Lyndon Johnson — fireman? Or arsonist? Unintentionally, the movie Selma has highlighted a past that the Democratic Party and LBJ aides would prefer not be understood.
The film Selma has been nominated for two Oscars, best picture and best song. This means, to Al Sharpton and some other liberals, that the story of Martin Luther King and Bloody Sunday — the famous civil rights march that was met by billy-club wielding troopers and deputies dispatched by Democratic Governor of Alabama George Wallace and the local sheriff, also a Democrat — was snubbed. No nominations for best director, best screenplay, or best actor. “The movie industry is like the Rocky Mountains,” the Reverend Al says. “The higher you get, the whiter it gets.”
But as is not infrequently pointed out these days, when it comes to Democrats and race the higher you get in the party the harder it is to find the truth. So let’s refresh, since yesterday was Martin Luther King Day, and the Selma film has stirred a ruckus of sorts. Why exactly did Dr. King have to spend his life marching for civil rights? Why in fact did Selma — the march, not the movie — have to happen in the first place?
The Selma march took place in 1965, after the Civil Rights bill of 1964 has been passed with the help of Republicans and signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson. What the Selma marchers were about was voting rights. The basic, all-American right to vote.
Of course, they already had the right to vote. The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, passed in Congress in 1869, reads:
Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation
Not a single Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives voted for the amendment. Only eight Democrats in the Senate signed on. The states took to the ratification process quickly, and the amendment was law by 1870. It was one of the clean-up laws intended to bring the Civil War era to an end.
Yet as we all know, Democrats — make that progressives — went out of their way to disrupt and block the Constitution. The case of Carter Glass, as we have mentioned previously, is illustrative. Elected to the Virginia statehouse in 1899, he was subsequently a delegate to the Virginia Constitutional Convention, where he sought to find ways to get Virginia around the Fifteenth Amendment with clever devices like the poll tax and the literacy test. The famous quote of Carter Glass is:
Discrimination! Why that is exactly what we propose. To remove every negro voter who can be gotten rid of, legally, without materially impairing the numerical strength of the white electorate.
He was later elected a congressman and U.S. senator, with time out to serve as Woodrow Wilson’s secretary of the Treasury.
Why bother dredging up all this distasteful history? I haven’t seen the movie Selma. But one has to wonder if all the yelping about the movie is a sign that it has touched a very old and sensitive nerve. That nerve being that the young Lyndon Johnson was also a typical Southern Democrat of the tim, with all that implies. What apparently has gotten the goat of LBJ aide Joseph Califano, as seen in the Washington Post, is the fact that there is a hint of LBJ’s past in Selma. Writes Mr. Califano:
In fact, Selma was LBJ’s idea, he considered the Voting Rights Act his greatest legislative achievement, he viewed King as an essential partner in getting it enacted — and he didn’t use the FBI to disparage him.
On Jan. 15, 1965, LBJ talked to King by telephone about his intention to send a voting rights act to Congress: “There is not going to be anything as effective, though, Doctor, as all [blacks] voting.”
How true. Alas, this was also true in 1870 — 95 years earlier. But thanks to a Democratic Party that set about deliberately with malice, the right to vote for black Americans was postponed for almost literally a century.
In 2013, biographer Robert Caro, who has spent decades chronicling LBJ’s life in a series of extensively researched books, said this at a session in the Library of Congress:
The reason it’s questioned is that for no less than 20 years in Congress, from 1937 to 1957, Johnson’s record was on the side of the South. He not only voted with the South on civil rights, but he was a southern strategist, but in 1957, he changes and pushes through the first civil rights bill since Reconstruction. He always had this true, deep compassion to help poor people and particularly poor people of color, but even stronger than the compassion was his ambition. But when the two aligned, when compassion and ambition finally are pointing in the same direction, then Lyndon Johnson becomes a force for racial justice, unequalled certainly since Lincoln.
In other words, by 1957, LBJ only began to get on board the civil rights train when it became electorally advantageous. As it were, LBJ was like the fireman rushing to put out fires — knowing full well that he himself was the arsonist.