Lyndon B. Johnson, a Texas schoolteacher-turned-policymaker who gave countless American children a chance, is honored with a state holiday today on the 107th anniversary of his birth. The San Antonio Express-News, in an editorial linked below, notes that LBJ’s experience as a young teacher of low-income Hispanic kids in South Texas was the spark for his later success in passing landmark federal laws expanding educational opportunities, health care and voting and civil rights.
The editorial also notes the “irony” that Johnson’s home state “has for many years been distancing itself from the logic inherent in the 36th president’s signature accomplishments.” I prefer the word “outrage.”
For sometime now, the current political leadership in Texas has been in the middle of efforts to dismantle the Great Society, an LBJ legacy that – although far from perfect – has nevertheless boosted opportunities for countless American families.
The dismantling campaign has hurt.
Johnson’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act has been reduced to a bureaucratic testing nightmare – for students and educators alike – and the Voting Rights Act has been undermined by the U.S. Supreme Court and significantly weakened in Texas by a voter identification law designed to intimidate low-income Hispanics and African Americans from voting.
Texas has the highest rate of uninsured residents in the country, and the current political climate is determined to leave it that way by refusing to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government would pick up most of the cost.
LBJ certainly had a lot of faults – the Vietnam debacle remaining high on the list – but he recognized, as the Express-News points out, that government had a legitimate role to play for people “genuinely in need.” And, inspired by those poor school kids in Cotulla, TX, that is what he tried to do.
I suspect LBJ would be outraged by much of today’s political crop in Texas — career politicans who perpetuate their careers by bashing government — and he would mistake the current presidential race as an audition for a circus clown show.