Corner of Presidents: A Conservative Defense of LBJ

Conservatives revile Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th president, for his massive expansion of federal power and the welfare state. But he deserves credit in my book for two important accomplishments of his five years in office. After becoming president when John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, Johnson used his considerable influence with his former colleagues in the U.S. Senate (he had been majority leader before Kennedy tapped him for vice president) to secure passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. That law transformed the country, largely bringing to an end nearly 200 years of state-supported discrimination on the basis race. Without Johnson’s support — a former opponent of civil-rights laws — the bill would never have passed in its current form and the nation might have endured decades more struggle to realize the principle that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.

But Johnson also deserves credit for his willingness to fight the expansion of communism in Southeast Asia. Historians can argue with his tactics and his micromanagement of the Vietnam battlefield from the Oval Office, but he was a fierce opponent of communist tyranny, something that cannot be said of many liberals in his era and after. The disgraceful scenes of Americans fleeing South Vietnam on helicopters, abandoning their allies on the ground, occurred not during LBJ’s tenure, but during his successor’s, Richard M. Nixon. 

See the homepage for a complete gallery of U.S. presidents.

Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity.

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