"The laws President Johnson signed [are] why im standing here today -- because of those efforts, because of that legacy."
Johnson’s America was in upheaval over race and the recent assassination of JFK. Obama has presided over an America with high levels of income inequality. Racial tensions have also mounted - a series of police shootings of black men led to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Bryan Cranston won a Tony for his performance as Lyndon Johnson in the Broadway play - the film adaptation also stars Anthony Mackie as MLK and will hit small screens on May 21st.
“Few things irritate Mr. Obama and his team more than the comparison to Johnson, which they consider facile and unfair. The notion that Mr. Obama should exert more energy in cajoling, bargaining and even pressuring lawmakers is a common assessment.”
Both presidents had terrific track records of pushing through progressive legislation -- the 111th Congress ranks right below the 89th (Johnson’s) in terms of productivity.
In his first few years as president Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, created Medicare and Medicaid, and passed the Higher Education Act, which created low-interest loans that later helped Obama pay for his college education.
Obama’s legacy will include the Affordable Care Act, the auto industry bailout, Wall Street reform, and the end of the Iraq War. Grassroots progressivism helped him achieve these milestones, just as the activism of Martin Luther King and SNCC helped Johnson.
At the beginning, Obama and Johnson both had Democratic majorities in Congress -- Johnson had 68% of the Senate and 295 House members, and Obama had 257 House members. This made pushing through legislation significantly easier.
It is well-known that Obama has been hindered for years by GOP majorities in the House and Senate that has resulted in endless political gridlock. And Johnson, too, lost his legendary ability to push legislation through Congress as Republicans gained seats and complex issues like the Vietnam War took the stage.
“When a SCOTUS vacancy occurred near the end of LBJ’s presidency, conservatives successfully argued it wouldn’t be fair for Johnson, a lame duck, to choose the replacement. When Justice Antonin Scalia recently died, some Republicans discussed a similar course of action.
“What President Johnson understood was that equality required more than the absence of oppression. It required the presence of economic opportunity. A decent job. Decent wages. Health care. Those too were civil rights worth fighting for.”