recibidos en otros lugares por turbas blancas ansiosas por mantenerlos confinados en enclaves segregados. No es exagerado decir que  decenas de miles  de personas blancas participaron en formas de violencia alborotadas  para, como escribe Hinton, “vigilar “las actividades de los negros y limitar su acceso a los empleos, el ocio, la franquicia y a la esfera política”.

Revuelta de Watts en 1965

La policía blanca no sólo se mostró reacia a arrestar a los perpetradores blancos; en muchos casos, participaron en la violencia. Hinton dedica un capítulo entero a las formas en que los supremacistas blancos y la policía convergieron, en nombre de la ley y el orden, para dominar a las comunidades negras rebeldes. Fuera de las grandes áreas metropolitanas, las fuerzas policiales con poco personal recurrieron a ciudadanos blancos para patrullar y controlar las protestas negras. Según Hinton, en agosto de 1968, en Salisbury, Maryland, el departamento de policía “instaló una fuerza de voluntarios totalmente blanca de 216 miembros para ayudar a la fuerza regular de 40 hombres en caso de un motín”. En otros casos, los policías blancos permitieron que los residentes blancos acosaran, golpearan, dispararan e incluso asesinaran a los afroamericanos sin represalias. En la pequeña ciudad de Cairo, Illinois, una rebelión negra en 1967 reunió a policías blancos y vigilantes blancos en un esfuerzo concertado para aislar y reprimir a los afroamericanos. Después del levantamiento inicial, provocado por la sospechosa muerte de un soldado negro en la cárcel de la ciudad, los residentes blancos formaron un grupo de vigilantes apodado el Comité de los Diez Millones, un nombre inspirado en una carta escrita por el ex presidente Dwight Eisenhower, que pedía un “comité de diez millones de ciudadanos” para restaurar la ley y el orden después de los levantamientos en Detroit y Newark. La policía de El Cairo delegó a este grupo para patrullar los barrios negros, incluido el complejo de viviendas públicas Pyramid Courts, donde vivía la mayoría de los casi tres mil negros de El Cairo. En 1969, los “sombreros blancos”, como los miembros del comité se habían llamado a sí mismos, dispararon contra Pyramid Courts. Cuando los residentes negros tomaron las armas en defensa propia, periódicamente se impusieron toques de queda, pero se aplicaron solo a los residentes de Pyramid Courts. En respuesta, la Guardia Nacional fue usada periódicamente para vigilar Pyramid Courts. Pero la policía local también disparó contra en el residencial con ametralladoras desde un vehículo blindado (descrito por los lugareños negros como el Gran Intimidador). Nadie murió, pero las familias negras a veces dormían en bañeras para evitar los disparos. Los hombres negros también dispararon a las luces de la calle para oscurecer la vista de los francotiradores blancos. Esto equivalía a una guerra contra los residentes negros de El Cairo, que duró hasta 1972. Hinton cuenta que el alcalde de El Cairo concedió una entrevista a ABC News, en 1970, en la que dijo, de los ciudadanos negros: “Si tenemos que matarlos, tendremos que matarlos… Me parece que esta es la única forma en que vamos a resolver nuestro problema”. Hinton señala que, en todos los cientos de rebeliones de este período, “la policía no arrestó a un solo ciudadano blanco… a pesar de que los ciudadanos blancos habían sido perpetradores e instigadores. Los blancos podrían atacar a los negros y no enfrentar consecuencias; los negros fueron criminalizados y castigados por defenderse a sí mismos y a sus comunidades”.

From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass  Incarceration in America: Hinton, Elizabeth: 9780674737235: Amazon.com:  BooksHinton se basa en los argumentos de su libro anterior, From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime, para explicar cómo las rebeliones del período 1968-72 llegaron a ser pasadas por alto. La declaración de Lyndon Johnson de una “guerra contra el crimen”, en 1965, dotó de nuevos recursos a las fuerzas del orden locales, reduciendo la necesidad de usar la Guardia Nacional y las tropas federales para acabar con las rebeliones negras. La ausencia de intervención federal eliminó estos conflictos del foco nacional, convirtiéndolos en asuntos locales. Mientras tanto, la acumulación de fuerzas de policía locales, vagamente empaquetadas como “policía comunitaria”, promovió la invasión policial de todos los aspectos de la vida social de los negros, transformando las transgresiones juveniles típicas en excusas para los ataques policiales contra los jóvenes negros. Los lugares donde se congregaban los jóvenes negros, incluidos los desarrollos de viviendas públicas, las escuelas públicas e históricamente los colegios y universidades negros, ahora eran sitios de vigilancia policial y posible arresto. Estos encuentros entre la policía y los jóvenes negros prepararon el escenario para lo que Hinton describe como “el ciclo” de abuso policial, en el que las incursiones policiales provocaron una respuesta violenta, lo que justificó una mayor presencia policial y, en otro giro, respuestas más combativas. En este período, que vio el ascenso del Partido Pantera Negra y la radicalización de la política negra mucho más allá de la expectativa de simplemente lograr la igualdad con los blancos, los jóvenes negros en las comunidades de clase trabajadora lucharon contra los intentos de la policía de criminalizar sus actividades diarias o de atraparlos en el sistema de justicia penal que altera la vida.

La resistencia negra tomó diferentes formas, desde residentes negros que golpeaban a la policía con ladrillos y botellas hasta francotiradores negros que disparaban contra la policía, con el propósito de expulsarlos de sus comunidades. Los francotiradores negros, en particular, sirvieron a las fantasías políticas que demonizaban todas las formas de resistencia negra como patológicas y merecedoras de una pacificación violenta. De 1967 a 1974, el número de policías muertos en el cumplimiento del deber saltó de setenta y seis a ciento treinta y dos, la cifra anual más alta de la historia. Pero esos totales fueron empequeñecidos por el número de jóvenes negros asesinados por la policía en el mismo período. Hinton informa que, entre 1968 y 1974, “los negros fueron víctimas de uno de cada cuatro asesinatos policiales”, lo que resultó en que casi cien hombres negros menores de veinticinco años murieran a manos de la policía en cada uno de esos años. En comparación, hoy solo una de cada diez personas muertas por la policía es negra, según los Centros para el Control de Enfermedades. (Hinton cita esta cifra, pero señala que puede representar un subregistro).

Soldados reprimiendo protestas en Detroit

Este ciclo de abuso no podía continuar. El período de rebeldía había terminado a finales de los años setenta. No fue la reforma la que puso fin, sino la represión. La prisión se convirtió en una forma de tratar con los jóvenes negros combativos. A mediados de los años setenta, según Hinton, el setenta y cinco por ciento de los afroamericanos encarcelados eran menores de treinta años. La rebelión como rechazo colectivo de los actos cotidianos de violencia policial se volvió poco frecuente, escribe, ya que “los estadounidenses negros se habían resignado más o menos a la vigilancia policial de la vida cotidiana”. Durante los últimos cuarenta años, los levantamientos en respuesta al abuso policial “han tendido a estallar solo después de incidentes excepcionales de brutalidad policial o justicia abortada”.

En algunas de las secciones más importantes de America on Fire, Hinton desentraña sistemáticamente los fracasos de la reforma policial. Hace más de cincuenta años, la Comisión Kerner llegó a la conclusión condenatoria de que, a menos que hubiera una redistribución masiva de recursos en las comunidades negras, los patrones de segregación en todo Estados Unidos se profundizarían y, junto con ellos, el resentimiento y las represalias de los afroamericanos. Como se observa en el informe:

Ningún estadounidense—blanco o negro—puede escapar a las consecuencias de la continua decadencia social y económica de nuestras principales ciudades. Sólo un compromiso con la acción nacional a una escala sin precedentes puede dar forma a un futuro compatible con los ideales históricos de la sociedad estadounidense. La mayor necesidad es generar una nueva voluntad, la voluntad de gravarnos a nosotros mismos en la medida necesaria, para satisfacer las necesidades vitales de la nación.

Pero, sin mecanismos claros para hacer cumplir las recomendaciones de esta comisión, estas   fueron ignoradas. La Comisión Kerner estableció un modelo para las comisiones sobre raza, policía y desigualdad que ha persistido hasta el presente, creando un rico archivo de audiencias públicas que documentan el racismo y el abuso dirigido a los ciudadanos negros que ha llevado a que se haga muy poco al respecto.

Kerner Commission - Wikipedia

Comisión Kerner

Esta sombría realidad es evidencia de la miopía de la premisa liberal de que exponer un problema es el primer paso en su resolución. De hecho, como explicó la Comisión Kerner, solucionar esos problemas requeriría una acción sin precedentes. Significaría usar los poderes del poder judicial y la burocracia federal para desmantelar los sistemas de segregación residencial, segregación escolar y la segmentación racial de los lugares de trabajo estadounidenses. También significaría aprovechar los recursos financieros para poner fin a la pobreza endémica que hizo que los afroamericanos sean desproporcionadamente vulnerables y visibles para la policía en primer lugar. En cambio, pocos meses después de la publicación del Informe Kerner, Richard Nixon  llevó a cabo una exitosa campaña presidencial impugnando la rebelión negra como mero “crimen” mientras argumentaba que podía restaurar la ley y el orden en las ciudades de la nación. Cuando se postuló para la reelección, en 1972, Nixon combinó su tema de la ley y el orden y una nueva declaración de una “guerra contra las drogas” con un mensaje anti-bienestar social que se convertiría en un tema de la política republicana durante una generación, cohesionando una nueva “mayoría silenciosa” blanca en torno a la política del resentimiento racial y subordinando las demandas de la minoría negra. Hinton pinta un panorama sombrío, en el que la doble agenda de la administración Reagan, de fortalecer la aplicación de la ley mientras se debilitan los programas sociales, ayudó a mantener las condiciones que legitimaron los poderes en expansión de la policía y el crecimiento de las poblaciones carcelarias. Aunque el aumento de las tasas de homicidios parecía atenuar la lógica de que más medidas de control del crimen harían a las personas más seguras, cualquier escepticismo se describió fácilmente como una preocupación insuficiente por la seguridad y el crimen. Políticamente, los funcionarios electos se incitaron unos a otros a exigir leyes más duras, castigos más duros, una aplicación más estricta. Entre 1970 y 1980, el número de personas encarceladas en prisiones federales y estatales aumentó en un cincuenta por ciento.

Más de cincuenta años después de la Comisión Kerner, hemos visto en los últimos ocho años el regreso de las rebeliones negras en respuesta a la creciente desigualdad que ha sido manejada por las fuerzas de la policía racista y abusiva. Esto no es historia que se repite; es evidencia de que los problemas que dieron lugar a rebeliones negras anteriores no se han resuelto. Hinton observa que el “movimiento contemporáneo por la justicia racial se ha basado en tradiciones anteriores, creando un tipo de protesta militante y no violenta que mezcló las tácticas de acción directa del movimiento de derechos civiles con las críticas al racismo sistémico que a menudo se identifican con el poder negro”. Hinton argumenta que la persistencia de la desigualdad, junto con los nuevos ciclos de violencia entre los policías y las fuerzas del orden, es evidencia de que debemos “ir más allá de la reforma”. Pero el tamaño de esa tarea parece detener a Hinton en seco. Ella no es ingenua sobre la dificultad de efectuar los cambios que son necesarios para frenar a la policía abusiva y al mismo tiempo resolver las desigualdades profundas y de larga data que siempre legitiman la policía. Con esto en mente, evita la tentación de envolver cuidadosamente esta historia con sugerencias simplistas para más políticas públicas que no tienen ninguna posibilidad de aprobación o que inevitablemente no se aplicarán. Sin embargo, sugiere que se reformen las fórmulas de impuestos regresivos que privan de financiamiento a los programas públicos. También pide que se establezca un sistema de justicia “basado en el principio de reparación en lugar de retribución”. Pero estas recomendaciones palidecen en comparación con el poder de la protesta colectiva que ella expertamente documenta a lo largo del libro.

Los Angeles Riots of 1992 | Summary, Deaths, & Facts | Britannica

Los Ángeles, 1992

No hay respuestas fáciles a la pregunta de cómo poner fin al ciclo de policía racista y abusivo, pero la fuerza de la resistencia y la rebelión ha sido la forma más eficaz de exponer el problema y presionar a las autoridades para que actúen. La mayor diferencia entre ahora y el período de rebelión de crisol anterior es que los levantamientos de hoy son cada vez más multirraciales. Desde el levantamiento en Los Ángeles en 1992 y ciertamente las rebeliones del verano pasado, latinx y la gente blanca común se han inspirado en la rebelión como una forma legítima de protesta. Las rebeliones del verano pasado involucraron a miles de personas blancas que también estaban enojadas por los abusos de la policía y por la creciente injusticia de nuestra sociedad. Las demandas de los manifestantes de “desfinanciar a la policía” reunieron a nuevas coaliciones para desafiar las realidades políticas entrelazadas de financiar la aplicación de la ley e ignorar los servicios de bienestar social, al tiempo que inyectaron nuevos argumentos en la discusión pública de este problema tan antiguo de abuso policial racista. Esto no acabará con la brutalidad policial, pero puede ampliar el número de personas que también se ven a sí mismas como víctimas de políticas públicas deformes. Cuanto más grande es el movimiento, más difícil es mantener el status quo.

Traducido por Norberto Barreto Velázquez.

 

 

 

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Lyndon B. Johnson-Remarks on the Signing of the Voting Rights Act (August 6, 1965)

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Lyndon Johnson and the Dominican Intervention of 1965

By David Coleman

US troops patrol the streets near a food line in Santo Domingo on 5 May 1965 during the Dominican Crisis.
US troops patrol the streets near a food line in Santo Domingo
on 5 May 1965 during the Dominican Crisis.

LBJ Regretted Ordering U.S. Troops into Dominican Republic in 1965, White House Tapes Confirm; Yet He Insisted, «I’d do the same thing right this second.»

Dominican Intervention 50 Years Ago Sparked Mainly by Fear of Communists: «I Sure Don’t Want to Wake Up … and Find Out Castro’s in Charge,» President Said

New Transcripts of Key White House Tapes Clarify and Illuminate LBJ’s Personal Role in Decision-Making during the Crisis

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 513

Posted – April 28, 2015
Edited by David Coleman
For more information, contact:
David Coleman, david@historyinpieces.com, 703/942-9245
or nsarchiv@gwu.edu, 202/994-7000

Washington, D.C., April 28, 2015 – President Lyndon Johnson regretted sending U.S. troops into the Dominican Republic in 1965, telling aides less than a month later, «I don’t want to be an intervenor,» according to new transcripts of White House tapes published today (along with the tapes themselves) for the first time by the National Security Archive at George Washington University (www.nsarchive.org).

Johnson ordered U.S. Marines into Santo Domingo 50 years ago today. Three weeks later, he lamented both that the crisis had cost American lives and that it had turned out badly on the ground as well as for the United States’ – and Johnson’s own – political standing. Nevertheless, he insisted he would «do the same thing right this second.»

In conversations with aides captured on the White House taping system, Johnson expressed sharp frustrations, including with the group surrounding exiled President Juan Bosch, whom the United States was supporting. Speaking in late May 1965, Johnson told an adviser, «they have to clean themselves up, as I see it, where we can live with them. Put enough perfume on to kill the odor of killing 20 Americans and wounding 100.»

Johnson’s public explanation for sending the Marines into Santo Domingo was to rescue Americans endangered by civil war conditions in the Dominican Republic. But his main motivation, the tapes and transcripts confirm, was to prevent a Communist takeover. Basing his decision largely on assertions by the CIA and others in the U.S. government that Cuba’s Fidel Castro had been behind the recent uprising, Johnson confided to his national security advisor, «I sure don’t want to wake up … and find out Castro’s in charge.»

That intelligence, along with other information Johnson received during the crisis, turned out to be erroneous – a possibility LBJ himself worried about at the time.

The tapes, transcript and introductory material presented in this posting were provided by David Coleman, former chair of the Presidential Recordings Program at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, and a Fellow at the National Security Archive. As Coleman notes, the materials are revelatory about Johnson’s personal conduct of the crisis and his decision-making style as president. The transcripts, in several cases newly created by Coleman, are crucial to understanding the material on the tapes, which can be hard to decipher and are therefore often of limited usefulness on their own to researchers.

* * * * *

Lyndon Johnson and the Dominican Intervention of 1965

By David Coleman

Fifty years ago today, some 400 U.S. Marines landed in the Dominican Republic. By the end of the following day, over 1,000 more had landed. In the coming weeks, they were joined by U.S. Army forces. Eventually, tens of thousands of U.S. troops would be engaged in what became known as the Dominican Intervention, first as part of a U.S. unilateral military action and then under the auspices of an international force compiled by the Organization of American States.

President Johnson huddles with advisers in the Cabinet Room of the White House on April 28, 1965, just before delivering his televised speech announcing the deployment of U.S. Marines into Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. L-R: George Ball, Sec. Dean Rusk, President Lyndon B. Johnson, Jack Valenti, Richard Goodwin, unidentified, George Reedy, McGeorge Bundy, unidentified. Photo by Yoichi Okamoto / LBJ Library.

Four days earlier, the Dominican Republic had begun a spiral into civil war when members of the Partido Revolucionario Dominicano (Dominican Revolutionary Party) and their allies stormed the National Palace and installed a provisional president. Resistance from Loyalist forces led to escalating levels of violence.

A series of increasingly dire reports from the U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, William Tapley «Tap» Bennett, Jr., warning that the situation was getting dangerous for American citizens in the country and that outside influences were likely playing an influential role in the revolution convinced Johnson that he had to act and that he did not have the luxury of time to assemble an international coalition through the Organization of American States.

Against the advice of many of his senior advisers, Johnson personally decided to send in the Marines. Their declared mission was to protect and evacuate U.S. citizens from the island. As he explained it to a national television audience on the evening of April 28, it was «in order to give protection to hundreds of Americans who are still in the Dominican Republic and to escort them safely back to this country.»[1]

There was no mention of a communist threat in his public statement; nor had there been in his news conference comments the previous afternoon. Indeed, Johnson himself had specifically removed any such references from the drafts of his statement to encourage an emphasis on the peace-keeping and humanitarian aspects of the intervention. But there was a second important part of the military mission. As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Earle Wheeler put it in orders to General Bruce Palmer Jr., the commander of U.S. forces, the mission had two objectives, one announced and one unannounced.

Your announced mission is to save US lives. Your unannounced mission is to prevent the Dominican Republic from going Communist. The President has stated that he will not allow another Cuba—you are to take all necessary measures to accomplish this mission. You will be given sufficient forces to do the job.[2]

Johnson feared that Castro-ite and Communist forces were threatening to establish a Communist regime in the Dominican Republic. But there was little hard evidence of such influence—something Johnson suspected at the time and which prompted later private expressions of regret.

LBJ’s secretly recorded White House tapes provide a deeply textured and intimate view of his decision making during the crisis.[3]

The telephone had long been one of Johnson’s essential work tools, allowing him to neutralize geography and compress time in reaching out beyond the bubble of the Oval Office. During the Dominican crisis, he employed it extensively, connecting directly with Tap Bennet in Santo Domingo, and with Puerto Rico where Abe Fortas (the future Supreme Court justice) had volunteered his services as a line of communication with exiled president Juan Bosch. He was also able to get status reports at all hours directly from the duty officers in the White House Situation Room and the Pentagon Military Command Center.

President Lyndon Johnson on the telephone in the Oval Office on July 17, 1965. Photo by Yoichi Okamoto / LBJ Library.

But it did not always go smoothly. The lack of secure communications equipment meant that the President and his representatives in the Caribbean typically had to speak over open lines that were prone to interception or just the more mundane problem of crossed lines. In some cases, that led to absurdly convoluted codes being improvised that often created more confusion than clarity. In one call presented below, Johnson tells Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to call Bennett in Santo Domingo to ask his opinion on whether to send in an additional 500 Marines. «Listen for him to cough right loud, and if he doesn’t, why, let’s move,» Johnson instructs.[4]

Reflecting Johnson’s own heavy personal involvement in directing the intervention, the crisis is represented on hundreds of tapes in the Johnson collection of secretly recorded White House telephone conversations. Below is only a small sampling taken mainly from the first days when the important decisions were being made about sending U.S. Marines into harm’s way and whether to escalate U.S. military involvement.

The transcripts presented here provide a cross-section illustrating Johnson’s personal management of the crisis. Some of them are entirely new; others are improved versions of transcripts that have been published elsewhere previously. Together they reveal the kind of information that the President was hearing, including when, how, and from whom. They reveal, strikingly and often jarringly, the kind of incomplete and often flawed information that was being used to make important decisions. And they show the gap between what was being said in public and what was being said in private, a phenomenon that had troubled the administration less than a year earlier in the Tonkin Gulf episode and would become increasingly important as the Vietnam War raged on.

* * * * *

Links to Tapes and Transcripts

[Note: The following tapes are available at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, White House (WH) and Situation Room (SR) Series, Recordings and Transcripts of Conversations and Meetings.]

(See http://www.lbjlib.utexas.edu/johnson/archives.hom/Dictabelt.hom/content.asp.)

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The democratically-elected Arbenz government hoped for economic prosperity through economic reform and a highway to the Atlantic.

United States Interventions What For?

By John H. Coatsworth 

Revista Harvard Review of Latin America 

Spring/ Summer 2005

In the slightly less than a hundred years from 1898 to 1994, the U.S. government has intervened successfully to change governments in Latin America a total of at least 41 times. That amounts to once every 28 months for an entire century (see table).

Direct intervention occurred in 17 of the 41 cases. These incidents involved the use of U.S. military forces, intelligence agents or local citizens employed by U.S. government agencies. In another 24 cases, the U.S. government played an indirect role. That is, local actors played the principal roles, but either would not have acted or would not have succeeded without encouragement from the U.S. government.

While direct interventions are easily identified and copiously documented, identifying indirect interventions requires an exercise in historical judgment. The list of 41 includes only cases where, in the author’s judgment, the incumbent government would likely have survived in the absence of U.S. hostility. The list ranges from obvious cases to close calls. An example of an obvious case is the decision, made in the Oval Office in January 1963, to incite the Guatemalan army to overthrow the (dubiously) elected government of Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes in order to prevent an open competitive election that might have been won by left-leaning former President Juan José Arévalo. A less obvious case is that of the Chilean military coup against the government of President Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973. The Allende government had plenty of domestic opponents eager to see it deposed. It is included in this list because U.S. opposition to a coup (rather than encouragement) would most likely have enabled Allende to continue in office until new elections.

The 41 cases do not include incidents in which the United States sought to depose a Latin American government, but failed in the attempt. The most famous such case was the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of April 1961. Allvadorso absent from the list are numerous cases in which the U.S. government acted decisively to forestall a coup d’etat or otherwise protect an incumbent regime from being overthrown.

Overthrowing governments in Latin America has never been exactly routine for the United States. However, the option to depose a sitting government has appeared on the U.S. president’s desk with remarkable frequency over the past century. It is no doubt still there, though the frequency with which the U.S. president has used this option has fallen rapidly since the end of the Cold War.

Though one may quibble about cases, the big debates—both in the public and among historians and social scientists—have centered on motives and causes. In nearly every case, U.S. officials cited U.S. security interests, either as determinative or as a principal motivation. With hindsight, it is now possible to dismiss most these claims as implausible. In many cases, they were understood as necessary for generating public and congressional support, but not taken seriously by the key decision makers. The United States did not face a significant military threat from Latin America at any time in the 20th century. Even in the October 1962 missile crisis, the Pentagon did not believe that the installation of Soviet missiles in Cuba altered the global balance of nuclear terror. It is unlikely that any significant threat would have materialized if the 41 governments deposed by the United States had remained in office until voted out or overturned without U.S. help.

In both the United States and Latin America, economic interests are often seen as the underlying cause of U.S. interventions. This hypothesis has two variants. One cites corruption and the other blames capitalism. The corruption hypothesis contends that U.S. officials order interventions to protect U.S. corporations. The best evidence for this version comes from the decision to depose the elected government of Guatemala in 1954. Except for President Dwight Eisenhower, every significant decision maker in this case had a family, business or professional tie to the United Fruit Company, whose interests were adversely affected by an agrarian reform and other policies of the incumbent government. Nonetheless, in this as in every other case involving U.S. corporate interests, the U.S. government would probably not have resorted to intervention in the absence of other concerns.

The capitalism hypothesis is a bit more sophisticated. It holds that the United States intervened not to save individual companies but to save the private enterprise system, thus benefiting all U.S. (and Latin American) companies with a stake in the region. This is a more plausible argument, based on repeated declarations by U.S. officials who seldom missed an opportunity to praise free enterprise. However, capitalism was not at risk in the overwhelming majority of U.S. interventions, perhaps even in none of them. So this ideological preference, while real, does not help explain why the United States intervened. U.S. officials have also expressed a preference for democratic regimes, but ordered interventions to overthrow elected governments more often than to restore democracy in Latin America. Thus, this preference also fails to carry much explanatory power.

An economist might approach the thorny question of causality not by asking what consumers or investors say about their preferences, but what their actions can help us to infer about them. An economist’s approach might also help in another way, by distinguishing between supply and demand. A look at the supply side suggests that interventions will occur more often where they do not cost much, either directly in terms of decision makers’ time and resources, or in terms of damage to significant interests. On the demand side, two factors seem to have been crucial in tipping decision makers toward intervention: domestic politics and global strategy.

Domestic politics seems to be a key factor in most of these cases. For example, internal documents show that President Lyndon Johnson ordered U.S. troops to the Dominican Republic in 1965 not because of any plausible threat to the United States, but because he felt threatened by Republicans in Congress. Political competition within the United States accounts for the disposition of many U.S. presidentions

nts to order interventions.

The second key demand-side factor could be called the global strategy effect. The United States in the 20th century defined its strategic interests in global terms. This was particularly true after World War II when the United States moved rapidly to project its power into regions of the earth on the periphery of the Communist states where it had never had a presence before. In the case of Latin America, where the United States faced no foreseeable military threat, policy planners did nonetheless identify potential future threats. This was especially true in the 1960s, after the Cuban Revolution. The United States helped to depose nine of the governments that fell to military rulers in the 1960s, about one every 13 months and more than in any other decade. Curiously, however, we now know that U.S. decision makers were repeatedly assured by experts in the CIA and other intelligence gathering agencies that, in the words of a 1968 National Intelligence Estimate, “In no case do insurgencies pose a serious short run threat…revolution seems unlikely in most Latin American countries within the next few years.” Few challenged the idea that leftist regimes would pose a secutiry threat to the United States. threat…revolution seems unlikely in most Latin American countries

Thus, in a region where intervention was not very costly, and even major failures unlikely to damage U.S. interests, the combination of domestic political competition and potential future threats—even those with a low probability of ever materializing—appear to explain most of the 20th century US interventions.

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that U.S. interventions did not serve U.S. national interests well. They generated needless resentment in the region and called into question the U.S. commitment to democracy and rule of law in international affairs. The downward trend in the past decade and half is a positive development much to be encouraged.

CHRONICLING INTERVENTIONS

U.S. DIRECT INTERVENTIONS 
Military/CIA activity that changed governments

COUNTRY YEAR EVENT SUMMARY
Cuba 1898-1902 Spanish-American War
1906-09 Ousts elected Pres. Palma; occupation regime
1917-23 U.S. reoccupation, gradual withdrawal
Dominican Rep 1916-24 U.S. occupation
1961 Assassination of Pres. Trujillo
1965 U.S. Armed Forces occupy Sto Domingo
Grenada 1983 U.S. Armed Forces occupy island; oust government
Guatemala 1954 C.I.A.-organized armed force ousts Pres. Arbenz
Haiti 1915-34 U.S. occupation
1994 U.S. troops restore constitutional government
Mexico 1914 Veracuz occupied; US allows rebels to buy arms
Nicaragua 1910 Troops to Corinto, Bluefields during revolt
1912-25 U.S. occupation
1926-33 U.S. occupation
1981-90 Contra war; then support for opposition in election
Panama 1903-14 U.S. Troops secure protectorate, canal
1989 U.S. Armed Forces occupy nation

U.S. INDIRECT INTERVENTION
Government/regime changes in which U.S. is decisive

COUNTRY YEAR EVENT SUMMARY
Bolivia 1944 Coup uprising overthrow Pres. Villaroel
1963 Military coup ousts elected Pres. Paz Estenssoro
1971 Military coup ousts Gen. Torres
Brazil 1964 Military coup ousts elected Pres. Goulart
Chile 1973 Coup ousts elected Pres. Allende.
1989-90 Aid to anti-Pinochet opposition
Cuba 1933 U.S. abandons support for Pres. Machado
1934 U.S. sponsors coup by Col. Batista to oust Pres. Grau
Dominican Rep. 1914 U.S. secures ouster of Gen. José Bordas
1963 Coup ousts elected Pres. Bosch
El Salvador 1961 Coup ousts reformist civil-military junta
1979 Coup ousts Gen. Humberto Romero
1980 U.S. creates and aids new Christian Demo junta
Guatemala 1963 U.S. supports coup vs elected Pres. Ydígoras
1982 U.S. supports coup vs Gen. Lucas García
1983 U.S. supports coup vs Gen. Rios Montt
Guyana 1953 CIA aids strikes; Govt. is ousted
Honduras 1963 Military coups ousts elected Pres. Morales
Mexico 1913 U.S. Amb. H. L. Wilson organizes coup v Madero
Nicaragua 1909 Support for rebels vs Zelaya govt
1979 U.S. pressures Pres. Somoza to leave
Panama 1941 U.S supports coup ousting elected Pres. Arias
1949 U.S. supports coup ousting constitutional govt of VP Chanís
1969 U.S. supports coup by Gen. Torrijos
John H. Coatsworth is Monroe Gutman Professor of Latin American Affairs. Coatsworth’s most recent book is «The Cambridge Economic History of Latin America,» a two-volume reference work, edited with Victor Bulmer-Thomas and Roberto Cortes Conde – See more at: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/157958#sthash.I6nAx9Oq.dpuf

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lbj-obama-combo(1)

President Barack Obama has lost his hold on a majority of Americans, according to recent polls. Though more than two years remain in his term, the popular appeal that propelled him to win the 2008 and 2012 elections may be beyond recovery.

It is sadly reminiscent of what President Lyndon B. Johnson experienced in the mid-1960s after winning the 1964 presidential election by one of the largest landslides in U.S. history.  This is not to suggest that history is repeating itself. There are too many differences between Johnson and Obama — both the men and their presidencies — to argue that. Yet, as Mark Twain said, history may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

In broad terms, though, LBJ and Obama share a record of pushing through bold domestic reforms, then losing momentum as foreign affairs blocked their progressive programs. With Johnson, it was largely foreign problems that stopped his forward motion. With Obama, it has been foreign and domestic developments.

lbj-crowds

Johnson’s Great Society and War on Poverty programs generated strong conservative opposition to so broad an expansion of federal power. Johnson most likely wouldn’t even have been able to enact his stunning domestic reforms if not for President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963. This tragedy gave Johnson a martyr to invoke in his effort to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Bill, which forbids racial segregation in public accommodations and helped establish an anti-poverty agency that Johnson said JFK intended to create.

The two-thirds Democratic majorities that Johnson had in both the House of Representatives and the Senate after the 1964 elections allowed him to push through the Voting Rights Act, as well as Medicare and federal aid to education. Numerous other progressive reforms became law in 1965 and 1966, including two new Cabinet departments –transportation and housing and urban development.

By 1967, however, Johnson’s advocacy of additional reforms had fallen victim to the fighting in Vietnam, where the United States was losing close to thousands of combat troops every month, and doubts had arisen about the wisdom of fighting a war against insurgents in the Vietnamese jungles. The public  questioned why American sacrifices in Southeast Asia were essential to defeating Communist Russia and China in the Cold War.

The surprising North Vietnamese-Viet Cong Tet offensive in the winter of 1968 did much to create a Johnson “credibility gap.” He had been insisting the U.S. military could see the light at the end of the tunnel in Vietnam.

“How do you know when LBJ is telling the truth?” Johnson’s critics would ask. “When he rubs his chin or pulls at his ear lobes, he’s telling the truth. When he moves his lips, you know he’s lying.”

lbj-mlk

Tet and the credibility gap helped end any prospect of renewed progressive advances in the United States and destroyed Johnson’s chances of winning another term. Vietnam crushed Johnson’s reform ambitions and hopes of a historical reputation as one of America’s great presidents.

Ironically, Johnson thought if he lost Vietnam it would kill his reform agenda. But it was the fighting in Vietnam that ruined all his progressive dreams.

Obama has had no single foreign-affairs frustration comparable to Vietnam. Historians will likely credit the Obama administration with more advances toward a more humane society. His signed into law his signature initiative, the Affordable Care Act, designed to provide health insurance to most of the more than 40 million uninsured; promoted equal rights for women, including equal pay for similar work; ensured equal treatment under the law for gays and lesbians; increased protections for the environment, and pressed for sympathetic treatment of illegal immigrants, especially the “Dreamers,” children brought to the United States by their parents.

The Obama presidency will likely be remembered as part of the country’s progressive tradition — dating back to President Theodore Roosevelt and continuing with the administrations of Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Johnson.

At this juncture, however, when Democrats look unlikely to take back the House or perhaps hold the Senate in the midterm elections, Obama’s progressive agenda seems to be stymied by both domestic and foreign developments.

At home, he confronts the aggressively conservative Tea Party movement. Its message has been consistently anti-government — and anti-Obama.

During one of the five dinners that Obama has held with a group of presidential historians (including me), I said the Tea Party is practicing classic “politics of resentment.” Though Tea Party adherents talk about being opposed to government debt and intrusion into people’s private lives, this is only the overt part of their opposition, I explained. Tea Party adherents are mainly white, middle-class citizens, angry at being elbowed aside by minority voters. Obama replied only that he saw something “subterranean” in their outlook.

lbj-signing-voting-rgt-bigger

In many ways, though, these Tea Party conservatives are a throwback to the fundamentalists of the 1920s, who spoke out against blacks, Catholics, Jews and immigrants. The 1924 National Origins Act, strongly supported by small-town and rural Americans across the country, served as a roadblock to post-1870 immigrants, who flocked to America from Southern and Eastern Europe. When Johnson put through major immigration reform in 1965, tossing out the National Origins measure, he called the 1924 law “racist.”

Tea Party-inclined Republican representatives in the House have indeed played a large part in stopping Obama’s reform agenda. The Republican House majority has often made it impossible for the president to negotiate compromises on his proposals and virtually killed some legislative advances Obama hoped would expand his record of progressive reforms.

Even if the Republicans didn’t control the House, however, Obama’s foreign-policy problems would likely have made a bold reform program problematic. In May 2009, at the first of our White House dinners, three historians (full disclosure: including me) cautioned the president against expanding the war in Afghanistan or sending in additional ground forces.  History has shown the difficulty of combining guns and butter, we stated.

Consider: U.S. participation in World War I ended the Progressive movement; after Pearl Harbor, FDR said “Dr. Win the War” had replaced “Dr. New Deal;” President Harry S. Truman’s Fair Deal went a-glimmering with the Korean War, and LBJ’s Great Society came to a halt with Vietnam.

lbj -- obama-face

Obama replied that he was not unmindful of what we were saying. But, he added, he had a problem with this argument. We took it to mean that though he had labeled Iraq a “mistake” and vowed to “remove” U.S. troops from there as soon as possible, he had called Afghanistan a “necessary” conflict and could not back away from it without paying a substantial political price or abandoning a foreign-policy judgment he still considered accurate.

Other foreign problems have also undermined Obama’s popularity. These include a red line in Syria that he never enforced, as well as an inability to influence events in Egypt or the fighting between Israel and Hamas. He also looks unprepared to deal with Islamic State’s challenge to the Iraqi government and other Middle East nations, and the Ebola crisis has driven his approval numbers lower. With only about 40 percent of the country now supporting him, it is doubtful that he could have led other bold reforms through even a more sympathetic Congress.

Like Truman, Johnson and Jimmy Carter before him, Obama now looks like he could end his presidency on a sour note. Yet he still has two years to recoup some of the lost political ground and find a formula that excites renewed enthusiasm for his leadership.

It is doubtful that Obama will end up with as poor a reputation as Johnson. Recent polls place Johnson third from the bottom in the rankings of public approval for the 10 last presidents — ahead of only Richard M. Nixon and George W. Bush. Obama will certainly do better than that.

The high hopes Obama initially brought to the White House, however, have been disappointed. He has again forcefully demonstrated that being president can be a hazardous enterprise.

PHOTO (TOP): REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/LBJ Presidential Library

PHOTO (INSERT 1): President Lyndon B. Johnson shaking hands with a crowd in 1966. REUTERS/LBJ Presidential Library

PHOTO (INSERT 2): President Lyndon B. Johnson talking with Martin Luther King Jr. in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, March 18, 1966. REUTERS/LBJ Presidential Library photo by Yoichi Okamoto

PHOTO (INSERT 3): President Lyndon B. Johnson signing Voting Rights Act of 1965.

PHOTO (INSERT 4): President Barack Obama speaks during a visit to the Denver Police Academy in Denver, Colorado, April 3, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Robert Dallek

Robert Dallek is the author of two volumes on President Lyndon B. Johnson, «Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson in his Times 1908-1960» and «Flawed Giant 1961-1973.» He is also the author of «An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy 1917-1963» and most recently «Camelot’s Court: Inside the Kennedy White House.» He is now writing a biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

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The right’s food stamp embarrassment: A history lesson for the haters

Caitlin Rathe

Salon.com   September 1, 2014

The right's food stamp embarrassment: A history lesson for the haters

Franklin D. Roosevelt (Credit: AP)

Food stamps became part of American life 50 years ago this Sunday when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Food Stamp Act into law on Aug. 31, 1964. The program has been a whipping boy almost ever since, especially from conservatives who call the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, the contemporary name for food stamps) a costly and demoralizing example of government overreach.

But SNAP was not an idea first created by liberal do-gooders of the 1960s. Food stamps emerged three decades earlier with active participation of businessmen, the heroes of the exact group of people who want to see the program dissolved today.

The early Great Depression was marked by a “paradox of poverty amidst plenty.” Massive crop surpluses led to low prices for farmers. At first, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration tried paying farmers to plow under surplus crops and kill livestock. In theory, decreasing the supply would raise farm prices incentivizing farmers to get their crops to market. But the plan was met with outrage from hungry citizens who said they could have put the destroyed “surplus” food to good use.

After this failed start, Roosevelt tried another plan. Government purchased excess crops at a set price and distributed them at little or no cost to poor Americans. But this system was also met with criticism, this time from the sellers of food goods. Wholesalers and retailers were upset that government distribution bypassed “the regular commercial system,” undercutting their profits.

The Roosevelt administration started the first pilot food stamp program in 1939 to integrate businesses in getting food to the hungry. However, there were concerns about the food stamp program’s success. A news magazine at the time reported, “there was no difficulty in selling the idea to grocers,” but some feared that the “real beneficiaries” wouldn’t cooperate. Unlike the image conjured up today of the poor clamoring for government aid, in the time of perhaps the greatest need in the past century, businesses were more excited about the federal assistance than the hungry individuals who were to benefit.

And it turns out businessmen had good reason for their glee; in the first months of the pilot program, grocery receipts were up 15 percent in the dozen “stamp towns.” Conservatives appreciated people “going through the regular channels of trade” and not relying on “government machinery” to bring food to people. The program proved to be so successful that it expanded to half of the counties in the nation by 1943. But the conditions that led to the program’s creation, high unemployment and large agricultural surpluses, disappeared in the WWII economy and the pilot program was shelved.

Twenty years later, the 1960 CBS documentary “Harvest of Shame” demonstrated hunger and poverty remained a reality for far too many Americans. Newly inaugurated President John F. Kennedy found it unconscionable that in the wealthiest nation on the planet, close to one-quarter lived in poverty without access to enough nutritious food to lead productive lives. He used his first executive order in office to reinstate the food stamp pilot program.

After JFK’s assassination, President Johnson reflected on the continued existence of hunger in America. However, the Texan was adamant that any government help would provide people with “a hand up, not a hand out.” Food stamps provided the perfect way to do this. JFK’s pilot program had proven that food stamps improved low-income families’ diets “while strengthening markets for the farmer and immeasurably improving the volume of retail food sales.” And importantly, the poor purchased more food “using their own dollars.” Based on this assessment, LBJ made the Food Stamp Program a permanent part of the welfare state.

Much like grocers in the stamp towns of the late 1930s, grocery chains today continue to bring in increased sales from SNAP receipts during recessions. Remember last winter when stimulus funds expired and Wal-Mart disclosed lower than expected fourth quarter profits? While Wal-Mart refuses to disclose its total revenues from SNAP, it is estimated they took in 18 percent of total SNAP benefits in 2013, or close to $13 billion in sales. They publicly reported lower earnings per share as “the sales impact from the reduction in SNAP benefits that went into effect Nov. 1 is greater than we expected.”

SNAP recipients, then, are not the program’s only beneficiaries. Businesses profit handsomely from them, too. How ironic that in today’s concentrated grocery-retail market, the chains most ideologically opposed to welfare spending benefit the most from this welfare program. Even more ironic is the fact that the idea behind SNAP originated with grocery men in the 1930s who saw a way to route welfare spending through their businesses. When will today’s conservatives claim as their own these daring and entrepreneurial businessmen who, in part, made the Food Stamp Program possible?

Caitlin Rathe is a graduate student at University of California, Santa Barbara.

 

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50 Years Ago Congress Gave the President a Blank Check for War 

by Leonard Steinhorn

HNN August 3, 2014

 

Walt Rostow showing LBJ a map of Khe Sanh in 1968

 

Fifty years ago, on August 10, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed what is known as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. It is a day that should live in infamy.

On that day, the President gave himself the power “to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed forces,” to fight the spread of communism in Southeast Asia and assist our ally in South Vietnam “in defense of its freedom.”

Or as former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara put it decades later, it gave “complete authority to the president to take the nation to war.”

History has shown that the resolution was built on a foundation of misinformation, fabrication, and willful evasion of the truth. Contrary to what the President claimed, there was no unprovoked “act of aggression” against the American  destroyers that were patrolling the Tonkin Gulf, and a second alleged incident never even took place.

But the Johnson administration was looking for a pretext to escalate the war. “We don’t know what happened,” National Security Adviser Walter W. Rostow told the president after Congress passed the resolution, “but it had the desired result.”

The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution may have had the desired result, but the war it unleashed didn’t.

By the time Lyndon Johnson left office more than four years later, we had amassed over half a million troops in Vietnam, lost nearly 37,000 soldiers, dropped more bomb tonnage than we had in all of World War II, released chemical weapons – Napalm and Agent Orange – throughout Southeast Asia, and burned thousands of South Vietnamese homes and villages to the ground.

Yet it was increasingly clear by then that we could not win the war.

Rather than stopping any dominoes from falling in Southeast Asia, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution set in motion a series of dominoes in our own country  that would profoundly alter our politics, economy, and culture for years to come.

Perhaps the most significant decision President Johnson made beyond using his newly authorized power to escalate the war was to hide the cost of the war and resist any tax increase to pay for it. Johnson feared that any congressional debate over funding the war would come at the expense of his Great Society program.

He wanted both guns and butter, but he worried that Congress would choose guns over butter. So once again he resorted to obfuscation and deception to get his way.

What resulted was a cascading series of economic  consequences that would transform our nation and undermine the Great Society he so dearly wanted to protect.

To pay for the war without gutting his robust domestic agenda, Johnson resorted to deficit spending which fueled an already overheating economy that was now being asked to divert its productivity away from consumer goods and toward the war effort.

Consumer demand began to outstrip supply, and that let the inflation genie out of the bottle. Less than five years after the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed, inflation more than quadrupled.

Johnson couldn’t hide the rising cost of the war for long, and by 1968 he asked for a 10 percent tax surcharge on all but the poorest Americans. But it came at a cost: Congress demanded, and he had to accept, a 10 percent reduction in domestic discretionary spending. Barely three years after birthing the Great Society, he began to starve it to pay for the war. It never fully recovered.

To middle and working class Americans, the backbone of the New Deal coalition, the war’s economic impact was taking a toll. Though inflation meant pay raises once a year, prices for food and consumer goods were rising every month which then ate away at any increase in their wages.

Their standard of living began to stagnate. Nor were taxes indexed to inflation in those years, so every pay increase risked pushing them into a higher tax bracket, which took even more money from their pockets in addition to the tax surcharge they would have to pay.

These were largely Democratic voters who generally supported the president and the war – many had their own boys fighting in Vietnam – so if they were looking for blame they weren’t about to point the finger at a deceptive and misguided war policy.

Instead, they saw higher taxes, higher domestic spending, and lots of fanfare for a Great Society that didn’t seem to include them. They also saw domestic unrest and urban riots.

To them, they were hard-working Americans who played by the rules yet were now forced to tread water just to keep from falling behind while government seemed to be giving everything away to the poor. That domestic programs themselves were getting squeezed by the war was a detail that got lost in the heat of the moment.

Couple these growing resentments with the fact that it was their boys, not the children of the well-educated, who were being sent off to war. From their perspective, the liberal elites were taxing them to coddle the poor, yet when it came to defending our nation these same liberal elites sheltered their sons in colleges and universities.

Those seeking to understand the rise of Reagan Democrats and white working class Republican populists – and the corresponding demise of the New Deal majority – need look no further. The cultural and political divide that began in the Sixties was a direct result of the deceit that brought us the Vietnam War.

And what was then a still fragile liberal consensus that government could mitigate the hardships of poverty – a consensus that enabled passage of the Great Society legislation – began to erode.

That an administration could dissemble us into war would lead to another cultural and political repercussion of Vietnam: our growing and seemingly permanent distrust of government.

Trust in government peaked at 76 percent in 1964, not coincidentally the same year as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, and declined precipitously in the years thereafter, reaching what was then a low of 25 percent in 1980, according to the University of Michigan’s National Election Studies.

Not all of this decline is due to Vietnam, but a war built on the original sin of deception, fiction, and illusion deserves a good deal of the blame.

Almost daily, Americans were treated to an official  version of the war that had us winning. The  Johnson administration trumpeted body counts and bombing raids and assured us, in the famous words of General William Westmoreland, that there was “light at the end of the tunnel.”

But there was no light. The dark reality we saw every night on television contradicted what our leaders were telling us. We saw bloodied soldiers, troops burning villages, body bags, fear and despair and little of the triumphalism that was emanating from the Pentagon.

When the Vietcong launched their Tet Offensive in  January 1968, striking at the U.S. Embassy and other key sites in the heart of Saigon, Americans had a hard time reconciling the official version with what they were witnessing.

Thus was born the credibility gap between the American government and its citizens.

And nowhere did it grow wider than among journalists, who were greeted with untruths during the daily military briefings in Vietnam – known as the Five O’clock Follies – and saw through such euphemisms as “pacification,” which in truth meant torching Vietnamese huts and shooting those who resisted, and “collateral damage,” which in reality meant civilian deaths.

Reflexive skepticism of government remains a defining characteristic of contemporary journalism.

Watergate, which calcified the credibility gap, also grew out of Vietnam when President Richard Nixon authorized his secretive White House Plumbers to retaliate against Daniel Ellsberg, whose leak of the Pentagon Papers laid bare the duplicity behind the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the U.S. prosecution of the war.

Years later Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon, one of two who voted against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, told Ellsberg that if members of Congress had seen the evidence from the Pentagon Papers in 1964, “the Tonkin Gulf Resolution would never have gotten out of committee, and if it had been brought to the floor, it would have been voted down.”

What Lyndon Johnson saw as a ploy to grant him war powers ended up harming so many and transforming our nation in ways the President surely never intended. It would end up engulfing the liberalism he so loved. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the hubris behind it were the linchpins of Johnson’s Shakespearean Vietnam tragedy – and ours as well.

Leonard Steinhorn is a professor of communication and affiliate professor of history at American University, where he teaches politics, strategic communication, and courses on the presidency and recent American history. He is the author of the much discussed book on baby boomers, The Greater Generation: In Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy, and co-author of the critically acclaimed By the Color of Our Skin: The Illusion of Integration and The Reality of Race.

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“You could blackmail LBJ”: The other Nixon scandal behind the Watergate scandal

 Ken Hughes

Salon.com  July 27, 2014

"You could blackmail LBJ": The other Nixon scandal behind the Watergate scandal

Johnson and Richard M. Nixon (Credit: AP/Charles Tasnadi)

Excerpted from “Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair, and the Origins of Watergate”

On all 2,636 hours of secretly recorded Nixon White House tapes that the government has declassified to date, you can hear the president of the United States order precisely one break-in. It wasn’t Watergate, but it does expose the roots of the cover-up that ultimately brought down Richard Milhous Nixon. Investigation of its origin reveals almost as much about the president’s rise as his fall.

June 17, 1971, 5:15 p.m., the Oval Office. None of the president’s men knew what to do when he ordered them to burglarize the Brookings Institution, a venerable Washington think tank. Richard Nixon had gathered his inner circle to talk about something entirely different—the recent leak of the Pentagon Papers, at that point the biggest unauthorized disclosure of classified information in US history. The seven-thousand-page Defense Department history of Vietnam decision making during the administrations of Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson had nothing on President Nixon. The study stopped well before his election, climaxing with LBJ’s surprise March 31, 1968, announcement that he would not seek a second full term.

In that same speech, Johnson created the issue that nearly sank Nixon’s presidential campaign. LBJ announced that he was limiting American bombing of North Vietnam—and would stop it completely if Hanoi could convince him that this would lead to prompt, productive peace talks. Throughout the fall campaign, Nixon worried that LBJ would announce a bombing halt before Election Day, a move that would boost the Democratic nominee, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey. Johnson did, and it did. The president announced the bombing halt on Halloween, less than a week before the voting. The Republican nominee, who had begun the campaign 16 points ahead in the polls, watched his lead disappear. Nixon still won, but it was too close—at that point the second-closest race of the twentieth century, right behind the one he had lost in 1960 to JFK.

“You could blackmail Johnson on this stuff, and it might be worth doing,” said White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman, a California public relations executive with blue eyes and a brush cut who spent years polishing Walt Disney’s image before taking on the greater challenge of managing Nixon’s.

“How?” the president asked.

“The bombing halt stuff is all in the same file,” Bob Haldeman said. “Huston swears to God there’s a file on it at Brookings.” Haldeman was working with some bad information. Tom Charles Huston, author of the secret Huston Plan to expand government break-ins, wiretaps, and mail opening in the name of fighting domestic terror, claimed Brookings had a top secret report on the bombing halt, written under the direction of some of the same people who oversaw the Pentagon Papers project.

 

“Bob, now you remember Huston’s plan? Implement it,” the president said.

 

An aide began to object.

President Nixon: “I mean, I want it implemented on a thievery basis. Goddamn it, get in and get those files. Blow the safe and get it.”

This wasn’t what Haldeman had in mind. He wanted government officials to visit Brookings on the pretext of inspecting how it stored classified material and to confiscate the bombing halt file in the process. No one in the Oval Office pointed out that the president’s idea was illegal. National Security Adviser Henry A. Kissinger, a former Harvard government professor with a profound German accent, asked the obvious question: “But what good will it do you, the bombing halt file?”

“To blackmail him,” the president said. “Because he used the bombing halt for political purposes.”

“The bombing halt file would really kill Johnson,” Haldeman said.

“Why, why do you think that?” Kissinger asked.

The timing, Haldeman said. Johnson stopped the bombing less than a week before the election.

“You remember, I used to give you information about it at the time,” Kissinger said, reminding them of the secret role he had played as an informant to the 1968 Nixon campaign on Johnson’s bombing halt negotiations. Kissinger had worked as a consultant on a 1967 bombing halt initiative for LBJ, so when he visited the American negotiating team in Paris during the 1968 talks, members confided in him. He gained Nixon’s trust by betraying theirs. “To the best of my knowledge, there was never any conversation in which they said we’ll hold it until the end of October,” Kissinger said. “I wasn’t in on the discussions here. I just saw the instructions to [Ambassador W. Averell] Harriman.” (Years later, Kissinger denied having had access to information about the negotiations at the time; the instructions to Ambassador Harriman, LBJ’s lead negotiator with the North Vietnamese, were, of course, highly classified information.) If Kissinger was right, then even if Nixon got someone to break into Brookings and steal the bombing halt report, it was unlikely to contain the blackmail information he said he wanted.

Yet Nixon ordered the Brookings burglary at least three more times in the next two weeks. It was one of the reasons he took the fateful step of creating the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), an unconstitutional secret police organization better known as “the Plumbers” because one of its jobs was to plug leaks. The SIU recruited a former FBI agent with experience conducting “black bag jobs” (that is, government-conducted break-ins) and a former CIA agent experienced in covert operations.

Exactly one year to the day after Nixon first ordered the Brookings break-in, a different one planned by these two former government agents took place at Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters in Washington’s Watergate apartment and office complex. Once Washington, DC, police arrested five men in dark suits and blue gloves at the DNC offices on the morning of June 17, 1972, President Nixon faced a stark choice. An unobstructed investigation of the crimes the two former government agents had committed would lead back to ones that the president himself had ordered. He could either order a cover-up or face impeachment.

So why did Nixon want the bombing halt file so badly in the first place? What good would blackmailing LBJ do, anyway? (At that point, Nixon just wanted the former president to hold a press conference denouncing the leak of the Pentagon Papers—not much of a motive to commit a felony.) The potential downside was enormous—impeachment, conviction, prison, disgrace—and the upside was questionable at best. If Nixon were the kind of president to conduct criminal fishing expeditions for dirt on his predecessors, his tapes would be littered with break-in orders. But Brookings is the only one.

There is a rational explanation. Nixon did have reason to believe that the bombing halt file contained politically explosive information—not about his predecessor, but about himself. Ordering the Brookings break-in wasn’t a matter of opportunism or poor presidential impulse control. As far as Nixon knew, it was a matter of survival. The reasons why are not on Nixon’s tapes, but on those of his predecessor.

Imitation of the Enemy

The president pounded his desk at his first meeting of July 1, 1971, as he told Haldeman and Kissinger, “We’re up against an enemy. A conspiracy. They’re using any means. We are going to use any means. Is that clear? Did they get the Brookings Institute raided last night? No. Get it done. I want it done. I want the Brookings Institute safe cleaned out.”

In his classic essay on conspiracy theorists, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” the historian Richard Hofstadter wrote, “A fundamental paradox of the paranoid style is the imitation of the enemy.” When Nixon conceived of his enemy as Jews, intellectuals, and Ivy Leaguers who arrogantly placed themselves above the law, he gave himself license to do likewise. He placed himself above the law that prohibits the disclosure of grand jury testimony, for one. “This is a conspiracy. It does involve these people, and they are not on very good ground in many cases. Also, we now have the opportunity really to leak out all these nasty stories that’ll kill these bastards,” he said. Though sworn to preserve the Constitution, he placed himself above the Sixth Amendment guarantee of the right to a fair trial. “Screw the court case,” the president said. “I mean, just let’s convict the son of a bitch in the press. That’s the way it’s done!” These orders don’t make Nixon a cackling villain out of melodrama, glorying in his own malevolence. Imitation of the enemy is a faulty kind of moral reasoning, a trumped- up claim of self- defense. Nixon did unto others as he feared they would do unto him. His conspiracy theory enabled him to claim he was fighting fire with fire. But it turned him into what he hated.

It’s questionable whether what Ellsberg did can accurately be called stealing classified government documents, but that’s a perfectly accurate way to describe what Nixon intended to do as he put together an organization to burglarize a think tank, blow its safe open, and obtain a top secret report. Imitation of the enemy, as Hofstadter wrote, produces “secret organizations set up to combat secret organizations.” To fight an imaginary conspiracy, the president initiated a real, criminal one.

 

Excerpted from “Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair, and the Origins of Watergate” by Ken Hughes. Copyright © 2014 by Ken Hughes. Reprinted by arrangement with University of Virginia Press. All rights reserved.

Ken Hughes is a historian at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs, where he heads the Presidential Recordings Project’s Nixon team

 

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Now On Display: The Civil Rights Act of 1964

Prologue: Pieces of History  June 30, 2014

Today’s post comes from David Steinbach, intern in the National Archives History Office.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr., others look on, 07/02/1964. (The Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library)

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark legislation.

The first and the signature pages of the act will be on display at the National Archives Rubenstein Gallery in Washington, DC, until September 17, 2014. These 50-year-old sheets of paper represent years of struggle and society’s journey toward justice.

The most comprehensive civil rights legislation since the Reconstruction era, the Civil Right Act finally gave the Federal Government the means to enforce the promises of the 13th,  14th, and 15th Amendments. The act prohibited discrimination in public places, allowed the integration of public facilities and schools, and forbade discrimination in employment.

But such a landmark congressional enactment was by no means achieved easily. Indeed, developments within the civil rights movement were critical in motivating the bill’s movement through Congress. The push for legislation accelerated in May 1963, when nightly news broadcasts displayed footage of Eugene “Bull” Connor cracking down on demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama.

In this atmosphere, President John F. Kennedy demanded a strong civil rights bill in a national address on June 11: “The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities.”

Pressure for legislation continued to build when thousands of Americans engaged in the peaceful March on Washington on August 28. Two weeks later, a bomb in Birmingham killed four young African American girls. With civil rights at the forefront of the national consciousness, these and other developments encouraged House Democrats to introduce amendments strengthening the bill.

President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Sen. Richard Russell, 12/07/1963. (The Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library)

External pressure made up only one chapter in the story of the bill’s passage, as supporters of the legislation had a battle of their own to wage in Congress. Just five days after Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, President Johnson urged lawmakers “to eliminate from this Nation every trace of discrimination and oppression that is based upon race or color.”

Despite the President’s support, the bill encountered significant difficulties in both chambers of Congress. It took a 70-day hearing process for the legislation to clear the House in February 1964.

As soon as the bill entered the Senate, southern senators commenced a 60-day filibuster—the longest continuous debate in Senate history. With the help of Democratic Senator Hubert Humphrey, supporters softened language concerning government regulation of private organizations and finally won over a bloc of conservative lawmakers.

After clearing the Senate and House, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law on July 2. Thanks to public pressure and political maneuvering, the nation finally had a substantive civil rights bill.

This 50th anniversary represents a rare opportunity to see the original Civil Rights Act.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, signature page, July 2, 1964 (National Archives Identifier 299891)

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, signature page, July 2, 1964 (National Archives Identifier 299891)

 

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