Two Generations

In a comment over at Daily Kos, one writer brings up the oft-repeated assumption that Lyndon Johnson’s quote about Democrats losing the South for a generation after he signed the civil rights bills was an underestimate, and that it actually cost the Democrats the White House for two generations.

Well, LBJ was wrong about some things.

The Democrats lost the South over race, but LBJ won the 1964 election without a lot of the South in the first place.

Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina. They all went to Goldwater in 1964. In fact, they were the only states that did go for Goldwater outside of his home state of Arizona.

Most of those states went for Wallace in 1968, but Humphrey came within 0.75% of Nixon in the popular vote. In states with large electoral vote totals like Wisconsin, Ohio, Illinois, New Jersey, and even Nixon’s home state of California, Humphrey was within 3% or less of winning.

But LBJ and Humphrey (and a Democratic Congress) had been the ones running the Vietnam War for four years by then. Tens of thousands of troops had already been killed, and there was no end in sight, unless you counted Gen. Westmorland’s “light at the end of the tunnel.”

That was the real political legacy of LBJ’s administration. Instead of concentrating the energy of the country on making a better America — something his willingness to propose the civil rights bills showed he had at least some interest in — much like Bush he squandered it on a flawed vision of global conflict that was the fantasy of his advisers.