People, Politics & Business

Scoundrels, Educrats, Rogues and Champions

Groundhog Day in America

CJ Westerberg, July 2, 2013 12:48 AM

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This Summer and the Syrian Decision
featuring Jon Stewart, Tom Friedman,
and LBJ
and how this relates to education . . .

by C.J. Westerberg

This was a summer that included the Trayvon Martin verdict, proclamations that racism is over in America along with proposed new voting requirements, Martin Luther King's 50th iconic speech anniversary, pictures of uber-successful Silicon Valley HQs juxtaposed next to growing homeless camps, MOOCs and Sal Khan (do we ever get enough of them?), STEM in education, how and why the US is flailing or falling behind in the international scores but THEY want to be more like US, the return of HBO's Newsroom with an uncannily coincidental storyline about the use of serin gas, and the return of Jon Stewart who is going gangbusters about the Syrian question after a summer "hiatus" of filming in the Middle East:

Earlier this summer, there was Thomas Friedman on Charlie Rose declaring that Obama would be "darned" if he were to allow his 8-year Presidency to be "taken hostage" by the Middle East, that his legacy would be about "getting out" and not about getting in. "Too many hearts" and "too many presidencies" were broken by the Middle East, Friedman says. What does he say we should be focusing on instead?  You guessed it . . .
Innovation, education, infrastructure - - -
 


Another connection to this story is a book I am currently reading, The Passage of Power, a bio about Lyndon Johnson (LBJ) by Robert A. Caro.  Many bios hold promise but get bogged down with so many textbook-like factoids as if to prove the research worthiness of the work. This book reads like a thriller building up a what-happens-next suspense while brilliantly weaving details into the narrative.  

The-Passage-of-Power.jpgIt struck me how the present conversation about Syria - the larger conversation, that is,
about the role of the U.S. in foreign affairs - parallels one of the points made in the Introduction
of Caro's book.  

What do you think?  Here from The Passage of Power (breaks added for format):
  
"Brief though the transition period was, during it Lyndon Johnson not only rescued his predecessor's programs but launched one of his own  Barely into his second month in office he seized on a concept that had just begun to surface - a suggestion, a gleam in the eyes of a few members of the Kennedy Administration, that the late President had endorsed in theory but had done almost nothing to push forward - seized on it the moment a Kennedy adviser mentioned it to him, seized on it with such passion ("so spontaneous . . . instinctive and intuitive and uncalculated") that the adviser knew in that moment that he had been very wrong about Lyndon Johnson. 

Enlarging it far beyond anything previously envisioned, he pushed it forward, prodded his advisers into bringing their imagination to bear on it, and, in the second major speech of his presidency, the State of the Union address he delivered to Congress on January 8, 1964, announced it, and it was a program whose title, however hyperbolic, made clear that he viewed it - this crude, coarse, ruthless, often cruel man, who all his life had made a mantra of pragmatism (It's not the job of a politician to go around saying principled thing") as nothing less than a crusade.  It was a crusade for a noble end. 

The speech made clear on whose behalf the crusade would be launched.  "Unfortunately,
many Americans live on the outskirts of hope - some because of their poverty, and some because of their color, and all too many because of both, " he said in that State of the Union address.  "Our task is to help replace their despair with opportunity.  This administration
today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America." 

The speech made clear also the weapons he was going to deploy in the crusade, and
the enemies - ancient enemies hitherto invincible, whom he named by name - that he
intended the crusade to conquer.  "Our chief weapons . . .  will be better schools, and better health, and better homes, and better training, and better job opportunities to help more Americans, especially young Americans, escape from squalor and misery and unemployment," he said.  And the speech announced also the crusade's goal, which was revolutionary:
"not only to relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it."  

By the time Lyndon Johnson stepped down from the dais after that speech, it was apparent
that the program to which he was committing his still-infant Administration was one whose purpose was to right, on a vast scale, vast wrongs, to use to an extent rare in history a great nation's wealth to ameliorate the harshness of life for a portion of its citizens (a substantial portion: one-fifth of America's 150 million citizens in 1964 was 30 million people) too often overlooked by government in the past.  It was clear that it was a program whose aim was to launch America on a course toward social justice that, were it to be completed, would result
in nothing less than a society's transformation. If, as Martin Luther King Jr. had said, "The
arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice," during the two centuries since
the United States of America had come into existence, the arc had bent slowly indeed.
 
During those transition weeks (and, in fact, during the following years, as Lyndon Johnson widened the War on Poverty by introducing legislation on a dozen fronts to transform not just low-income America but the nation as a whole into "the Great Society") one can see the new President trying to bend it faster.  That State of the union speech - delivered forty-seven days just short of seven weeks, after the assassination of John Kennedy - marked the moment when Lyndon Johnson, moving beyond a continuation of Kennedy's policies, made the presidency fully his own, so it is therefore the event that signifies the end of the transition, the moment when the passage of power from Kennedy to Johnson is completed. . . "

 ". . . Yet victories would not, as I have written, be the only hallmarks that would make the presidency of Lyndon Johnson vivid in history.  Civil rights, the War on Poverty, Medicare,
Head Start - but Vietnam.  Vietnam and the credibility gap . . ." 

". . . Monumental as were some of the achievements of Lyndon Johnson's Administration,
they were as nothing beside the dreams he had enunciated in that first State of the Union speech.  Although there would be many reasons that the poverty war was lost, one of the main reasons was the Asian war
."
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It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.
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