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When Hope Turns Rancid: LBJ and Obama

US Politics & Gov't  (tags: abuse, americans, candidates, congress, democrats, dishonesty, elections, ethics, freedoms, government, healthcare, housing, media, military, obama, politics, propaganda, republicans, socialsecurity, SupremeCourt, troops, usa )

- 1616 days ago -
Both presidents betrayed initial popular optimism; only public protest can reverse the corrosive effects.

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Kit B (276)
Sunday March 16, 2014, 11:46 am
Photo Credit and description: Presidents Barack Obama and Lyndon Johnson(l. to r.): Rhona Wise/EPA; AFP/Getty Images

Hope makes history. So does betrayal of hope.

Early in his presidency, Lyndon Johnson inspired enormous hope. But the promise for a Great Society imploded — and disappointment jolted many former supporters, with trust and optimism turning into alienation and bitterness. The negative ripple effects lasted for decades.

Fifty years after Johnson entered the White House, the corrosive aspects of his legacy are easy to discern. A political base for progressive social change eroded as he escalated the Vietnam War and bought time with shameless deceit. For many people, distrust of leaders became the essence of realism.

Initiating a disastrous mix of rhetoric and carnage, Johnson told the nation on Aug. 4, 1964, “We still seek no wider war.” On the same day, he ordered bombing of North Vietnam in tandem with bogus claims that its navy had attacked U.S. ships in the Tonkin Gulf.

Throughout his full term after a landslide victory in the November 1964 election, LBJ continued to claim benign intent in Vietnam. “I do not genuinely believe that there’s any single person anywhere in the world that wants peace as much as I want it,” Johnson said on May 17, 1966. In mid-January 1968, he insisted that “our goal is peace — and peace at the earliest possible moment.”

For many citizens, the president’s willingness to lie while pursuing indefensible policies caused massive — and perhaps irreversible — distrust and even enmity toward the U.S. government. As a consequence, millions came to see history and current events in a starkly clearer light. By the time Jimi Hendrix performed the national anthem at Woodstock five years after Johnson’s Gulf of Tonkin speech, an unprecedented number of Americans heard the musical bombs bursting in air as horrific instead of noble.

Forty years later, the new presidency of Barack Obama was awash in a strong tide of good will, comparable, in its own way, to the wave of public sentiment that lifted Johnson as the new president after the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination of John F. Kennedy. Obama had run and won on hope, and his victory — while not of Johnson’s landslide proportions — provided major momentum.

Obama pursued policies that largely undercut his lofty oratorical appeals to his base. Deference to corporate power, the military-industrial complex and the national-security surveillance state — coupled with scant action on the vastly important matter of climate change — turned him into another president eager to cater to the intersection of Wall Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

Like Bill Clinton before him, Obama took care of himself and let others shoulder the political consequences. After Clinton and Obama stocked their administrations with corporate heavyweights, their rebuffs to progressive populism went over big with corporate media outlets. But the policy choices dispirited and demobilized the Democratic base, ushering in GOP takeovers of the House in 1994 and 2010.

Taking care of No. 1, Clinton and Obama won second terms, but on paths strewn with wreckage.

Such betrayals have grim effects. The damage to the body politic is akin to the results of backroom rubber hoses, inflicting internal injuries without leaving visible marks.

The best way to not become disillusioned is to not have illusions in the first place, but such axioms may seem like facile hindsight. Rather than turn cynical and fatalistic, prior supporters should quickly and directly challenge leaders who have disappointed them. Such challenges were sparse during the first years of the Obama administration, and they are still inadequate.

Living in a mass culture that encourages political passivity, all too many of Obama’s ex-enthusiasts have drifted into quiet disengagement instead of creative enragement. While recent years have seen an upsurge of activism on issues that range from climate change and economic justice to civil liberties and war, the magnitude and intensity of such efforts must increase.

On civil liberties, for example, the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocates have condemned the Obama administration as the worst in memory. But Obama remains obstinate. In response to chilling revelations by National Security Agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden, the president has circled the surveillance wagons. He insists on repeating falsehoods along the lines of his claims on national television last August that “we don’t have a domestic spying program” and “there is no spying on Americans.”

No more credible than Johnson’s claims of peaceful intent, such assertions from Obama have accelerated the estrangement among many of his most fervent past supporters — particularly young adults whose active enthusiasm and votes carried him into the White House. When I attended the Stop Watching Us rally near the Capitol in Washington in October, the crowd was younger than I had seen at any other demonstration in recent years.

In many ways, of course, the political milieu of five decades ago is a far cry from today. But the fundamental betrayal of popular optimism by the president is eerily similar, as may be its consequences. Smoldering anger and festering disaffection may be hard to gauge, but the resulting corrosion has cumulative effects. Dreams make history; so do disappointment and despair. The poison of a leader’s betrayal can course deep. The antidotes must include idealism and determination.

By: Norman Solomon | Al Jazeera | Op Ed |

Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.”

Mitchell D (87)
Sunday March 16, 2014, 1:51 pm
Kudos to Mr. Solomon, for stating this connection!
I was in D.C. to protest the NEVER DECLARED war in Vietnam, was at Woodstock, that Sunday morning when Hendrix played to an emptying field, and still am angry at Pres. Clinton for taking care of his cigar, and loosing his 2nd term to the consequences.
One would think that Pres. Obama, for whom I unabashedly voted twice, especially with little to apparently loose, could live up to his damn word!

Angelika R (143)
Sunday March 16, 2014, 2:39 pm
I wholeheartedly agree with Mitch on that! On Solomon as well, of course.
"The best way to not become disillusioned is to not have illusions in the first place"-easier said than done, -didn't we all have them? Thx Kit.

JL A (281)
Sunday March 16, 2014, 5:36 pm
"Hope springs eternal" yet energy flags when grounds for hope are diminished. What will be our shot heard around the world?

Kit B (276)
Sunday March 16, 2014, 6:12 pm

I remember that catch phrase in 2008 was drinking the Kool Aid. Most have not read the book and have no idea what that meant but it came to mean believing that we could elect a black president, a man that was inspiring to hear and seemed to be filled with new ideas and hope. We were beaten and battered by 8 years of incompetence and put Obama on a pedestal, it's always a long fall down to reality. He is not a bad man, and he has had the worse Congress in the history of this country.

Terry King (113)
Sunday March 16, 2014, 7:49 pm
Progress... Not perfection.

Craig Pittman (52)
Monday March 17, 2014, 4:53 am
I was about to reiterate my usual theme of the need to revamp the entire political system but that is an obvious generality. We do protest causes, sometimes successfully - important victories while loosing the war to stem the tide of disproportionate representation in our government. I wish I had an answer. Thanks for the story Kit.

. (0)
Monday March 17, 2014, 9:59 am
America needs someone along the lines of Old Hickory but with a vast socio/economic plan and sweeping financial and campaign reforms.

Sherri G (128)
Monday March 17, 2014, 9:34 pm
Excellent Article and Comparison. I tweeted this article to: @BarackObama @SenFenstein @SenatorBoxer @RepAnnaEshoo @followers Noted Thank You Kit.

Diane O (171)
Tuesday March 18, 2014, 4:24 pm
Kit, excellent article for discussion citing failure of political leadership to match rhetoric with faithful action. It is a cautionary tale for all idealists to not place unquestioning faith in politicians. Politics is a game of power and not necessarily true to the ideals that politicians profess to win election. One must always question and challenge. That is the strength of democracy that one has the freedom to do that.

Dissenting opinion is not always pleasant but not always entirely wrong. An educated open mind is the most powerful weapon in political discourse.

The strength of the United States is the lawful expression of dissent. Beware the charismatic leader who talks the talk but walks a different walk.

Diane O (171)
Tuesday March 18, 2014, 4:26 pm
Always a pleasure for me to send Kit a green star. I always want to send her one but sometimes I cannot. This is NOT one of those times.


Diane O (171)
Thursday March 20, 2014, 2:41 pm
Kit, I agree that Obama has had a difficult congress but we should revisit the election in November 2010. Obama was in office less than two years when the American people in a tsunami vote brought forth a republican House. Why did the American people do that? Your answer may be different from mine and I expect that and also respect that your opinion will be different from mine but I believe Americans were very worried about the out of control spending and they voted for republicans who campaigned on "NO MORE SPENDING."

I believe in my country and I believe the American people will always rebalance the congress by casting one vote at a time.

Obama has been a wrecking ball for our economy so much so that many Americans who believed in personal responsibility lost their jobs and their private healthcare insurance. Higher taxes for those earning over $250,000 a year (think small business owners who employ 53% of Americans) and a mandated healthcare tax. The next big shoe to drop is when employers, later this year, after the election, of course, will lose their group insurance and will be forced to do one of two things: pay the penalty OR pay triple for Obamacare premiums. Employers will pay the penalty tax because it will be a "good buy." It's always the bottom line...the profit....that keeps employers open and employing Americans. When the bottom line is compromised employers will shed jobs and/or reduce full time employees to part time.

What I hope the liberals are considering at this stage in our history with Obama is to find that candidate who is dead CENTER because when you do so you will find the old democrat party you voted for in the past. The republican party is all over the map as we all know going way too far right and way too far left. When a country gets back to center stage they help everyone because everyone will be earning a living, paying more in taxes and more help can go out to our veterans, elderly, and those at the poverty line. It takes wealth to pay the bills. To condemn wealth in our country is to shoot ourselves in the foot.

The CBO came out with an interesting article this week about our country running out of money because we are so heavily in debt. I don't have the link handy but knowing that all of you do not trust republican websites find one you do trust and the CBO article will be the same.

Our country is at a turning point. Do we, as Americans/voters, continue to blame past presidents or do we become very involved in the future of our country? Capitalism built America. Capitalism will save it. Americans want to work. They want to raise their own families on their own incomes. There's a leader out there who can bring that back to our country. We must put politics aside and save Americans as well as saving our children and their future.

Kit B (276)
Thursday March 20, 2014, 6:33 pm

I think to answer the last point first, we are at a turning point but the capitalism you are speaking to is not the capitalism of today. What we have is gross inequity and that does not build a country, quite the opposite it is tearing us apart. I will read this week's CBO report, I have been busy with Levi here and am just getting caught up on things.

If the radical right organization of the T party, which is not registered as a separate party, were not completely supported by those who are draining our economy, then it would be worthy of discussion. It was not, a tsunami of the people, rather an ocean of money by the powers that seek to increase their wealth even while they knowingly harm the American citizens.

We really can not know, not now or later what Obama would or would not have accomplished, Congress was as determined to stop him as they were to write blank checks for GW.

I have no idea who will be the two candidates in 2016, I would hope for both to be moderate, honest and real leaders.

Diane O (171)
Friday March 21, 2014, 2:51 am
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