HAD THERE BEEN no war, there would be no difficulty in commemorating the life of Lyndon Johnson.
His years, filled with accomplishments, followed the fabled outlines of the American success story. The eldest son of a locally prominent but extremely poor family in rural Texas, Johnson worked his way through Southwest Texas State Teachers College at San Marcos. He became a Houston schoolteacher but never relinquished his childhood political ambitions. After, working for a successful Congressional candidate, he became a legislative aide in 1931, and then, in 1937, he returned to Texas to win election as a New Deal Congressman.
From there it was on to the top. In 1948 Johnson became a U.S. Senator. Dazzling his colleagues with his energy and ability, he became Democratic majority leader in 1954. He was 46 years old. In 1960 he became Vice President under John F. Kennedy, and after Kennedy's assassination three years later, he began his five years as President.
With his Great Society program, Johnson proved his loyalty to the principles of Franklin D. Roosevelt. His determination steered the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through Congress; the Act gave the Federal government the power to end discrimination in all public facilities and to ensure the right of blacks to vote. After returning to the White House with the largest popular vote margin in history, Johnson went to work with a heavily Democratic Congress. Medicare legislation in 1965 financed medical costs for the elderly as a Social Security benefit. Massive Federal aid helped stagnating elementary and secondary schools. The Model Cities program gave new hope to rotting urban centers. The list of achievements is lengthy. But in the end, another war overshadowed the War on Poverty, and the American napalm and bombs in a faraway land were reflected at home in the firebombed ghettos and the anguished college campuses.
Who are we to forgive Lyndon Johnson? What did we suffer at his hands? Pardon must come from the victims: the people of Indochina. But in evaluating the man, we might well look at his successor, who has pursued with passion Johnson's great mistake abroad and dedicated himself to tearing down at home all the ideals of a Great Society.