Former Aides Revisit LBJ's Legacy

A campaign to turn the focus from Vietnam to Johnson's domestic achievements.


Former aides and associates of the late President Lyndon Baines Johnson, mindful of the approach of the 100th anniversary of his birth, are campaigning to boost his image and legacy by focusing on his domestic achievements and away from the disastrous Vietnam War.

During three days of meetings and seminars in Washington, former aides including Joseph Califano, Bill Moyers, and Harry McPherson and historians Robert Dallek and Douglas Brinkley made the case that Johnson's domestic agenda is bigger than the war. What's more, they said that today's politicians, especially minorities, should be giving LBJ and his civil rights push credit for paving the way for their success.

Both Brinkley and Dallek said that the election of either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama to the White House could lead to an LBJ-style era of progressive politics and that they hope LBJ's policies get some notice.

Califano went further, using his keynote address this week to urge Democratic candidates to use LBJ's agenda to build their own—and to give the former president credit in the process. To guide the candidates, Califano even provided a list of 135 major domestic programs passed during LBJ's six years in office, ranging from the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to the creation of the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum of modern and contemporary art.

"To him, the enormous popularity of his unprecedented landslide victory and every event during his presidency—triumphant or tragic—were opportunities to give the most vulnerable among us a fair shot of the nation's abundant blessings," said Califano.

To the extent that the rest of the nation didn't see Johnson's accomplishments, Califano blames the stigma of Vietman. "It is time to take off the Vietnam blinders and let our eyes look at and learn from the domestic dimensions of his presidency," he added. "Let everyone think what they will about Vietnam. But let us—especially Democrats—also recognize the reality of this revolutionary's remarkable achievements."

Johnson would have been 100 on August 27.

—Paul Bedard