A presidential chameleon re-writes White House history: Obama and LBJ’s credibility gap.
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Over there Zelig looks Chinese when he’s with some Chinese., black when playing with a jazz band, white when sitting with 1920s gangsters. Not to mention morphing into a fat man — when standing next to a fat man. And who can forget that famous shot of Zelig with his friend the playwright Eugene O’Neill?
Or perhaps you are familiar with a more recent 1994 film, this one based on a 1986 novel by Winston Groom. The film starred Tom Hanks in the role of the title character: Forrest Gump.
Forrest was a simple, uncomplicated man with below average intelligence whose mantra came from his beloved mother: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” In spite of his lack of smarts, Forrest manages to accidentally impress legendary University of Alabama football coach Bear Bryant with his running ability — after Bryant spots him running away from bullies. It wins Forrest a star spot on the famous Crimson Tide team.
While attending Alabama he is in the crowd that witnesses Democratic Alabama Governor George Wallace’s infamous stand-in-the-schoolhouse-door episode, in which the progressive governor tried to block the admission of black students to the university. And on Forrest rolls through life, meeting JFK in the White House, as a member of the All-American football team, running away in Vietnam — straight into a firefight in which he performs so heroically he is back at the White House, this time being awarded the Medal of Honor by President Lyndon Johnson.
A few years later he is invited back to meet President Nixon, who is so impressed he arranges for Forrest to stay overnight in the Watergate Hotel. Where, you guessed it, responding to what he thought was a hotel power outage Forrest winds up exposing the Watergate burglaries and accidentally exploding the Watergate scandal — which results in Nixon’s resignation.
Does any of this now sound familiar in terms of Barack Obama?
More to the point, who was the president in the late 20th century for whom making up stories about everything from his own biography to his policies became such a severe liability with the public that it wound up ending his presidency?
Yes indeed. That would be Barack Obama’s old presidential pal Lyndon B. Johnson. Of whom the Obama White House says by way of connecting the two in Zelig-Gump fashion:
President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law in 1965 — providing millions of elderly healthcare stability. President Obama’s historic health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act, strengthens Medicare, offers eligible seniors a range of preventive services with no cost-sharing, and provides discounts on drugs when in the coverage gap known as the “donut hole.”
What happened to LBJ?
The idea that the man who had succeeded John F. Kennedy in the middle of the horrific national trauma that was JFK’s assassination might in fact have a habitual trouble with telling the truth took a while to permeate the nation’s shocked consciousness.
In the words of Theodore H. White, author of the famous Making of the President series: “The distrust of the President was slow in growing.”
But once that distrust took root, once Americans began to see a pattern of willfully not telling the truth in matters small and very large, there was no stopping it.
• Just like Obama, LBJ lied about his economic program. Johnson insisted he couldn’t produce a budget that was less than $102 billion. (The cost of running the government in LBJ’s first days, believe it or not, was only billions.) Suddenly LBJ dramatically announces a magic solution that he has produced a budget that is $98 billion — keeping the budget under a symbolic $100 billion! Eventually it became clear to Americans that LBJ knew right from the beginning that his budget was going to be under $100 billion — the whole public show just that. A show. By the time LBJ’s economic policies of massive government spending had turned sour in 1966 — a mere two years after his thunderous election in 1964 — fewer and fewer Americans believed anything he had to say.
• Just like Obama, LBJ lied about his foreign policy. While Obama swore up and down he was going to close Guantanamo — and didn’t — Johnson swore up and down that he had “no intention” of removing General William Westmoreland, his commander in Vietnam. Then, of course, he did just that — and it was discovered LBJ had already decided to remove Westmoreland when he was repeatedly insisting he had no intention of doing so.
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