'The Week': LBJ Ruined Big Government by Talking it Up Too Much

'The Week': LBJ Ruined Big Government by Talking it Up Too Much

Lyndon Baines Johnson has been declared the “worst modern president” by The Week magazine not because he was such a major failure but because he gave liberalism a bad name by talking it up too much and over promising what it could do.

For The Week, Damon Linker, contributor to the magazine and an editor at the left-wing The New Republic, made the declaration in a belated Presidents Day article titled, “Why Lyndon B. Johnson is the Worst Modern President.”

Linker skirted around the whole Vietnam problem that Johnson is always saddled with by left-wingers taking that as a given. And he also pointed out that LBJ’s great success with civil rights redounds in his favor but is not enough to outweigh the gregarious Texan’s negatives.

In the final analysis. Linker says, LBJ wins “the contest of awfulness over George W. Bush by a hair.”

This line alone shows his blinkered analysis–even Bush was not worse than Carter or Hoover–but the main reason that Linker dings LBJ as the worst is not because he did so many bad things but that he did them by talking up liberalism as a modern panacea and his hyperbolic claims hurt liberalism’s reputation as a cure all for our modern problems.

LBJ’s happy talk, Linker complained, left the door open for Ronald Reagan’s “rhetorical attacks on big government,” Bill Clinton’s “pragmatic triangulation,” and even Obama’s too timid (in Linker’s estimation) approach to healthcare, all less than all-out liberal policies.

After listing all the wild-eyed claims LBJ doled out to the country while selling his socialistic “war on poverty” and his “great society” programs, Linker tsk tsked LBJ for being too effusive on how government could achieve all those goals.

“The problem with this agenda isn’t that Johnson proposed unworthy goals,” Linker said. “It’s that he proposed goals that were too worthy–and obviously, indisputably unattainable for many individuals, let alone for any conceivable government program.”

Johnson’s approach was similar with the war in Vietnam, though with much greater and far more deadly consequences. The objective–military victory over the godless Commies in southeast Asia–was not implausible on its face, but it was enunciated without a clear plan for how it could be achieved. Johnson seemed to assume that all we needed was the will to make it happen.

The problem with all this? “In every case,” Linker wrote ruefully, “the policies would have been better served by a more modest rhetorical justification.”

“Johnson’s presidency went down in flames because it could never live up to his own irresponsibly exalted standards,” Linker Concluded.

You see, coupled with his disastrous Vietnam policies, LBJ’s multitude of failed social panaceas were not failures because they were bad ideas. Not at all. No, instead Linker maintains that by presenting himself as an overly enthusiastic “Santa Klaus,” LBJ gave liberalism a bad name and that is why he was the “worst modern president.”