Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | January 20, 2015

Selma and LBJ

Lyndon Johnson and Richard Russell

Writing at the Monkey Cage, Julian Zelizer reminds us that Lyndon Johnson was not all-powerful:

The recent film “Selma” has come under fire for its portrayal of Johnson as disinterested in voting rights. Yet even this critical portrayal depicts LBJ as all-powerful. Rather than exploring why Johnson feared sending a bill to Congress, we see a president who is singularly making the decision to hold back legislation. If only Johnson had said yes, the rest would have been smooth sailing. This is what an imaginary world without Congress looks like.

As we — and others — have noted before, even Johnson wasn’t Johnson.

Also: “The veneration of Johnson’s ‘treatment,’ those moments when LBJ invaded the personal space of legislators to bully and seduce them, does more to obscure than illuminate how politics really works; the myth about LBJ over-emphasizes the capacity of ‘great men’ to affect legislation by force of personality and undervalues the centrality of the political system in which a president must operate.”

I would put to you that Aaron Sorkin shares some blame for this misconception.

Image Credit: Johnson with Sen. Richard Russell (D-Georgia), conservative Southern Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Photo by Yoichi R. Okamoto, December 1963. Source: Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum (Image Serial Number: W98-30) via Wikimedia Commons.

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