Hill Pays Tribute To LBJ’s Domestic Achievements

Posted May 20, 2008 at 5:21pm

It is not often that Members take time out of their busy schedules to celebrate the birthday of a former Senator, especially one who is no longer living. But when that someone is legendary Master of the Senate Lyndon B. Johnson, it’s a different story.

The House and Senate leadership will come together today in Statuary Hall to celebrate Johnson’s 100th birthday and reflect on the legacy left by the former Senate Majority Leader and 36th president.

The luncheon is a part of a weeklong celebration that aims to remind Americans that, while the escalation of the Vietnam War often comes to mind when Johnson is mentioned, his political career is marked by many positive and noteworthy accomplishments.

“I think LBJ gets overlooked in our presidential history,” said Lyndon Boozer, an LBJ Foundation volunteer whose mother worked under Johnson. “And when you consider the number of bills that he enacted — everything from civil rights, voting rights, elementary and secondary education, the environment, anti-poverty programs, anti-narcotics legislation and, of course, retirement security, Medicare, Medicaid — a lot of these issues are still relevant today.”

On Monday, the House passed a concurrent resolution commemorating Johnson’s birthday, sponsored by Texas Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.

“It is an honor to recognize President Lyndon Baines Johnson,” Jackson Lee said in a statement. “He was a true champion of civil rights for all Americans and he led the Nation during very turbulent political times from the Civil Rights Movement, the deaths of President John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King, and the Vietnam War.”

The five-page resolution, which is now being sent to the Senate, bears dozens of co-sponsors and has inspired many Members to speak on the House floor.

“Some of the greatest accomplishments were, of course, the civil rights era,” Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) said on the floor. “More than any other president, he was a guiding force behind the enactment of civil rights legislation that changed our nation forever. Following bloody Sunday in Selma, Ala., President Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress to urge the passage of the Voting Rights Act.”

Both of Johnson’s daughters, Luci and Lynda, were on hand for the week’s festivities.

“It’s extremely meaningful to my sister and me to see America looking back and saying ‘Yes, these were things that changed America for the good,’” Luci Baines Johnson Turpin said. “We’re grateful that people are looking at that, but we know, as Lyndon Johnson would say, ‘That’s not enough. What you need to do is think what did we achieve that was good? What remains undone? What were the lessons learned? And let’s get to work.’”

In addition to the event in the Capitol, several panel discussions and speeches have been organized throughout the week. The overarching theme seems to be repairing Johnson’s legacy to reflect the good that he did for America.

“I think that the war just traumatized a whole generation and people don’t want to be reminded of him because they are reminded of the war and they forget” his legislative accomplishments, said Betty Sue Flowers, director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in Austin, Texas. Flowers cited his progress on educational reform and environmental issues as major accomplishments that are often overlooked.

Joseph Califano, Johnson’s top White House domestic aide and the keynote speaker of the week, echoed those sentiments: “Johnson did more than any other president, even more than Franklin Roosevelt. You think of Medicare and Medicaid, you think of the education bills, Head Start, bilingual education — you have the whole food stamp program.”

Flowers noted that Johnson got things done. “Right now there’s hope that people can get things done,” Flowers said. The fact that Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is running for president is “a huge tribute to Lyndon Johnson.”

In his book, “Step by Step: A Memoir of Hope, Friendship, Perseverance, and Living the American Dream,” Bertie Bowman, the longest-serving black Congressional staffer, writes about his experiences with Senate Majority Leader Johnson. Bowman says the Senator was “conversation-topic number one in the Senate barbershop” and that many of the black “downstairs workers” supported Johnson. Bowman says Johnson was especially fair to black employees at the Capitol.

“We were strong supporters of Lyndon Johnson,” Bowman writes. “We couldn’t stop talking about our new president, a man who stood up for blacks.”

All of these accomplishments will be recognized in today’s events.

“The issues they’re talking about today are all issues he put on the national table,” Califano said. “He was a real revolutionary — a genuine, true-believing revolutionary.