We are right to honor President Lyndon Johnson on this 50th anniversary of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Its also fitting that we honor him for working so hard to pass the Voting Rights Act, launching things like Medicare/Medicaid and initiating the Great Society. That is a powerful progressive legacy. Perhaps its true, as Adam Serwer implies, that it took a racist white southerner to do all that in the 1960's.
But before we go wishing for a return to that kind of leadership - as some have done recently - lets also remember that the same heavy hand that accomplished all of that is the one who was driven out of seeking re-election by chants of "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?"
The same man who muscled legislation through Congress by doing things like giving Sen. Richard Ruseell "the treatment"...
...is the one who lied to Congress about the Gulf of Tonkin in order to escalate the war in Vietnam.
An argument can be made that this is the kind of power that must be wielded in order to bring about the progressive change we witnessed in the 1960's. That is a discussion worth having. But we cannot afford to do that without taking into account the "dark side" of that kind of power. President Lyndon Johnson is a perfect example of that. He used the power of dominance for tremendous good and unconscionable evil. I would suggest that its very likely you don't get one without the other.