Brian Birdnow

In the Washington Post last week E.J. Dionne penned an Op-Ed piece noting the “changing” historical image of former President Lyndon Johnson and feted this development by labeling it as “…a thoroughly justified revival of Lyndon B. Johnson’s standing.” This work is not, however, a simple nostalgic tribute to the 1960s. Dionne argues that this supposed LBJ revival shows that America is experiencing what he calls a “leftward tilt” and he hopes that our current President will, like Johnson, strike while the iron is hot to force irrevocable liberal change on the USA.

In his piece Dionne sings the praises of President Johnson, the Lone Star Machiavelli. He views LBJ and his legacy through the lens of a celebration last week at the Jonson Presidential Library, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Mr. Dionne uses this introduction as a means of discussing Johnson’s great legislative achievements, and, of course, his revived historical standing, as exemplified in a 2008 historical work entitled “The Liberal Hour” by Professors G. Calvin Mackenzie and Robert Weisbrot. This particular volume, for which Dionne wrote an effusive dust jacket blurb, presents the political history of the Great Society era in a highly positive light. It also suggests the possibility, as Dionne passionately hopes that the country might be able and ready to engineer a similar left-liberal reform today.

Mr. Dionne waxes rhapsodic over the Johnson Administration reforms and claims that the LBJ revival “brings with it a new appreciation of the durability of the reforms enacted on his watch. It turns out that these were irreversible social reforms…that future generations came to take for granted and refused to wipe off the books.” He goes on to suggest that the American public is growing ever more liberal, and that this generation will cement the Affordable Care Act as the new normal, the way that the 60s generation gave us the Civil Rights Act, HUD, VISTA, and federal aid to education, among other things.


Brian Birdnow

Brian E. Birdnow is a historian and teaches at a university in the St. Louis area.