WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 2022
Otherization of the [white] South: Did American president Lyndon Baines Johnson have a type of "fragility" problem?
In November 1964, Johnson scored one of the largest victories in American presidential history. Nationwide, he won 61.1% of the popular vote, defeating his opponent, Barry Goldwater, by almost 23 points.
He won 44 of the 50 states. He racked up a rather substantial 486 electoral votes.
It was a gigantic win—but in the spring of 1964, Johnson may have doubted that he could win that election at all. Beyond that, he apparently felt that this sprawling nation would never be able to "unite behind" a president of his particular type.
In yesterday's report, we quoted the following passage from a lengthy essay in the New York Times. We assume the essay was drawn from The Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency 1963–1969, Johnson's long-forgotten 1971 memoir.
Did Johnson have a fragility problem? In his lengthy essay for the Times, the passage to which we refer went exactly like this:
JOHNSON (10/19/71): The burden of national unity rests heaviest on one man, the President. And I did not believe, any more than I ever had, that the nation would unite indefinitely behind any Southerner. One reason the country could not rally behind a Southern President, I was convinced, was that the metropolitan press of the Eastern seaboard would never permit it. My experience in office had confirmed this reaction. I was not thinking just of the derisive articles about my style, my clothes, my manner, my accent, and my family—although I admit I received enough of that kind of treatment in my first few months as President to last a lifetime. I was also thinking of a more deep‐seated and far‐reaching attitude—a disdain for the South that seems to be woven into the fabric of Northern experience. This is a subject that deserves a more profound exploration than I can give it here—a subject that has never been sufficiently examined.
Johnson's rumination continued from there. But again, we pose today's basic question:
Did former president Lyndon Johnson have a "fragility" problem? This is why we ask:
In the spring of 1964, Johnson was 55 years of age. He'd already fashioned a career as (author Robert Caro's) "Master of the Senate."
He had served three years as John F. Kennedy's vice president, becoming president upon Kennedy's death.
Johnson was extremely powerful and highly accomplished—but was he perhaps a bit "fragile?" In the passage we've posted, he says he didn't believe, and apparently never had believed, that the nation could unite behind a Southern president.
He said he'd been subjected to "derisive articles" in the national press—derisive articles concerning his style, his clothing, his manner, his accent. He said this derision in the national press was part of "a more deep‐seated and far‐reaching attitude—a disdain for the South that seems to be woven into the fabric of Northern experience."
For the record, Johnson was speaking about alleged derision aimed at the white South—at white Southerners only. Interestingly, he described this disdain for the [white] South as "a subject that deserves a more profound exploration than I can give it here—a subject that has never been sufficiently examined."
Was Johnson displaying a "fragility" about the way he'd been covered in the press? We'll let others comment on that, but we think his comments about that deep-seated, far-reaching "Northern" attitude remains true to this very day.
Has "Northern experience" produced a type of "disdain" for the (white) South—the type of disdain Johnson alleged in that intriguing passage?
We'd be inclined to say that it has—or at least, that it has among our own self-impressed liberal tribe. Consider those recent, appalling comments concerning "East Bumfuck County."
As we start, doggone it! This episode starts with an unwise remark by Kevin Drum, an experienced, sane and intelligent person who is normally vastly wiser. The background went like this:
A ten-member school board in one mid-sized Tennessee county had removed a certain book from the school district's eighth-grade curriculum.
The district was going to continue teaching two separate "modules" in eighth grade—the first about the internment of Japanese citizens during World War II, the second about the Holocaust.
The district would continue to teach that subject matter to its eighth-grade students. But the board had decided that one particular book should be replaced within the mandated curriculum concerning the Holocaust.
At this point, doggone it! Drum, who is normally perfectly sensible, offered a post in which he referred to this Tennessee jurisdiction as "East Bumfuck County."
That struck us as amazingly unwise—but after that, the deluge!
Commenters crawled all over Drum's site, voicing their highly unintelligent disdain for the most dangerous group in human history—for the group they described as "These People." Behaving like yahoos and galoots, the various dimwits of West Bumfuck County behaved in something resembling the way Johnson had once described.
In our view, Drum made a very unwise offhand remark—and then the floodgates opened! It was not unlike Johnson's description of the 1967 events in which a remarkably similar group of yahoos had crawled out onto the land:
JOHNSON: July 20, 1967, was another day when conservatives mounted an attack, this time a day of shame and defeat. On that day a simple, uncomplicated bill came before the House of Representatives which proposed to provide Federal grants to local neighborhoods for developing and carrying out rat control and extermination efforts...
Everything seemed in order for quick and easy passage of the bill. But something happened in the House that afternoon, something shameful and sad. A handful of Republicans joined together not merely to defeat the bill but to try to make low comedy of the entire program. Congressman Joel Broyhill, a Republican from Virginia, helped set the tone: “Mr. Speaker, I think the ‘rat smart thing’ for us to do is to vote down this rat bill rat now.”
The floodgates opened. The House, as it is prone to do on occasion, had a field day...
After the floodgates opened that day, (some) House members staged a gruesome display. We were reminded of what they did when we read the comments which were triggered by Drum's unfortunate reference last week.
In July 1967, the yahoos of an older white South ran roughshod on the floor of the House. The yahoos of our own liberal tribe ran roughshod just last week in their comments to Drum's post.
They got busy Otherizing a wide swath of people, often for very dumb reasons.
Were these yahoos perhaps revealing the accuracy in Johnson's ancient claim concerning that Northern derision? We'd have to say that they pretty much were—and yes, we lose elections, and we lose the world, when our yahoos behave in these ways.
Our liberal tribe boasts quite a few galoots. As is true of all human tribes, we tend to have a very hard time seeing this blatantly obvious fact about our own imperfect selves and about the persistent own goals scored by our own failing tribe.
Tomorrow: Concerning the Pentecostals!
Friday: Otherizing "These People"—the things our own yahoos said