“Hey! Hey! LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?” As hard as it may be to believe looking back, this was once a popular chant among liberal students to criticize a sitting Democratic president’s policy. Fifty years later, this demand of radical accountability from the left towards a sitting president seems to have all but disappeared in the age of Obama. What happened?
Of course, the president at the time of the chant’s creation was Lyndon B. Johnson, and the policy was a Vietnam War that drafted 2 million young men to fight and possibly die in a foreign land. However, little seems to have changed in the realm of foreign policy in the half-century hence — save for the fact that the country no longer conscripts soldiers.
The US has only continued and expanded its military adventurism abroad, squandering $4.4 trillion and 350,000 lives in the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even with a sitting Democratic president in power who has repeatedly promised to scale down and end the wars, little objections have been made upon escalations such as the 2011 bombing of Libya, droning of an American citizen and his teenage son, and the most recent deployment of boots on the ground in Iraq. Has the left succumbed to a love of power, remaining ominously silent when the president has a D next to his name?
Democrats love to defend the president by pointing out that it was his predecessor who started the wars, but this shouldn’t be an excuse to let him off the hook for failing to keep his promises. Or, at least the progressives of the 1960s wouldn’t let a so-called liberal president off so easy.
In fact, they didn’t. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the principle progressive college group of the 1960s, railed against President John F. Kennedy’s policies in its founding 1962 document, “The Port Huron Statement.” While acknowledging that small progress had been made under the new president, SDS had harsh words for Kennedy’s pledge to increase defense spending beyond the historical “allocation of sixty cents for every public dollar spent” at the time. Military expenditures have more than doubled since then after adjusting for inflation.
SDS’ leaders were also not impressed with the president’s continuing stockpiling of nuclear weapons, calling out the commander-in-chief for “accepting mixed deterrence” despite “giving rhetoric due to the ideal of disarmament.” While SDS was undoubtedly happy that a Democrat was in the Oval Office over the Republican alternative, its student leaders refused to justify the president’s shortcomings, as perhaps exemplified best in this powerful quote:
It has been said that the Kennedy administration did more in two years than the Eisenhower administration did in eight. Of this there can be no doubt. But it is analogous to comparing whispers to silence when positively stentorian tones are demanded.
The mainstream left does not even “whisper” dissent today. It’s not just with war, either. The Obama administration is on track to deport more immigrants by the end of the year than under eight years of the Bush administration. Furthermore, according to a June 2013 report by Americans for Safe Access, the Drug Enforcement Agency has spent $300 million interfering in state drug laws since the president took office, $100 million more than Bush spent in both terms. And this is the progressive president that liberals so cherish?
Obama has paid lip service to progress on both issues by supporting amnesty reform and promising to not raid states that have legalized recreational or medicinal marijuana. However, actions speak louder than words. One would expect each new medical marijuana patient denied their medicine, immigrant family torn apart, and bomb exploded on innocent civilians to be met with the same sentiment of government accountability that swept the progressive student movement of the 1960s. However, sad reality is that liberals have fallen in love with power, betraying the very principles of democracy and individual rights they so claim to cherish.