It's become a holiday ritual as ubiquitous as decorating trees at Christmas or eating more than on Thnksgiving than most folks in Somalia eat in two months. I speak of the President's Day tradition of people coming out with their lists of the best, or worst occupants of the White House. I swear, if I ever get famous enough that I'm asked in mid-February who was the greatest Chief Executive, I will confidently exclaim "William Henry Harrison; he died thirty-one days into his term. Let's give him credit for setting a precedent which, had a few other Presidents followed, the country would have been better off."
Seldom, however, have I read a best or worst Presidents article that gave me more of a double take than this one, from the American Thinker, written by Ari Kaufman:
I have little to say about two of his three selections, Jimmy Carter and James (Don't Call Me Pat) Buchanan. The interesting thing about living in Georgia is that I don't have to go far to find folks who still assert Carter was a reasonably good President, nor do I need to organize a search party to locate citizens who say, "Never mind Buchanan; that tall guy with the beard who followed him was a war criminal!"
But I do have something to say about Mr. Kaufman's disgust with Lyndon Johnson. In attempting to paint LBJ as a bigot, Kaufman does not mention that Johnson was the first President to nominate an African-American (Thurgood Marshall) to the Supreme Court. Nor does Kaufman take note of Johnson's stirring speech to Congress in 1965, emphatically supporting passage of the Voting Rights Act, an oration so inspiring that Martin Luther King-- who could give a pretty good speech himself--is reported to have been so touched by that he wept (Robert Torricelli and Andrew Carroll, eds. In Our Own Words: Extraordinary Speeches of the American Century, 1999, p. 265).
I'm not disturbed that Kaufman doesn't mention these things; after all, when one is writing an essay to convince others of the merits of his position, he is certainly not obligated to raise points that don't support his thesis.
But here is the bit from his essay I do object to:
"LBJ and the Southern wing of the Democratic Party persisted in supporting anti-black positions. Consider, as LBJ's term neared:
- In 1956, Democrats expressed their opposition to the desegregation decision of Brown v. Board of Education in the "Southern Manifesto." One hundred members of Congress, all Democrats, signed the manifesto."
Okay, if you read that, what do you logically infer? I think you would get the impression that among those awful one hundred members of Congress, one of them was Lyndon Baines Johnson.
As a matter of fact, nineteen of the twenty-two senators representing the states of the old Confederacy signed the manifesto. Three didn't. Two were the Tennessee senators, Estes Kefauver and Al Gore's daddie. The other one who withheld his signature was Lyndon Johnson ( James T. Patterson, Brown v. Board of Education: A Civil Rights Milestone and its Troubled Legacy, 2001, p. 98).
I don't wish to argue that Kefauver, Gore Sr., and LBJ deserve sainthood for their refusal to endorse the Manifesto. In fact, in the Patterson book cited above, the author declares that the trio acted out of political expediency, as all dreamed of prominence on the national political stage and association with the manifesto would interfere with these goals. (This is a digression, but Patterson himself lets go of a laugher when he writes "All three had presidential or vice-presidential ambitions that they knew would suffer if they became too closely identified with southern racist opinion," p. 98-99. I honestly didn't know any US senators had vice-presidential ambitions.)
Anyway, since LBJ didn't sign the foul document, it's rather obivous that Kaufman has attempted a bit of slight of hand here. In the right hand he shows you the Southern Manifesto, in the left hand he shows you LBJ the bigot, and presto! The two are one. David Copperfield would be proud.
Kaufman's piece, as I mentioned, appears in The American Thinker. Here's hoping enough American thinkers will recognize that its author is being a bit cavalier with the facts.