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Was LBJ Worse Than Bush, Nixon, Clinton, And Reagan? (Spoiler: No.)

[ 283 ] February 20, 2014 |

We cocky Jacobin secular liberals are used to Damon Linker’s moderately culturally conservative concern trolling by now. I must say, however, that this is a twist I didn’t expect:

The competition for worst president since the early 1930s is pretty fierce. But for my money, Lyndon B. Johnson comes in first, winning the contest of awfulness over George W. Bush by a hair.

Wow. Obviously, Vietnam is a major black mark, but even if foreign policy was the sole criterion for evaluating presidents it’s hard to see how this could make Johnson worse than Bush, given that Iraq was just as much a fiasco but wasn’t already underway when Bush took office. But what about Johnson’s immense achievements in domestic policy? Let’s leave aside the question of what legislation Bush signed that can compare to the two most important pieces of Civil Rights legislation ever passed by the United States Congress — although we really shouldn’t! — and focus solely on the Great Society’s poverty programs. First of all, LBJ allegedly misused the BULLY PULPIT:

The same dynamic prevailed in Johnson’s case for the creation of a “Great Society,” made in a speech delivered in Michigan on May 22, 1964. Living on the far side of Ronald Reagan’s rhetorical attacks on big government, Bill Clinton’s pragmatic triangulation, and Barack Obama’s decision to reform health care using a proposal first floated by a right-wing think tank,

Apropos of nothing in particular the “ACA was a Republican plan” lie! (Remember this when the list of LBJ’s domestic achievements leaves out Medicaid altogether.) To be clear, I don’t think this was at all intentional, but if someone was writing a post specifically to bait me I’m not sure they could have done better. Suggest that Richard Russell should have run for president in 1964 giving voters a superior alternative, maybe. Anyway, back to the argument:

Johnson’s bizarrely inflated rhetoric cannot help but sound like the transcript from an alien political world.

I find the rhetoric admirable myself, but I’m the first to say that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Why should economic progressives not see Great Society legislation as a substantial achievement? Here is the evidence in its entirety:

When it comes to the social welfare programs that Johnson signed into law in order to prosecute the war on poverty and realize the Great Society, they were a decidedly mixed bag. Some, like Medicare, have proven popular and enduring. Others, like the anti-poverty programs wrapped up with the Office of Economic Opportunity, were far less effective, and ended up being dismantled during the conservative resurgence they helped to inspire.

So, the evidence that the Great Society’s antipoverty programs didn’t work is that…conservatives (including the presidents Linker prefers to LBJ) wanted to dismantle them? What seems much more relevant is that the legislation LBJ signed substantially reduced poverty, progress that was stalled or reversed by the policies favored by the presidents Linker prefers to LBJ. Also note our old friend the countermobilization myth in its purest form: if liberals win major policy victories this might produce conservative opposition, so…liberals should preemptively avoid winning?

In his recent paean to Christopher Lasch’s (quite terrible) final book, Linker resists calling the combination of cultural conservatism (“[b]ut for the working class, life in post-sexual-revolution America can be far bleaker”) and skepticism towards economic reform reflected in his belief that LBJ is the worst president of the last 70 years he seems to favor “conservatism” because it’s not identical to contemporary Republican laissez-faire. Well, the label is unimportant, and Linker can choose how he wishes to describe himself. But whatever you want to call his political vision, I think I speak for most progressives when I say that it’s normatively unattractive as well as empirically deficient in many respects.

Comments (283)

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  1. Todd says:

    A place and time where legislative actions actually do OCCUR does kind of sound like an alien political world.

  2. Peter says:

    Also, too, Linker’s hand waving away of the end of institutionalized white supremacy is pretty amazing.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Well, civil rights legislation might conflict with people’s religious beliefs, so it’s a mixed bad at best.

      • Barry says:

        Well, civil rights legislation might conflict with white, right-wing people’s religious beliefs, so it’s a mixed bad at best.

        FIFY

        I mean, it’s not like non-whites or liberals (or even centrist) religious beliefs matter, do they?

    • sharculese says:

      the end of institutionalized white supremacy

      ?

      • Nobdy says:

        while it definitely did not end all racism, the passing of the Civil Rights Act is certainly something the vast majority of liberals view as a major achievement that has done a lot of good.

        • sharculese says:

          I agree, but I also think it’s important to articulate that without falling into the ‘end of racism’ language so beloved of the GOP.

          The part of northern metro Atlanta I hail from is poised to become the next in a series of neighborhoods to incorporate as a city based on lines designed to maximize the number of white residents. It’s so bad that my mom and brother, normally averse to stating this sort of thing plainly, are both like ‘of course this is about racism.’ And that’s before we even getting to ‘vote fraud.’

          We’ve made progress, but the end is a long time off.

          • JL says:

            Oh hey, where are you? I spent the first half of my childhood in northern metro Atlanta, and my dad and stepmom still live there in a different suburb.

          • Rigby Reardon says:

            I think there is a subtle but real difference between “the end of racism” and “the end of institutionalized white supremacy.”

            But even if you grant that much, I can see it being debatable whether the latter was achieved during the LBJ years, or even ever, actually.

            • Aimai says:

              I think I’d like to see us not use phrases like “end of institutionalized white supremacy.” The most the Civil Rights Act did was begin unwinding and challenging the legality of institutional white supremacy but institutions, in their broadest sense, remained white controlled and dominated and many seriously racist aspects of our society continued to exist and flourish without legal protection or adjudication. And just look at the SYG law–without mentioning race it yet creates and perpetuates race based murder and creates two classes of shooters (white and black and two classes of victims and reinforces white supremacism and control of the streets.

              • postmodulator says:

                I don’t think it can be said often enough the degree to which people have tried to keep Jim Crow alive under aliases.

                The really sinister thing is that, so often, it’s not actually done by racists — it’s done by people who crave racists’ votes. Like that Lee Atwater quote that he thought illustrated how far we’d come.

            • Warren Terra says:

              Perhaps the end of “legalized” white supremacy would be better? Or at least the beginning of the end, maybe even the middle?

      • joe from Lowell says:

        Yeah, that sentence definitely needs another noun phrase immediately after “of.”

    • Larry says:

      Related, just heard Steven Cohen say something pretty amazing too on the ultra-liberal NPR. He said Putin was a better president than Obama. And the ultra-liberal hostess said in response, Well, you’ve certainly given us a lot to think about.

      Sighhhhh. If there only were a liberal media, or at least not corporate-whored out public radio and public tv.

  3. snarkout says:

    If Damon Linker can stay away from goats, I think he has a future as the next Senator from California.

    • postmodulator says:

      I’m not sure the goat thing makes us look good any more. It started life as a mockery of Kaus for reporting a ridiculous and thinly sourced rumor about Edwards’ love child which was, of course, completely borne out.

      If we want to take cheap shots at Kaus — and I for one do — why not start with his truly epic physical unattractiveness? The man is postapocalyptically ugly. If I believed in a Creator, I’d say that Kaus’s wanted to make sure the outside was as twisted and awful as the inside.

      Yeah, let’s go with that. From now on, in fact, let’s call it Richard the Third Way Liberalism.

      • sharculese says:

        I’m not sure how this is better. The goat thing gets to the awfulness of his character and the things he does in this world. Bagging on him for being born looking a certain way… not so much.

        • postmodulator says:

          Well, I called it a “cheap shot.” But, I mean, the fact is, Kaus doesn’t fuck goats. (Probably.) And the original person who made that joke was mocking Kaus for something about which Kaus was totally correct. So it doesn’t say anything about his character, it’s really just a way of us all reminding ourselves that we used to read Yglesias’ comment section or read people who did. Which actually I’m not super proud of, myself.

          • Barry says:

            “But, I mean, the fact is, Kaus doesn’t fuck goats. (Probably.)”

            Well, we can’t say ‘probably’; we haven’t investigates, let alone waterboarded him.

        • Rigby Reardon says:

          Yeah, it’s not better, like at all.

      • ConservativeToolbox says:

        Goat fucking is a choice.

      • ThrottleJockey says:

        The goat thing was a meme from the Edwards’ affair? Really??? Clearly I’m not up on my intertubes memes.

        • postmodulator says:

          Yeah, Kaus was the first person to push the Edwards rumors in the mainstream media, back when he was at Slate. (I suspect because he hated Edwards.) Yglesias linked to Kaus discussing the rumor, disparagingly, and the third or fourth comment was something like “Hey, you know what I heard, I hear Kaus blows goats.” Something like that.

          Among other things, it’s one of the few comments I remember from Yglesias’ old blog that wasn’t pointing out that Yglesias’ spelling and grammar wasn’t really what you’d expect from a Harvard grad.

          • Karen says:

            “He blows goats” was a joke in “Wayne’s World.” So this goat-fornication thing is several layers of meta. Impressive, Internet.

            • keta says:

              Waaaay before “Wayne’s World” a very popular tee shirt proclaimed, “Disco Blows Goats.”

              And yes, I did wear it to school.

        • rea says:

          Well, I’m not going to all of the trouble to reconstruct it all these years later, but (1)the point of the goat stuff was that Kaus was speculating entirely without evidence, and then complaining that Edwards wasn’t issuing denials. Kaus, however, was not denying blowing goats. And (2) maybe I’m misremembring, and maybe this is too generous to Edwards anyway, but my recollection is that the affair Kaus was accusing Edwards of having was not he affair he was actually having.

          • postmodulator says:

            Right, that’s the key thing; I’d forgotten. Kaus stressed that Edwards wouldn’t deny the affair, and the left blogosphere turned that into a running gag about how Kaus wouldn’t deny the goat-intimacy.

            There’s an amusing intellectual point there about standards of proof, of course, but in the cold light of day, Edwards was screwing a Jay McInerney protagonist and Kaus is not screwing goats. Probably. Almost certainly. Would it be all that easy to find a goat in Southern California outside a zoo anyway?

            • djw says:

              It’s also worth remembering that if the thing with Edwards was the only time Kaus had ever ran with a thinly sourced rumor about a Democratic politician, the meme probably wouldn’t have attached. He did that sort of thing all the time, and he was usually not vindicated. He was bound to be right at least once eventually, but that doesn’t really vindicate, or render non-mockable, his general approach to such matters.

              • postmodulator says:

                I suppose. Was it Kaus who pushed “Kerry had a staffer spend the night at his house!” in 2004? I don’t really recall any other examples of a salacious nature.

                I remember Kaus’s tenure at Slate mostly for the bizarre way in which he couldn’t let his obsessions go. Welfare bad; immigration bad; the LA Times bad; front-wheel drive bad. Four themes, thousands of blog posts over a decade. (I’d take back what I said about Kaus’s appearance if I could punish him for his misdeeds by forcing him to drive a big American sedan with RWD during a Midwestern winter.)

                • EliHawk says:

                  With such a breadth of interests, he could get a job writing about football every Tuesday at ESPN.

                • Hogan says:

                  Don’t forget the root of all evil–teacher unions.

                • J R in WV says:

                  If you fill the trunk with firewood, or cat litter, or anything solid and heavy, you would be surprised how the snowy day handling of a big American car with RWD improves. Or any car with rear wheel drive.

                  We used a Toyota Corolla station wagon in heavy snow by putting 3 giant fireplace logs in the very back, like 18 inches thick by 3 feet long oak logs. (My Dad had the best giant fieldstone fireplace!) That little car would climb WV hills before the plow even thought of getting out into the rural hollows. Until the car bottomed out in snow too heavy for it to push out of the way, you were good to go.

                  Of course, you also had to know how to drive in the snow.

              • dr. fancypants says:

                He was bound to be right at least once eventually, but that doesn’t really vindicate, or render non-mockable, his general approach to such matters.

                100% this.

                Turning out to be right in spite of flawed reasoning is basically just luck. The man doesn’t deserve credit for it.

                • Snarki, child of Loki says:

                  Okay, so maybe not goats then.

                  Sheep? Alpacas? Possums? Stoats?

                  Badgers? No, not badgers. We don’t need no stinkin’ badgers.

                • dr. fancypants says:

                  Badgers? No, not badgers. We don’t need no stinkin’ badgers.

                  +1 Yankovic.

          • Barry says:

            Kaus was saying something like ‘it would be irresponsible not to speculate’. This was a standard which I can’t recall him applying to right-wing politicians (he is, after all, ‘even the liberal’ Kaus).

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        I’m not sure the goat thing makes us look good any more. It started life as a mockery of Kaus for reporting a ridiculous and thinly sourced rumor about Edwards’ love child which was, of course, completely borne out.

        This is, of course, completely irrelevant. When your epistemology is “every unsubstantiated tabloid rumor about a Democrat is true,” it doesn’t vindicate the methodology if you’re right by accident.

        If we want to take cheap shots at Kaus — and I for one do — why not start with his truly epic physical unattractiveness?

        How about we don’t do that.

      • DAS says:

        Mickey Kaus looks like he is in the throws of a midlife crisis, and thinks that just because he rides a hog or drives a sports car, he can get random hot chicks to give him hand jobs … he’s not unattractive per se, he’s just not sufficiently attractive to get the hand jobs he thinks he’s capable of getting.

        Anyway, as an un-reconstructed Yorkist (Yorkie?), I also object to your Richard III slander. I suspect that “third way liberals” would perhaps not entirely denounce the Council of the North as a wasteful government bureaucracy but would support its “reform” as a healthy compromise between Lancastrians “concerned” about it being an example of “excess government spending” and dirty hippies “with more heart than common sense” who see “government spending as a solution to all problems”. I.e. the Third Way crew would have loved them some Henry VII.

      • brad says:

        I really fail to see how inherently, and self-evidently, ridiculous inside jokes that survive only among those of use who were around when Kaus was vaguely relevant are somehow “worse” for “us” than a wholly new group gang-up on a barely ever was has-been based on what he looks like.
        Goat fucking has an explanation that helps explain Kaus’s flaws. Calling him ugly makes you ugly.

    • DrDick says:

      I think that ship has already sailed, so to speak.

  4. LeeEsq says:

    Interestingly enough, the letter section of the NYT covered the legacy of LBJ today. Most of the letters were very anti-LBJ. There seems to be large sections of the Baby Boom generation that simply can’t get over the fact of Vietnam.

    • Rigby Reardon says:

      My parents, for two.

      My mother is more than happy to ignore everything else LBJ ever did while giving JFK posthumous credit for stuff he never actually accomplished but so totally would have if he’d had the time.

      You just can’t talk to a lot of boomers about stuff like this. They were THERE, maaaaaan. You weren’t.

      • Western Dave says:

        You just can’t talk to a lot of boomers about stuff like this. They were THERE, maaaaaan. You weren’t.

        As someone born in the 60s, who came of age in the 80s and now teaches the 60s, I hate this so, so much.

        • postmodulator says:

          Doesn’t everyone do that — seize upon any time they happened to be in the general vicinity of history occurring to explain how much wiser than you it’s made them?

          One of the funniest moments in Natural Born Killers is the Robert Downey Jr. character starting to rant about how he’d seen shit, maaaan — he’d seen Grenada.

          • DrS says:

            See every right winger of a certain age who is convinced CONVINCED that massive inflation is just around the corner.

            It’s always 1979.

      • LeeEsq says:

        Yglesias once sagely observed that people tend to treat the JFK and LBJ administrations as one and give the good things that happen to JFK and the bad things to LBJ. JFK was much more charismatic than LBJ and was murdered so that tends to distory how people remember him.

      • keta says:

        Whenever someone makes a broad generalization about boomers like this it shows intellectual laziness that’s beyond the pale.

        I, for one, am sick and fucking tired of being told what I think by people who don’t have a fucking clue. And at the risk of generalizing, I think there’s a shitload of us that feel the same way.

        This isn’t a personal attack, Rigby. Just a reminder to everyone that to casually assume that a cohort born in any 18 year period in history must think in lockstep is fucking madness.

        • DrS says:

          I’m sure there are Marxists in Texas too, but that doesn’t invalidate the fact that politics in Texas tend towards the right.

          I’m a gen-xer. I don’t get personally offended when people look at the overall cohort and draw conclusions about how people in that demographic grouping express their politics. I mean, what the fuck, why should I?

        • Tristan says:

          You’re just cranky because of your acid flashbacks

        • Rigby Reardon says:

          Whenever someone makes a broad generalization about boomers like this it shows intellectual laziness that’s beyond the pale.

          I get that, which is why I said “a lot of Boomers,” and not just “Boomers.”

    • joel hanes says:

      I’m curious. What would be your reaction to someone who asked you to evaluate W’s Presidency, and then rejected your evaluation, with the recommendation that you “just get over Iraq” ?

      LBJ was a brilliant politician who could be a cruel SOB. He was a serial philanderer to dwarf anything Edwards ever did. He was also the most effective champion of liberal domestic economic policy of my lifetime. His signing of the civil rights legislation must be balanced with the knowledge that he spent much of his Senate career helping Richard Russell _prevent_ such legislation.

      • LeeEsq says:

        The difference was that Bush doesn’t have domestic accomplishments like LBJ does. LBJ passed several key pieces of legislation on civil rights and welfare. Even without getting into the merits of conservative policy, Bush simply doesn’t have that much to his name. His attempt to “reform/end” social security and “reform” immigration. Besides security theatre legislation and Gitmo, Bush’s success were Medicare Part D and No Child Left Behind. Both needed improvement. LBJ has domestic success that we can refer to.

        LBJ also inherited the situation in Vietnam from Eisenhower and JFK. Cold War politics in the early 1960s dictated against letting South Vietnam go Communist. All politics are local and local politics before the late 1960s demanded against letting a country go Communist even if it was actually the best option. If LBJ did not get his involved in the Vietnam than there is a good chance that he would lost the political will for his domestic agenda.

        • postmodulator says:

          Isn’t the main problem with NCLB that it’s based on innumeracy — that it requires constant improvement over whatever baseline? In other words, the same idiocy that makes publicly-traded companies eat themselves alive.

        • joel hanes says:

          I agree that earlier Presidents bear considerable responsibility for VietNam, that Johnson’s domestic achievments were both brilliant and constructive, while Bush’s domestic agenda aimed to destroy as much as possible.

          I was responding to the observation that Boomers need to “just get over” Viet Nam, and the common derision at the Boomer trope that “you can’t know how it was unless you were there”.

          I was drafted.
          The draft ended in 1973, shortly before the end of our adventure in Viet Nam.

          Unless you have spent an evening watching your fate and the fate of the young men in your age cohort being decided by a lottery, or worse, unless you’ve spent the years from age 17 to 20 wondering if you were going to be involuntarily plucked from civilian life and sent to Viet Nam by your local draft board, you _can’t_ know how it was.

          • Rigby Reardon says:

            Unless you have spent an evening watching your fate and the fate of the young men in your age cohort being decided by a lottery, or worse, unless you’ve spent the years from age 17 to 20 wondering if you were going to be involuntarily plucked from civilian life and sent to Viet Nam by your local draft board, you _can’t_ know how it was.

            I have no doubt that this is true. But the thing is, I can imagine similar sentiment coming from a black Southerner who grew up in the days before the Civil Rights Act (“you _can’t_ know how it was to live under that kind of constant threat etc.”). So whose experiences and perceptions of LBJ’s presidency are correct?

            Certainly the answer is “both,” which is why history is not usually as simple as “JFK good, LBJ bad.”

      • postmodulator says:

        When I was a kid, I watched some TV newsmagazine show where they were talking about how the national press corps had treated political philandering in the past, as compared to how they treated it “now.” (I tend to think this was around the time of the Gary Hart debacle.)

        (I’ve never heard this anecdote anywhere else, and it could be bullshit.)

        The story comes from a member of the press covering Johnson, and it was during a train trip, maybe during the ’64 campaign? He said that one day on the press car, the back door of the car had burst open, and a naked woman had run the length of it, to the front door, and on to the next car. She was immediately followed by the President of the United States, also naked, who ran after her and followed her into the next car. One of the journalists was heard to remark, “It’s a good thing none of us saw that, or we’d have to report it,” and the other journalists

        This was all communicated with a general air of “the world was a nobler place when we were willing to cover up presidential rapes.”

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        His signing of the civil rights legislation must be balanced with the knowledge that he spent much of his Senate career helping Richard Russell _prevent_ such legislation.

        Not really. His support for civil rights when it mattered is vastly more important than his nominal opposition as a southern member of Congress when it wasn’t going to pass anyway.

      • Tristan says:

        I’m curious. What would be your reaction to someone who asked you to evaluate W’s Presidency, and then rejected your evaluation, with the recommendation that you “just get over Iraq” ?

        Well, let’s see:

        That leaves torture, tax cuts for the rich, faith-based initiatives, and those are just the ones I can reel off the top of my head without pausing to think. And I’m not even American.

    • cthoover says:

      58,000 dead Americans. I mean, why can’t they just get over that?

    • The Amazing Spider-Man says:

      The United States of America still hasn’t gotten over the fact of Vietnam, to say nothing of Vietnam.

  5. MattT says:

    Wait, what is the argument that the Iraq War was just as much of a fiasco as the Vietnam War? As unspeakably horrible as the Iraq war was, the war in Vietnam killed a lot more people on both sides.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Even if we assume arguendo that Vietnam was even worse, this doesn’t mitigate the fact that Bush bears more responsibility for Iraq than LBJ does for Vietnam.

      • MattT says:

        I agree entirely, and also about the relative merits of their domestic policies. I was just curious about that particular statement.

      • Malaclypse says:

        Also, was the domino theory so obviously wrong back in 1964 as it is today? I mean, in 1964, there really were a lot of bad communist dictatorships. The Great Leap Forward was recent news. I’m a lot more sympathetic to someone who believed the domino theory in 1964 than someone advocating the Ledeen Doctrine in 2003. Once again, tragedy then farce.

        • postmodulator says:

          Also, was the domino theory so obviously wrong back in 1964 as it is today?

          This isn’t a bad point, and the domino theory might be due for a touch of historical revisionism. After all, the Soviet Union really did at least make noises about arming the international revolution, right?

          Of course what people remember is the cartoon version of the domino theory, where if we didn’t defeat them in Southeast Asia we’d have to fight them in Mexico.

          • Dilan Esper says:

            The domino theory wasn’t OBVIOUSLY wrong. But given that it killed a ton of people, perhaps the burden was on the people who believed in it to prove it was right.

            • postmodulator says:

              Our foreign policy intelligentsia don’t have to do that, because they can’t be empirically proven wrong. Not bad work if you can get it.

              I touched on this far downthread, but the Reaganists were able to both assert that the Soviet Union was a fearsome death machine which would crush us all, and, a few years later, that the inferiority of their system had made their collapse inevitable.

              • Dana Houle says:

                Our foreign policy intelligentsia don’t have to do that, because they can’t be empirically proven wrong

                Also true of most conservative economists, especially those who insist on bullshit like minimum wage hikes kill jobs and unions depress wages.

              • Tristan says:

                I touched on this far downthread, but the Reaganists were able to both assert that the Soviet Union was a fearsome death machine which would crush us all, and, a few years later, that the inferiority of their system had made their collapse inevitable.

                Which is ironically very similar to how their intellectual heirs today talk about ‘the free market’: an almost divine force capable of solving all human problems within your lifetime, that’s constantly at risk of being absolutely crippled by minor regulation.

            • LFC says:

              The domino theory, as applied to SE Asia and Vietnam, should have been revised pronto when the ghastly slaughter of the Indonesian Communists occurred in fall 1965, a few months after the major U.S. decision to put c.100,000 soldiers in Vietnam. There was a CIA paper of the time that pointed out correctly that the removal/elimination of the Indonesian CP (with arguably some US and British connivance, be it noted) called for significant revision of the (always somewhat dubious) notion that Communism was going to sweep through SE Asia. Unfortunately, that revision didn’t occur at the key levels of US policy-making.

          • Gregor Sansa says:

            The domino theory in Eastern Europe was pretty much true, if somebody simultaneously knocking down a bunch of dominos with their arm counts. There’s also an extent to which “communist” really did mean “Soviet stooge”, though that was always exaggerated.

            But if you look at the actual things we did in the name of the domino theory… well, I guess I’ll give you Korea, that was good. But then you move on to Guatemala, 1954, which was just overthrowing a guy one year before his term limit, which he hadn’t the slightest intention or capacity of violating, which led to 35+ years of genocidal civil war. And from there on out, whether it’s Latin America or Southeast Asia or Africa or whatever, all the “domino” fairytales are basically propaganda that was totally implausible even with knowledge at the time. It’s like asking, could we really have known that invading Iraq was a bad idea, because it really is true that terrorist with WMDs would be scary?

          • Snarki, child of Loki says:

            There are STILL plenty of folks on the right that are sure, absolutely sure, that the US was correct to be in Vietnam.

            Yet, somehow, they seem to be unwilling to re-invade to finally set things right. Odd.

        • DrDick says:

          There is also the fact that Johnson was acting in accord with the elite consensus of both parties at the time. Pretending that there was a significant anti-imperialism among foreign policy experts at the time does not make it true. Johnson was also much more moderate than many Republicans (bomb them back into the stone age!).

          • Erik Loomis says:

            I think this is the key point–Vietnam might be worse than Iraq, but anyone with a realistic shot of becoming president in 1964 was going to do the same thing–from either political party. And we saw that when Nixon took over. It was an elite consensus decision.

            Iraq was a purely partisan war forced on the American people (not to mention the Iraqi people) by a wing of the Republican Party.

            A very different scenario.

            • postmodulator says:

              I know I’m not Joe Popular around here, but this is why I hang around. Look, everybody! This comment adds value to the original post. The dream of the Nineties is alive…at LGM.

              • DAS says:

                “adds value to the original post” = postmodulator wins one internet, and can pick up his free AOL CD at his earliest convenience ;)

            • BubbaDave says:

              This. I rate my Presidents based essentially on “wins above replacement.” Chances of any President, from either party, escalating our involvement in Vietnam? 100%. Chance of any other President, from either party, accomplishing what LBJ did on civil rights? Single-digit percentage points at best.
              On my personal scoreboard, he’s behind FDR and Lincoln and ahead of every other Prez. Despite Vietnam.

              • postmodulator says:

                I rate my Presidents based essentially on “wins above replacement.”

                I’ve been calling it “caused fewer deaths than opponent would have,” but I might adopt yours. It seems less off-putting.

              • Erik Loomis says:

                I’d only push back here on the low odds for meaningful civil rights legislation. LBJ’s accomplishments were very real and should be lauded. But the continued civil rights movement on the grounded clearing space for northern politicians from both parties to pass legislation combined with the international embarrassment Bull Connor’s fire hoses caused in a Cold War context meant that something was almost certainly going to be passed.

                • Dilan Esper says:

                  I think there’s a strong argument that on both civil rights and Vietnam, LBJ was bolder than other people.

                  Sure, there was going to be some civil rights legislation. But was there going to be a wave? A fair housing act? A civil rights act with teeth? A voting rights act? I certainly think if you look at the career of John F. Kennedy, there’s no reason to think he was going to even take any serious political risks to help black people. Johnson did.

                  And similarly, the Vietnam War might have gone on, but LBJ presided over a gigantic escalation of it, and fabricated an incident in the Gulf of Tonkin to do it.

                  LBJ was a man of action, for better or worse. I think he deserves immense credit for civil rights, and immense blame (yes, Scott, more than Bush does for Iraq) for Vietnam.

                  One last point about Scott, and I admit it is a bit of an ad hominem. But has he ever admitted that a 20th or 21st Century Republican has been better than a Democrat about ANYTHING? He has certainly admitted equivalency on a handful of issues, but never that a Democrat was worse. I view his minimization of LBJ’s mass murder of Vietnamese in that context.

                • Erik Loomis says:

                  “But has he ever admitted that a 20th or 21st Century Republican has been better than a Democrat about ANYTHING?”

                  OK, give us some examples. Because I can’t think of any.

                • rea says:

                  One last point about Scott, and I admit it is a bit of an ad hominem. But has he ever admitted that a 20th or 21st Century Republican has been better than a Democrat about ANYTHING?

                  If you can find actual instances in which a 20th or 21st Century Republican has been better than a Democrat about ANYTHING I suspect Scott would readily concede.

                  And in fact, I think he said just the other day that TR was better than Wilson on civil rights.

                • rea says:

                  Although it might have been Erik that said that.

                • JMP says:

                  Wait, how does LBJ deserve more blame for Vietnam than Bush does for Iraq? The US was already involved in Vietnam when LBJ became President, and (as pointed out above) pretty much the entire elite consensus supported escalating US involvement in the war.

                  On the other hand, invading Iraq was completely Bush’s choice. Beforehand, support for invading Iraq was a fringe position held only by a tiny group of neocons at PNAC – who Bush then appointed to major foreign policy positions in his administration. It was something no one else was even thinking of before Bush started pushing for it, and he had to lie by trying to tie Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks and claim he had WMD to get majority support for the invasion.

                  I mean, the Iraq war is 100% Bush. If you had a President Gore in 2003, or even a Republican President who didn’t embrace the neocon foreign policy ideology, not only would there be no invasion of Iraq, but it would never even have been considered in the first place.

                  So how the fuck does LBJ have more blame for Vietnam than Bush for Iraq? Huh?

                • Malaclypse says:

                  But has he ever admitted that a 20th or 21st Century Republican has been better than a Democrat about ANYTHING?

                  Rea beat me to the only example I can think of. Do you have any?

                  I view his minimization of LBJ’s mass murder of Vietnamese in that context.

                  Are you somehow proposing that Barry Fucking Goldwater would not have been worse?

                • Karen says:

                  The Civil Rights Act, in some form, was going to happen. The Voting Rights Act, however, was all Johnson.

                • wjts says:

                  “But has he ever admitted that a 20th or 21st Century Republican has been better than a Democrat about ANYTHING?”

                  OK, give us some examples. Because I can’t think of any.

                  Off the top of my head, I’d probably take Lowell Weicker over Joe Lieberman and John Chafee over any right-leaning Dem.

                • Erik Loomis says:

                  If you want to go back 30 years and focus on the margins, which is admittedly part of the original equation, OK, sure. In the 21st century at least, or since 1995 or so, I don’t think so.

                • Dilan Esper says:

                  Oh sure. Eisenhower was better on civil rights than Kennedy. He also rejected the Bay of Pigs invasion.

                  Theodore Roosevelt was better on antitrust than Bill Clinton.

                  Currently, Rand Paul is better on felon disenfranchisement than a lot of Democrats (see his testimony the other day in the Kentucky state legislature), and better than Dianne Feinstein on surveillance.

                  Ron Paul was better than a lot of Democrats on the Iraq War.

                  There are tons of examples. But every time one gets presented, Scott always tells us how the Democrat was not that bad, or the Republicans were really secretly just as bad, or whatever.

                  And since in this thread he is minimizing the murder of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese by the major architect of our escalation in Vietnam, a guy who lied to pull off the escalation and who did it knowing the war was unwinnable, it sort of tore it.

                • Erik Loomis says:

                  Comparing Theodore Roosevelt to Bill Clinton on antitrust issues makes no sense at all. Not to mention that TR himself is overrated on this issue.

                  Eisenhower was not better than Kennedy on civil rights.

                  I do not believe Rand Paul is better than any Democrat on any issue. I think he is a giant fraud. If he’s so good on something, let’s see some actual legislation.

                • Warren Terra says:

                  @wjts
                  I’d assumed the contest was only open to Presidents (and maybe Presidential nominees, if someone wants to rhapsodize about Wendell Wilkie or someone). Otherwise the outliers and the cranks and the RINOs and DINOs make the contest meaningless.

                • Warren Terra says:

                  @Dilan
                  Utter bull rap. Nothing against DDE, but he was not better than JFK on civil rights, and the Bay Of Pigs force was armed and trained on his watch.

                  And color me completely unsurprised that you fall for the ineffectual idiosyncrasies the Pauls throw out there as sops to rubes like you.

                • Dilan Esper says:

                  Warren:

                  I don’t buy the Pauls’ rhetoric, but Ron Paul cast an actual vote against the Iraq War, and Rand Paul gave actual testimony in favor of a bill restoring voting rights to felons in Kentucky. That’s real action, not rhetoric.

                  As for Eisenhower, yes, the Bay of Pigs people were trained and then HE KILLED THE PLAN. Because unlike Kennedy he wasn’t a trigger-happy idiot. (Kennedy also escalated Vietnam from 700 advisors to 16,000 troops.)

                  And Eisenhower was a ton better on civil rights! He supported the Civil Rights Act of 1957, which KENNEDY OPPOSED IN THE SENATE! Kennedy also failed to propose civil rights legislation for the first 2 1/2 years of his presidency. Plus there’s the matter of appointing Earl Warren to the Supreme Court.

                • Erik Loomis says:

                  “Plus there’s the matter of appointing Earl Warren to the Supreme Court.”

                  Which Eisenhower regretted precisely because of Brown, which forced Eisenhower to act in Little Rock, something he very much did not want to do.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  As for Eisenhower, yes, the Bay of Pigs people were trained and then HE KILLED THE PLAN. Because unlike Kennedy he wasn’t a trigger-happy idiot.

                  I am confident the people of Iran and Guatemala take comfort in the idea that Eisenhower was not a trigger-happy idiot.

                • Erik Loomis says:

                  It’s really hard to see how Eisenhower’s excellent foreign policy has had any long term implications in the stability of Central America or the Middle East.

                • BubbaDave says:

                  But the continued civil rights movement on the grounded clearing space for northern politicians from both parties to pass legislation combined with the international embarrassment Bull Connor’s fire hoses caused in a Cold War context meant that something was almost certainly going to be passed.

                  Something, yes. As much as LBJ got passed? Whole different question, IMO.

                • Erik Loomis says:

                  Impossible to know.

                • Dana Houle says:

                  but Ron Paul cast an actual vote against the Iraq War,

                  And President Pat Buchanan wouldn’t have gotten us embroiled in a two front war. He wouldn’t have wanted to divert resources from rounding up the browns and the gays.

                  There’s such a thing as being right for the wrong reasons, like opposing the drug war because you want to nearly completely dismantle the federal government. Idiots and dolts can’t see the problems with that.

                • Barry says:

                  Combinining this with Dylan’s post – something would have passed, given the times. It could have been so Potemkin that even cynical Russians were laughing, or it could have been something which made real changes. LBJ helped make it the latter.

                • Dilan Esper says:

                  I didn’t say Eisenhower’s foreign policy was excellent in all respects.

                  But he did keep the US out of shooting wars, which was quite a good thing.

                  And more generally– to get back to the issue at hand– he was MUCH better than most Democratic presidents on the issue.

                • Erik Loomis says:

                  No he wasn’t. It was situational. Eisenhower’s foreign policy is widely seen by historians as the biggest black mark on his presidency, particularly Iran and Guatemala.

                • Erik Loomis says:

                  Even in this 1981 poll, Dulles is seen as a bottom 5 Secretary of State. And that’s all on Eisenhower. His reputation certainly hasn’t improved.

                  http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=888&dat=19811125&id=ofQNAAAAIBAJ&sjid=O3sDAAAAIBAJ&pg=6523,859788

                • Dilan Esper says:

                  And President Pat Buchanan wouldn’t have gotten us embroiled in a two front war. He wouldn’t have wanted to divert resources from rounding up the browns and the gays.

                  There’s such a thing as being right for the wrong reasons, like opposing the drug war because you want to nearly completely dismantle the federal government. Idiots and dolts can’t see the problems with that.

                  2 problems with that:

                  1. People who are right for the wrong reasons are still right. For instance, to get back to Eisenhower, he may have integrated the schools because of legalistic reasons rather than a deep-seated commitment against segregation, but so what? He did it and it was the right thing to do.

                  2. This sort of thing makes it really easy for partisans to just be dishonest. Because every time someone they don’t like does something, they can find a reason to say “yes but it was for the wrong reason”.

                  And that’s the point of all this. Partisanship causes people to lie. All the time. Including liberals. Before the blue dress came out, I had to listen to liberals talk about Monica being a stalker and how her story was not credible because who would tell someone like Linda Tripp about that. That’s what partisanship does to people.

                  So you have to be willing to give your political opponents credit for things.

                • Dilan Esper says:

                  No he wasn’t. It was situational. Eisenhower’s foreign policy is widely seen by historians as the biggest black mark on his presidency, particularly Iran and Guatemala.

                  So installing the Shah, which gave us 20 years of cheap oil (despite it being indefensible on humanitarian grounds), and sponsoring a coup in a nation of little importance (Guatemala) outweighs the nuclear policy, keeping us out of shooting wars against the Soviet Union, resisting invasions of Vietnam and Cuba, handling the Suez Crisis and Lebanon, and negotiating the end to the Korean War.

                  Wrong Erik. PARTISAN historians who dump on Republicans hate Eisenhower’s foreign policy. Lots of people think he was an expert, and many other people think he was very good despite his faults. I am in that second camp.

                • Erik Loomis says:

                  My last comment since you are uninterested in anything but defending indefensible actions.

                  Installing the Shah created a process that has led to 35 years of hostility with Iran. Overthrowing a democratic government to institute a military regime is always a terrible idea. The coup in Guatemala began violence in that nation that has cascaded into the present. That is very much on Eisenhower and Dulles.

                  But I guess I’m just a PARTISAN historian. Since evidently objectivity exists in your mind.

                • Erik Loomis says:

                  Not by a professional historian.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  Scott, more than Bush does for Iraq)

                  Sorry, but this is ridiculous.

                  But has he ever admitted that a 20th

                  Of course.

                  or 21st Century Republican has been better than a Democrat about ANYTHING?

                  The problem is you just refuse to admit that 21st century Republicans are worse on everything.

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  Eisenhower, he may have integrated the schools because of legalistic reasons

                  I really don’t see how his extremely reluctant and isolated enforcement of the order in Little Rock makes him better than JFK, whose administration did similar things repeatedly. (Also, “integrated the schools?” There were essentially no African-Americans going to school with whites in the south when Ike left office.)

                • Dilan Esper says:

                  Installing the Shah created a process that has led to 35 years of hostility with Iran.

                  True. It also bought us 20 years of cheap oil and stability before that. Whereas it isn’t exactly as though democratic or left-wing regimes in that region have either lasted or been friendly to our interests.

                  Look, I oppose Eisenhower’s action in Iran on principle. We shouldn’t sponsor coups, period. But to blame it for what happened requires that you paint a Pollyanna scenario as your counterfactual. In the real world, nothing was going to be easy in Iran or anywhere else in that region no matter what we did.

                  The coup in Guatemala began violence in that nation that has cascaded into the present.

                  There has been plenty of violence all over Latin America for a long time. There’s no guarantee that everything would have been fine and dandy had Eisenhower not sponsored the coup. As I said, I oppose the coup on principle, but you have to make ridiculously naive assumptions to conclude it was the cause of all the bad stuff that happened in Guatemala after that.

                  At any rate, Guatemala is a nation of little strategic importance. It’s fine to bag on the coup in principle, but let’s be clear here– from an American foreign policy standpoint, Eisenhower’s actions in the Suez, and in keeping us out of Vietnam, and in negotiating the Korean peace (which has held for SIXTY YEARS!) are just so much more important than a small Central American nation where he got the policy wrong.

                  And finally, here’s your professional historians– 9th overall, and 9th best in international relations!

                  http://www.americanpresidents.org/survey/historians/33.asp

                  Sounds like you don’t know what actual historians think.

                • Dilan Esper says:

                  The problem is you just refuse to admit that 21st century Republicans are worse on everything.

                  Because this is a stupid generalization that cannot possibly be true. Indeed, it may be the single stupidest thing I have ever seen you say.

                  Indeed, the whole point of a 2 party system is that the parties are guaranteed to get some questions wrong, just because every contested issue has to line up with one party or the other.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  sponsoring a coup in a nation of little importance (Guatemala)

                  Now that, boys and girls, is how you do nihilism.

                • Dana Houle says:

                  People who are right for the wrong reasons are still right.

                  In the early 90′s Rwanda needed land reform. The Interahamwe’s actions resulted in, among other things, land reform. They were wrong, of course, to achieve it via genocide, but they were still right in achieving land reform!

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  Which Eisenhower regretted precisely because of Brown, which forced Eisenhower to act in Little Rock, something he very much did not want to do.

                  Plus, Warren was appointed for purely political, not ideological, reasons. If Zombie James McReynolds could have delivered a key state at the 1952 convention he would have promised him the seat.

                • Erik Loomis says:

                  Why, it’s almost like people should understand the context in which presidents make decisions before evaluating their actions!

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  Because this is a stupid generalization that cannot possibly be true. Indeed, it may be the single stupidest thing I have ever seen you say.

                  What’s hilarious about this silly assertion is that if you had an example of an issue on which the national Republicans were better than the national Democrats, you’d cite it rather than arguing in abstractions.

                  Obviously, the current situation is unusual; in most periods in American history, the answers have been more complex. But nothing logically requires one of two major parties to be better on some issues, and as you tacitly admit the contemporary GOP is worse than the Democrats on most issues and better on nothing.

                • DrDick says:

                  There were essentially no African-Americans going to school with whites in the south when Ike left office.

                  Right. The schools in my home town were not integrated until 1961, when I was 9.

                • Tristan says:

                  Dilan, your comments on the Iranian coup alone are, frankly, disgusting enough to abrogate any pro-Eisenhower argument with you as the source. It doesn’t matter how many times you clarify that of course you’re opposed to anti-democratic coups in general when you follow it up with “but it got us 20 years of cheap oil” each time, and in fact reads like an Onion-esque parody of American attitudes.

                • Manju says:

                  Utter bull rap. Nothing against DDE, but he was not better than JFK on civil rights

                  Why? Consider this:

                  This is an inner procedural vote on Ike’s 1957cra. As you should know, the real legislative history of Civil Rights is told here, not in the final votes.

                  Ike’s bill that enters the Senate as the defacto the 1964 one. One way to kill it is to make sure the Senate Judiciary Committee gets its…because they’ll keep it bottled up in committee. Why? its run by vicious racist James Eastland of Mississippi.

                  Nay = Ike’s position; Aye = Evil

                  AL Aye [D] John Sparkman
                  AL Aye [D] Joseph Hill
                  AR Aye [D] James Fulbright
                  AR Aye [D] John McClellan
                  AZ Aye [R] Barry Goldwater
                  AZ Aye [D] Carl Hayden
                  DE Aye [R] John Williams
                  DE Aye [D] Joseph Frear
                  FL Aye [D] George Smathers
                  FL Aye [D] Spessard Holland
                  GA Aye [D] Herman Talmadge
                  GA Aye [D] Richard Russell
                  LA Aye [D] Allen Ellender
                  LA Aye [D] Russell Long
                  MA Aye [D] John Kennedy
                  MS Aye [D] James Eastland
                  MS Aye [D] John Stennis
                  MT Aye [D] James Murray
                  MT Aye [D] Michael Mansfield
                  NC Aye [D] Samuel Ervin
                  NC Aye [D] William Scott
                  ND Aye [R] Milton Young
                  NM Aye [D] Clinton Anderson
                  NV Aye [D] Alan Bible
                  NV Aye [R] George Malone
                  OH Aye [D] Frank Lausche
                  OK Aye [D] Robert Kerr
                  OR Aye [D] Wayne Morse
                  SC Aye [D] Olin Johnston
                  SC Aye [D] Strom Thurmond
                  SD Aye [R] Karl Mundt
                  TN Aye [D] Albert Gore
                  TN Aye [D] Carey Kefauver
                  TX Aye [D] Lyndon Johnson
                  TX Aye [D] Ralph Yarborough
                  VA Aye [D] Absalom Robertson
                  VA Aye [D] Harry Byrd
                  WA Aye [D] Warren Magnuson
                  WY Aye [D] Joseph O’Mahoney

                  http://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/85-1957/s67

                  Now look who is in collusion (and it ain’t just JFK). Eastland would go on to become an early supporter of Kennedy’s Presidential campaign, playing a role that Strom Thurmond would later play for Nixon.

                  Is the idea that JFK was worse on civil rights than DDE so unrealistic that you can dismiss it with a mere assertion?

                • Manju says:

                  Which Eisenhower regretted precisely because of Brown, which forced Eisenhower to act in Little Rock, something he very much did not want to do.

                  Reasonable point. But it sure beats what JFK’s running mate had to say at the time.

                  Behold, LGMers, an spectacularly racist false-equivalence:

                  “There should be no troops from either side patrolling our school campuses anywhere”

                  Senate Majority Leader:LBJ

                • Manju says:

                  Utter bull rap. Nothing against DDE, but he was not better than JFK on civil rights,

                  Also Warren, I don’t have the roll-call handy…but its actually more famous than the one I published…

                  In light of the recent Michael Dunn hung jury, look up JFK, 1957cra, and Jury Trial Amendment.

                  Unless you think a Southern White Jury should be deciding civil rights violations, don’t try to tell me JFK was a clear-cut pro-civil rights Senator.

                  Malcolm X got this one right, as he often did.

                • Dana Houle says:

                  Manju, thank you for all kinds of information…that is utterly irrelevant to this discussion. You write “don’t try to tell me JFK was a clear-cut pro-civil rights Senator.” Since the comparison is JFK and DDE, and DDE was never a senator, I’d have thought it obvious that the comparison was of their actions as President. Your comparison is as beside the point as would be a comparison between President LBJ–the point of this post, and who because he never did things like suspend Habeus Corpus, as Lincoln did, I our greatest president on civil rights–and the Senate Majority Leader of the 1950′s who presided over the watering down of civil rights legislation. You know, that same guy, LBJ.

                • Colin Day says:

                  For Dilan Esper: Gov. Ralph Carr of Colorado was better than FDR on the treatment of Japanese-Americans.

                • Manju says:

                  Manju, thank you for all kinds of information…that is utterly irrelevant to this discussion. You write “don’t try to tell me JFK was a clear-cut pro-civil rights Senator.” Since the comparison is JFK and DDE, and DDE was never a senator, I’d have thought it obvious that the comparison was of their actions as President.

                  Dana, it is not “utterly irrelevant” because Ike was President when JFK was in collusion with his White Supremacist party mates. You take those in collusion away, and the Ike Presidency then gets credited for essentially the 1964 cra.

                  Phillip Klinkner goes into detail about one of these parliamentary maneuvers (paragraph beginning with “Consequently, Johnson’s…”) that makes this so. I’ll leave you with his interesting hypothetical:

                  If ever one needs evidence of the contingency of history, imagine, if you will, those seven votes going the other way. Jim Crow would have died in the late 1950s, avoiding much of the tumult of the 1960s. The Republicans, led by Richard Nixon, would have been the party of civil rights, not the Democrats and Lyndon Johnson. From there, one can spin off any number of plausible scenarios that result in a very different history of the past forty years.

                  http://www.thenation.com/article/great-societizer?page=full#

            • Rob in CT says:

              Look what happened to George Romney when he decided that Vietnam was a sham.

            • Scott Lemieux says:

              I think this is the key point–Vietnam might be worse than Iraq, but anyone with a realistic shot of becoming president in 1964 was going to do the same thing–from either political party. And we saw that when Nixon took over. It was an elite consensus decision.

              Iraq was a purely partisan war forced on the American people (not to mention the Iraqi people) by a wing of the Republican Party.

              100% right.

          • djw says:

            There is also the fact that Johnson was acting in accord with the elite consensus of both parties at the time.

            Right. If you were to make a list of the 20 or so people who could plausibly have been president in 1965, probably 17-18 of them would have escalated the war much as LBJ did. Come up with a similar list of 20 for 2001-2003 and I expect maybe 3-4 would have gone into the Iraq war.

          • LeeEsq says:

            Its more than simple elite consensus, it was the popular consensus in American politics at the time. Before the Vietnam War went downhill, most Americans were probably not sympathetic to the idea of letting a country go Communist. Democratic politicians were under strains to be “tough” on Communism just as they felt pressured to be “tough” on crime during the 1970s and 1980s. If an American president or would be president advocated doing nothing in Vietnam or elsewhere about to go Communist than that President would probably lose a lot of political will.

            • Barry says:

              “Its more than simple elite consensus, it was the popular consensus in American politics at the time. ”

              It bears repeating that the Vietnam War was popular with the American people until the Tet Offensive.

              • LeeEsq says:

                And even after the Tet offensive, a plurality of Americans still supported it. During the Cold War, it was important for American politicians to be anti-Communist. Failure to be insignificantly anti-Communist could and would cost you an election.

          • LFC says:

            On the other hand, people like Hans Morgenthau and George Kennan, respected foreign-policy voices and hardly leftists, opposed the Johnson Vietnam policies. Vietnam split the f-p establishment and there is no pt pretending that in 64 some people didn’t think it wd be a disaster. Christ, George Ball, who was in LBJ’s admin, told him it wd be.

        • MattT says:

          This is fair to a point, but Johnson was still president in 1968. I think the longer it went on, and the more obvious it became what a disaster the war was, the less defensible staying involved was. It’s why I would put more blame on Johnson than on Kennedy or Eisenhower despite their role in initiating involvement, and more on Nixon than any of them.

          • BubbaDave says:

            Of course, in 1968 the Johnson administration was engaged in peace talks in Paris and the Nixonians were engaged in sabotaging those peace talks….

            • Dilan Esper says:

              And Nixon engaged in peace talks in 1973 as well. That’s how the policy worked– commit a few years of genocide against the Vietnamese, then sue for peace.

            • EliHawk says:

              And plenty of people on the anti-war left despised Humphrey, who almost certainly would have sued for peace and gotten out much sooner than Nixon.

              • EliHawk says:

                Not sued for peace, but pushed the talks quicker. Bad choice of words.

                • Dilan Esper says:

                  I think the dislike of Humphrey was an extreme miscalculation of the left. Humphrey was in a difficult spot because he was LBJ’s vice president (we’ve seen this situation with Gore as well after the Clinton scandals) and you have to be careful about dumping on the boss. But his actual record was basically that he was Mr. Liberal, a big-time civil rights guy, and yes, a skeptic of interventionism. And the left failed to see this because they were (justifiably) so pissed off at the Johnson administration for murdering so many Vietnamese and sending so many Americans off to die.

                • LFC says:

                  And Humphrey didn’t help himself by waiting until his Salt Lake City speech of Sept. ’68 (think I’ve got that right) to break plainly w LBJ’s Vietnam record/policy. By then it was too late. (And, as a commenter points out above, Nixon/Kissinger were [via Anna Chennault] telling Thieu not to agree to anything that came out of the Paris talks, assuring Thieu that he wd get a better deal once Nixon was in office.)

        • Anonymous says:

          Iraq had it’s own domino theory: the Al-Qaeda caliphate, remember? Plus it was going to cause democracies to flower across the Arab world like the Genesis Project from Star Trek III (?).

        • The Amazing Spider-Man says:

          I think the theory was basically correct (see eastern Europe). But proponents of the theory were perhaps too optimistic in their certainty that we could actually DO something about it. I also think they failed to understand failed to understand that Vietnam was a domino on an entirely different table, being tipped by itself.

          The catastrophic results of our war in Vietnam notwithstanding, after the (now-obvious) success of our intervention in Korea, I sometimes find it hard to fault those who advocated intervening elsewhere.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      Vietnam was a much greater fiasco than Iraq, but Iraq was 100% on Bush. Blame for American policy towards Vietnam deserves to be spread between Johnson, Nixon, Kennedy, and Eisenhower.

    • Gator90 says:

      As to Vietnam, at least the American casus belli (Communists who desired to rule South Vietnam) actually existed, which is more than we can say for the Iraq War.

      • IM says:

        And the situation did of course remind of Korea: Where actually existed a north korean – chinese – soviet alliance and where south korea was in a way defended.

        • postmodulator says:

          Also where South Koreans came out considerably better than did North Koreans.

          • Warren Terra says:

            Was that true by the early 1960s? I vaguely remember from Demick’s book that early on the DPRK achieved something of a success story (for standard of living and literacy, obviously not for freedom, and measured against the military dictatorship in the South), but I’m not sure exactly when this was, not to mention how much it’s true on an absolute scale as opposed to a comparison to their later total collapse

            • J. Otto Pohl says:

              North Korea was richer in terms of per capita GDP than South Korea up until the mid-1970s. The industrialization of North Korea really took off in 1958 with the start of the Chollima period. It only stagnated in the late 1960s and South Korea only surpassed it economically in the middle of the next decade. In 1961 per capita GNP in South Korea was about $100 versus $200 in North Korea.

              Source: Paul French, North Korea: The Paranoid Penninsula (London: Zed Books, 2005), pp.75-77.

              • Warren Terra says:

                Thanks, Otto.

                • J. Otto Pohl says:

                  ????Aren’t you going to call me an idiot, like everybody else here always does????

                • Warren Terra says:

                  Otto, I’ve often been disrespectful of your posts when I felt they were terrible, terrible posts. This is precisely why I wanted to make a special point to thank you for making a substantive, relevant, informative comment that made use of your expertise.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  Otto, I’ve never called you an idiot. I think you are an incredibly knowledgeable person, who lets narcissism and a complete inability to write well get in the way of the positive contributions you could easily make.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Yeah, I don’t know what’s sadder, that you can’t take that people here acknowledge your merits when you exhibit them or that you so seldomly choose to exhibit them.

                • DrDick says:

                  Even I do not think you are an idiot, just blinded by your ideological prejudices. I also thought that was a thoughtful and informative post.

                • sibusisodan says:

                  Insofar as my opinion is important, when you bring the knowledge, it’s informative, pertinent and illuminating. Like now.

                  Do feel like posting on topic on a thread about LBJs foreign policy is a bit of a missed opportunity, though…

        • Dilan Esper says:

          Korea was a pretty big disaster for the Americans too, you know. Several years, tens of thousands of Americans, hundreds of thousands of Koreans, and an ultimate stalemate.

          Of course North Korea’s current regime makes the Korean War look a lot better. But from an analysis of American foreign policy interests, it was not really a positive experience and certainly should have sobered policymakers a lot more than it did.

          • Xe, Xfinity, Altria, KFC says:

            “Looks a lot better” is an understatement. Best postwar American foreign policy intervention in terms of long term benefits to the people who actually live there.

            • Ben says:

              Whoops. Joke name.

            • Dilan Esper says:

              Yeah, we saved a lot of lives there in retrospect. But wasn’t the nihilism of the Kim Il Sung dynasty basically a random event? Obviously, Vietnam COULD have gone in that direction and didn’t. Cambodia DID go in that direction for awhile, but the Vietnam War didn’t stop it from happening. Castro COULD have ended up there, but we were unsuccessful in deposing him.

              This is part of the reason “hunanitarian intervention” is a bullshit reason to go to war. There are always potential humanitarian justifications for everything we might want to do, it’s impossible to predict downstream effects, and for every war that has a positive humanitarian effect there are a ton of them that don’t.

              You have to analyze these things based on whether they served our interests. And what I am saying is that policymakers who crafted the Vietnam War should have viewed Korea as a cautionary tale but didn’t.

              • postmodulator says:

                You can actually get a nice cautionary statement about interventionism if you look at it the other way. The Soviet Union armed the northerners and propped up Kim Il-Sung, and the Chinese intervened when the war went badly for the North, all (as far as I can tell) either because they sincerely wanted to spread International Communism, or as a realpolitik way of throwing some weight around.

                And the end result is a country whose citizenry live in conditions mind-twistingly awful, and as a bonus, China has an inevitable humanitarian crisis right on its border someday.

                • Dilan Esper says:

                  That is very true.

                • J. Otto Pohl says:

                  Although during the late 1960s and early 1970s the leadership of North Korea under Kim il Sung actually looked a lot more rational than China under Mao. There was no equivalent of the Cultural Revolution or Gang of Four in North Korea which was run much closer to the Soviet model at this time.

              • Lee Rudolph says:

                This is part of the reason “hunanitarian intervention” is a bullshit reason to go to war.

                I guess you’re not old enough to remember when, outside of a few big cities, Americans were forced to eat chow mein. Really bland chow mein.

          • postmodulator says:

            Wasn’t the stalemate the sober outcome? MacArthur wanted to nuke Beijing and was almost willing to commit high treason to do it.

            • IM says:

              I said defended in a way, because the stalemate could have been achieved two years and a lot of lives earlier.

            • Warren Terra says:

              Even MacArthur wasn’t that crazy. He just wanted to nuke the border so that there would be a radioactive dead zone between Korea and China that might eventually contaminate the whole area, but Beijing would probably be OK.

          • Gregor Sansa says:

            Not just North Korea’s current regime. South Korea’s, too. In some ways the economic miracle there still outshines the other “asian tiger” examples.

            And that’s the real contrast with other US interventions: there was an actual country to defend. South Vietnam was never more than a puppet, and in the Latin American coups it’s just a matter of General Fulano de Tal (that’s Spanish for “So-and-so”).

            • IM says:

              Hindsight. South Korea in 1950 was very poor dictatorship. You could argue that Suth Vietnam had as much of chance to grow into a nation and that Diem had more support then Syngman Rhee.

              • postmodulator says:

                South Korea in 1985, the year I left, wasn’t a model democracy either. The guy who was president when I lived there, they later found a billion dollars’ worth of gold bars in the presidential palace, money he’d skimmed. They sentenced him to death, but commuted it.

                • LeeEsq says:

                  Even at its worse, South Korea was no where close to being anything like North Korea though. That isn’t very difficult and it sounds like I’m damning it with faint praise but its true. Would we really want a unified Korea where 75 or so million people live in North Korean like conditions?

                • postmodulator says:

                  Oh, I certainly don’t mean to equate South Korea’s problematic growing pains with North Korea’s incredible oppression. For but one of many examples, I know a lot of South Koreans who were allowed to leave.

                • IM says:

                  Would we really want a unified Korea where 75 or so million people live in North Korean like conditions?

                  Or a unified Vietnam where 75 or so million people live in North Vietnamese like conditions?

                  Turned out much better in the long run, but that is of course hindsight. From the perspective of say 1962 North Korea looked probably better then North Vietnam and the difference between South Vietnam and South Korea wasn’t that big either.

                • LeeEsq says:

                  I forgot that hundreds of thousands of people emigrated from South Korea to elsewhere after the Korean War ended. In a unified Communist Korea this wouldn’t have happened. When you combine the lack of immigration with a slightly higher birthrate, assuming that unified communist Korea has a North Korean birthrate, than you get nearly or slightly above 100 million people living under the Kims.

          • LFC says:

            Re Korea “certainly should have sobered policymakers a lot more than it did.”

            In one particular way it DID sober policymakers: the Korean experience influenced the particular form some of LBJ’s Vietnam escalation decisions took. Gradual escalation of bombing, no invasion of the North, partly b.c LBJ and advisors were worried about provoking Chinese intervention. See Yuen Foong Khong, Analogies at War: Korea, Munich, Dien Bien Phu, and the Vietnam Decisions of 1965.

    • rea says:

      Wait, what is the argument that the Iraq War was just as much of a fiasco as the Vietnam War?

      “Just as much of a fiasco” isn’t all that good a comparative measurement.

      If you rank it in terms of people killed, Vietnam was worse by far.

      If you rank it in terms of damage to the country and its standing in the world, Vietnam was still probably much worse, but the role played by dumping a couple of trillion into a pointless war in the subsequent global economic catastrophy makes it closer than you might think.

      In terms of shear irrational folly, well, Vietnam actually made a kind of sense from a certain point of view, whereas Iraq as a response to 9/11 was a non sequitur, as if LBJ had gone on TV, told the nation about the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and announced that we were responding by invading Yugoslavia.

      • postmodulator says:

        I’ll never forget that about the runup to the war. Every fuckin’ person you actually met in day-to-day life who advocated for the war mentioned 9/11. And yet Bush’s junta managed to avoid ever explicitly making the link. (They pushed that stuff out through Safire as kind of a trial balloon, but nobody really bought it.)

        I used to occasionally listen to Howard Stern. One of the reasons I stopped was that they had (I think) John Cougar Mellencamp on and he said something about maybe invading Iraq not being such a hot idea, and Robin Quivers literally started shrieking “DID YOU FORGET ABOUT ALL THE PEOPLE WHO JUMPED TO THEIR DEATHS BECAUSE THEY WERE ON FIRE?”

        Somehow this became the conventional wisdom for just enough Americans that the war could happen. I don’t know how. I suspect it’s one of those things we’ll find out in fifty years when archives get released, which I suppose is as good a reason as any for me to stop smoking.

        • Wrye says:

          I think, as a trained librarian and archivist, we will open some of those archive boxes in 50 years to discover a bunch of shredded paper with a photocopy of Cheney’s ass on top.

          Of course if they took a cue from their pupils in Canada, They would have simply sold off or discarded all the potentially damaging archives under the guise of deficit reduction.

          • Snarki, child of Loki says:

            You seem to have forgotten about that “accidental fire” in Cheney’s “man-sized safe”, the one that had Cheney standing on the street gazing at the flames with a little smile.

          • Tristan says:

            I don’t think ‘pupil’ is necessarily fair in that context, and that’s not just my stereotypically-prickly national pride talking. If you look at how we both handled red-hunting in the cold war days Canada has a history of being just plain sneakier than the US when it comes to protecting the public from knowing what its government actually does.

      • Tom Servo says:

        There’s also blame. There is no principled argument for distributing blame for Iraq. It was entirely the Bush Administration, full stop. LBJ doesn’t have the entirety of Vietnam on his shoulders, even if he bears a lot of culpability.

        • DAS says:

          It wasn’t entirely the Bush administration. Bush & CO were able to get the war in part because the media made sure that anyone opposing the war was depicted as a dirty, shrill hippy who wouldn’t mind us capitulating to the global, resurgent Caliphate. Madison said “ambition must be made to counteract ambition”; in the run-up to the Iraq war, ambition was made to support ambition — the only way a politician could succeed politically was to go along with Bush’s great Iraq adventure: look what happened to those who opposed the war? Even the liberal media punched those hippies.

          Of course, even those who supported the war (c.f. Kerry, J.F.) were attacked by Bush & CO for supporting the war: Bush’s campaign in 2004 was essentially the same campaign Side Show Bob ran against Mayor Quimby: “Kerry was bullied into supporting GW Bush’s reckless war in Iraq. Who do you want as President? Someone duped and bullied into supporting a reckless war? Don’t these uncertain and terror filled times demand a President who can bully others, not someone who was bullied?”

      • Barry says:

        “… and announced that we were responding by invading Yugoslavia.”

        And quite deliberately did not prepare for a real war, and then over the next few years, as things when down the toilet, still treated it like a war movie rather than a real war.

  6. Brien Jackson says:

    So, if I’m following this right, Barack Obama is bad for pushing a conservative health reform policy, and LBJ is bad for pushing liberal economic policies.

  7. wengler says:

    Bush institutionalized a level of corruption not seen since the Gilded Age. I don’t think LBJ could’ve pissed away that amount of money even if he tried.

  8. Nobdy says:

    Even if some of the antipoverty programs were flat out bad and should have been canceled, just trying something that doesn’t end up working doesn’t make you a bad leader or president. Not everything will pan out. The fact that some of the programs did pan out in very meaningful ways is more than worth the cost of the ones that did not.

    Mistakes that just waste some money are much less horrible than mistakes that kill tens of thousands and destabilize whole regions.

  9. postmodulator says:

    given that Iraq was just as much a fiasco

    I mostly agree, but I’d push back on that count. Vietnam’s death toll seems to be higher — four million deaths in belligerence is what I’m seeing, versus a million deaths from all war-related causes in Iraq.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      From a strictly foreign policy point of view, Iraq did more damage to us than Vietnam. Our standing recovered from Vietnam. We’re never going back to the place we occupied in 1991-2002.

      • postmodulator says:

        While I agree, I hate to hang much on arguments about our standing. It’s not like we were doing anything remotely worthwhile with it.

      • MattT says:

        As damaging as Iraq was foreign policy wise, some of that loss of influence was going to happen anyway. There are just more countries trying to exert influence globally now.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          Some, yes, but he certainly exacerbated and accelerated the trend.

          • Dilan Esper says:

            So instead of 2002, we would have lost our unipolar world sometime during Putin’s first reign as President of the Russian Federation. Not much difference.

            • Barry says:

              Or not. A better 2001-2010 would have knock-on effects all over the world.

              • Dilan Esper says:

                The Iraq War was a symptom, not the cause. Bear in mind Clinton tried to start the war in 1998. (Google “Madeline Albright Sandy Berger Ohio State” if you don’t know about this.) The problem was that a posture of the US leading the world and policing it was basically unsustainable and was an accident of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

                So if the other major powers hadn’t broken from us on Iraq they would have broken from us on other things instead. One way or the other, we were going to get to the same place we are now, where the US still has a lot of power but isn’t the sole voice as to what happens in the world.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  Bear in mind Clinton tried to start the war in 1998.

                  Because as we’ve seen from Libya to Syria to, well, Iraq under Clinton, talking about a limited bombing campaign and starting a full-on Iraq-style war are the same thing. The one leads inevitably to the other.

                  Boots onna ground!

      • Dilan Esper says:

        We’re never going back to the place we occupied in 1991-2002.

        That’s true, but that has nothing to do with Iraq. That was going to happen anyway.

        There’s no way that you are going to have a unipolar, American-led world forever. That was an accidental and temporary product of the demise of the Soviet Union. There are other countries, they are big, they have nuclear weapons, and they were going to demand to have a say.

  10. Paul Campos says:

    I would be interested in hearing Damon Linker’s thoughts on why FDR’s domestic policy wasn’t even worse than LBJ’s, given the metrics he’s employing.

    Maybe the answer is that it was worse, but HITLER GOOD WAR GREATEST GENERATION.

  11. Calming Influence says:

    “Johnson’s bizarrely inflated rhetoric…”

    Sure, because Johnson’s “…creation of a “Great Society…” bullshit is totally the opposite of American Exceptionalism or “USA! We’re #1!”-ism.

  12. Ben says:

    LBJs stock will go up as the Baby Boomers die off. Kennedy’s will go down.

    My parents hate LBJ, I love him. Same political views, different conclusions based on when we grew up.

    • LeeEsq says:

      This is the point that I made above. Lots of Baby Boomers simply can’t forgive LBJ for Vietnam War. There are good reasons for this, it was there lives on the line, but it blinds them to the good that Johnson did. It took decades for us to get obejective and critical views on JFK’s administration. We will get more objective rather than subjective opinions about LBJ as time goes on.

      • DrDick says:

        It is hard to forgive someone who killed your friends and relatives or drafted you and sent you off to fight a meaningless and brutal war. It took me a while, but I gradually came to the realization that the good he did over balanced the bad and, as I said upthread, nobody else would have done better on Vietnam (and Goldwater would have been far worse).

  13. Anna in PDX says:

    Boy I hate centrist pundits. They manage to make it sound like there is a total American consensus that liberal arguments are wild eyed and pie in the sky. They even sneer at them like this jerk re: Johnson’s speeches about the war on poverty and great society, and everyone on the boob tube agrees. Really we need to take that Overton window from their cold dead grip and wrench the whole thing back to where it belongs.

    • postmodulator says:

      I was thinking about that today — and these are total ramblings here — but I feel like that started with the collapse of the Soviet Union. That was the vindication of laissez-faire capitalism, of Reaganism, and it somewhat led to the American-led international system we sorta kinda had for a minute there, which also was taken to vindicate American exceptionalism.

      All that stuff happened when I was seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, and I really internalized it. Lately I’ve been reading a little Marx for his commentary on modernity, and it’s started to occur to me: “A bunch of drunken autocrats couldn’t hold their empire together after oil prices collapsed, and that discredits Marx as a thinker — why, exactly?”

      • Ben says:

        There’s Marxism, and then there’s Marxism-Leninism. Had the Russian Revolution never happened Marx would be way more respected as a thinker than he is, and “Marxism” would have come to mean something like the German SPD.

        • postmodulator says:

          Sure, I do actually recognize that distinction. I’m saying that the Serious People don’t.

        • Another Holocene Human says:

          Seriously? That’s like saying you could respect Milton Friedman if only the Chicago Boys hadn’t been called in post-Glastnost to turn Russia into a mobster-oligarchy.

          Marx is respected in academia just fine. However, he did write some polemic, the polemic was taken way too seriously even at the time, such that Marx himself declared himself not a Marxist, and the weakness in his analysis (a better economist and social theorist than anthropologist, psychologist, or, critically, political scientist) was played out on human bodies.

          Russian Revolution might have, probably would have, happened without Marx anyway. It almost happened in 1905 because of empty stomachs. Remember, this is a regime that whipped up the vilest anti-Semitic tracts and violence that the modern world had seen pre-Hitler in order to save its own skin. The old regime was fucked and they fucking knew it. If not for a Marxist revolution they might have had a nationalistic, fascist one. Who knows?

          • postmodulator says:

            You might not have seen it before you posted this, but I kind of made clear that I am not talking about academia, downthread. So, just to be clear, I am not talking about what I think actually happened; I am talking about the propaganda use to which what happened was put by people who openly had agendas.

            There are a couple of places here where you have conflated both myself and Ben’s descriptive statements with advocacy.

      • Another Holocene Human says:

        The US in the 1980s was NOT laissez-faire capitalism. Laissez-faire capitalism failed in the 1920s and 1930s, far more spectacularly than the end of the Soviet economic system. Give me a fucken break.

        Now, if you mean “vindicated a stupid, ostrich-style industrial policy” sure, until that, too, crashed into a brick wall as America’s post WWII economic advantage wound down. Although arguably the REAL stupid didn’t ramp up until the 1990s. The 80s was more about sitting on the laurels that a previous generation had won and starting the process of just extracting cash out of any going concern with no worries about the future. The Congress can take some blame for agreeing to dumbass tax law with the GOP. And for ignoring what was going on on Wall Street.

        • postmodulator says:

          I am not saying that’s what occurred. I am describing my recollection of American propaganda, mythologizing, what have you from about 1989 to about 1994. We beat them Ruskies, and all them stupid college professors what said there was flaws in capitalism was totally wrong. That was the mainstream discourse.

          • Another Holocene Human says:

            I guess. Or you could say that Reagan stood up to the Russkies and had a stiffer spine and they had to back down due to great big American penis. I mean, that’s kind of how I took it. Economics, shmeconomics (not to mention shmeckel’n).

            Even the “egghead” conservative writers basically were telling everybody that we won by going into debt building ICBMs and Soviet Russia couldn’t keep up. They were saying this with a straight face.

            • Another Holocene Human says:

              “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

              Ray-Gun, leader of the Earth 2 Lantern Corps! The Man Who Knows No Fear!

              • postmodulator says:

                The most recent example of “ideological bias” I’ve encountered in higher education was a professor telling us that Reagan deserved sole credit for the end of the Cold War — yeah, the spending the Soviets into oblivion thing.

                • Tristan says:

                  That one never ceases to flabbergast me. Even if you allow for the already dubious claim that it was in any way an intentional strategy, it’s still basically arguing that you won a game of chicken because the other guy’s car exploded on impact.

        • Bill Murray says:

          just because laissez-faire capitalism failed does not mean it couldn’t be brought back. It benefits the rich so much that it’s always ready for another act under a different name

      • bgn says:

        Actually, it started about a decade before; the centrist pundits have been running scared of accusations of left-wing bias at least since Reagan ascended to office.

    • Colin Day says:

      take that Overton window from their cold dead grip

      Wouldn’t we have to kill them first? Or would you consider that a feature?

  14. partisan says:

    Obviously I don’t think LBJ was the worst postwar American president. But I would say that no one within what I suppose we can call American liberalism did more damage to that brand (George Meany runs a close second). As for comparing Iraq and Vietnam, the latter war was clearly bloodier, American conduct was clearly more atrocious, and the current Iraqi government clearly has more legitimacy than Diem or Thieu every did. Whether LBJ has less leeway I’d question: there was a clear overwhelming elite consensus for attacking Iraq in 2002. But the worst aspect of the Iraq-Vietnam analogy involves Cambodia: and here Nixon is clearly worse than Bush.

  15. Tom Servo says:

    If Nixon, Kissinger et al hadn’t sabotaged the Paris Peace Talks, we’d be having a very different conversation. Johnson would still rightly have had Vietnam as a black mark on his legacy, but he’d also get some credit for cleaning up his own mess, which is something you can’t say Bush even tried to do. I actually give Johnson some points back.

    I think the treason in Paris should earn Nixon an equal share of Vietnam blame, even though he wasn’t president when Johnson escalated. Our last troops didn’t withdraw until a year after Nixon resigned, and the result was no better, arguably worse in terms of blood and treasure if nothing else, than if the war had ended 6 years earlier. Nixon needs to be brought up and shamed in every conversation about Johnson.

  16. Another Holocene Human says:

    That “since the early 1930s” is carrying a lot of water. Harding? Wilson? The early 20th had some doozies.

    (Racist shit sandwich Wilson still has a lot of fans, even among liberals. Apparently invading Haiti, Rayguns-style, wasn’t enough of a hint.)

    • Another Holocene Human says:

      Oh, oh, and basically inventing red-lining. Probably harmed more people than Reagan’s union busting. Got people killed.

    • witless chum says:

      If only it was just Haiti, Wilson also invaded the Nicauragua, Mexico, Cuba, Panama and the Dominican Republic. I remember the line being that what FDR called the Good Neighbor Policy was an admission that Wilson Administration, particularly, had been a bad neighbor policy.

      • LeeEsq says:

        There was at least some reason to “invade” Mexico in that preventing there were some bandit raids on American states from Mexico. Stopping those raids was a legitimate use of force.

  17. Rob in CT says:

    Yeah, I’m in the Vietnam was worse than Iraq!, The Sequel camp. That doesn’t mean LBJ was worse than Bush the Lessor, and there are mitigating factors wrt Vietnam, which others have mentioned (shared blame, more reasonable case for involvement, and so on). Overall I agree with you, but the Iraq was as bad as Vietnam thing jumped out at me. No, it really wasn’t. It was awful in its own right, no doubt (I’m still furious about it), but come on.

  18. anon says:

    Could LBJ have gone for a taft-hartley repeal, if he hadn’t spent so much political energy on other things? I’d trade the war on poverty for that.

  19. The Fool says:

    Vietnam is a huge black mark on LBJ’s record but as Scott said mitigated by the fact that he didn’t start it and all the elites supported it. But leaving that aside, LBJ did more to increase human well-being than arguably any other president — he is certainly in the top 5.

  20. mike in dc says:

    It’s a little weird to base the argument that the War on Poverty failed because LBJ’s programs only cut it by 50% and not 100%. If a subsequent administration had ever picked up that ball and run with it, we might have had a poverty rate in the mid-single digits by now.

    • Barry says:

      I’d call it a flat-out lie. The people who say that don’t look at the record of the right and judge it anywhere nearly as harshly. If you ever doubt that, just look at a graph of economic growth in the USA from WWII to the present day, and try to find some positive bump from Reagan. Then look at how right-wing pundits discuss Reagan’s legacy.

    • Hogan says:

      But then we’d be no better than Europeans.

  21. Craig says:

    It is ridiculous to claim that the war in Iraq was as great a fiasco as that in Vietnam. You will not get much past one million deaths in Iraq by any measure; Vietnam was closer to four million deaths. And I suppose it’s still early days, but the knock-on regional instability around Iraq is nothing to set against the upheavals in Cambodia and the protracted suffering in Laos.

    It is of course true that we can whittle down Johnson’s culpability on both sides, as the Vietnam war started and ended in other presidencies. You apply whatever discounts you think most appropriate. But Iraq basically the same as Vietnam on the scale of human catastrophes? Absurd.

  22. anon says:

    Regarding the claim that today’s secularists risk becoming modern day “Jacobins”, the Jacobins were definitely not of one mind on de-christianization. Robespierre, at the height of his powers in the fall of 1793 came out definitely against it. Herault that same year was expelled from the cps in part for pushing the de-christianizing movement too far in Alsace. Of course there was a great deal of anti-clericism during the Revolution, but this particular claim, that the Jacobins were absolutists in the name of secularism, irks me.

  23. [...] it’s already been a subject a broader discussion this year, I should acknowledge that I was wrong to say that “Iraq was just as much a fiasco” as Vietnam. Vietnam was indeed even worse in terms [...]

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