Miller Center’s American Forum: LBJ, The Real Story of Selma and the Great Society

Miller Center’s American Forum: LBJ, The Real Story of Selma and the Great Society


IT’S ABOUT HISTORY, POLICY,   AND IMPACT.   A NEW PERSPECTIVE ON CURRENT   AFFAIRS BRINGING INSIGHT AND   SCHOLARSHIP TO THE ISSUES OF   TODAY.   IT’S ABOUT THE PAST, PRESENT,   AND FUTURE.   YOUR HOST, PULITZER PRIZE   WINNING AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST,   DOUGLAS BLACKMON.   FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF   VIRGINIA’S MILLER CENTER, THIS   IS “AMERICAN FORUM.”   DOUGLAS: WELCOME BACK TO THE   MILLER CENTER’S AMERICAN FORUM.   FIFTY YEARS AGO, AN UNEXPECTED   PRESIDENT, LYNDON B.   JOHNSON, USED EVERY WRENCH IN   THE LEGISLATIVE TOOLBOX, ALONG   WITH HIS DEMOCRATIC ALLIES IN   CONGRESS, TO OVERCOME IMMENSE   CONSERVATIVE OPPOSITION, AND   PASS, FIRST, THE LANDMARK CIVIL   RIGHTS ACT OF 1964, AND SOON   AFTER, AN ARRAY OF SOCIAL   LEGISLATION AIMED AT COMBATING   POVERTY, PREJUDICE, POOR SCHOOLS   AND THE LACK OF HEALTHCARE FOR   MILLIONS OF ELDERLY AMERICANS.   JOHNSON ENVISIONED THIS AGENDA   AS THE MEANS TO FINALLY FULFILL   THE AMERICAN PROMISE OF A   BROADLY INCLUSIVE AND AUTHENTIC   GREAT SOCIETY.   THOSE LEGISLATIVE ACHIEVEMENTS   WERE MOST REMARKABLE IN HOW   PRESIDENT JOHNSON OVERCAME THE   DEEPLY DIVIDED POLITICS OF THE   ERA AND A GRIDLOCKED AND   DYSFUNCTIONAL CONGRESS TO   DRAMATICALLY ALTER AMERICAN   SOCIETY.   THAT AGENDA WOULD ALSO SET THE   STAGE FOR A POLITICAL STRUGGLE   THAT HAS RAGE EVER SINCE OVER   THE APPROPRIATE SIZE AND SCOPE   OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT.   OUR GUEST TODAY IS THE AUTHOR OF   A NEW BOOK CHRONICLING THAT   HISTORIC POLITICAL NARRATIVE,   WHICH ALSO OBSERVES SOME OF THE   STRIKING PARALLELS BETWEEN THE   LEGISLATIVE MORASS OF THAT   TIMEAND THE BITTER QUAGMIRE IN   WASHINGTON D.C.   TODAY.   THE BOOK IS “THE FIERCE URGENCY   OF NOW: LYNDON JOHNSON,   CONGRESS, AND THE BATTLE FOR THE   GREAT SOCIETY.”   OUR GUEST IS THE AUTHOR, JULIAN   ZELIZER.   HE IS THE QUINTESSENTIAL PUBLIC   INTELLECTUAL.   A PROFESSOR OF HISTORY AND   PUBLIC AFFAIRS AT PRINCETON   UNIVERSITY, AND THE AUTHOR OF   MANY PREVIOUS SCHOLARLY VOLUMES.   HE CONTRIBUTES A WEEKLY COLUMN   TO CNN.COM DISCUSSING POLITICAL   HISTORY AND CONTEMPORARY   POLITICS.   AND HE HAS PUBLISHED, IN RECENT   YEARS, HUNDREDS OF OP ED   ARTICLES.   THANK YOU FOR JOINING US.   JULIAN: THANKS FOR HAVING ME.   DOUGLAS: SO LET’S START WITH A   LITTLE BIT IN THE PRESENT BUT   WITH A COMPARISON TO THE PAST   AND THEN GO BACK INTO THE THE   TIME OF LYNDON JOHNSON.   BUT A FEW YEARS AGO, WE HAD A   PRESIDENT ELECTED, BARACK OBAMA,   UNDER CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES THAT   HAVE SOME STICKING PARALLELS TO   TO THIS PERIOD OF PRESIDENT   JOHNSON.   HE COMES INTO AN OFFICE AFTER A   LAND SLIDE ELECTION IN 2008 AND   WHAT APPEARS TO BE A FAIRLY   BROAD MANDATE FOR KEY ELEMENTS   OF THE OF HIS AGENDA.   HE THEN FACES FAIRY DRAMATIC   CONSERVATIVE OPPOSITION AROUND A   KEY PART OF HIS AGENDA, BUT THEN   USES EVERY TRICK AND TOOL AND   MANEUVERING STRATEGY IN CONGRESS   WITH HIS ALLIES TO PUSH THIS   THING THROUGH AND HAS WHAT HAS   FOR HIM A GREAT VICTORY WITH THE   AFFORDABLE CARE ACT.   UNLIKE THE TIME OF JOHNSON   THOUGH, AND HIS PASSAGE OF THE   THE THE FIRST OF THOSE GREAT   LEGISLATIVE ACCOMPLISHMENTS,   OBAMA’S VICTORY AROUND THE   AFFORDABLE CARE ACT DID NOT OPEN   THE PLAYING FIELD IN ANY   MEANINGFUL WAY.   HE HAS HAD ESSENTIALLY NO   SIGNIFICANT LEGISLATIVE   ACCOMPLISHMENT SINCE THEN.   WHY IS IT THAT THESE TWO   PRESIDENTS IN THESE ERAS THAT   SEEM SIMILAR IN CERTAIN WAYS BUT   HISTORY HAS TURNED OUT SO   DIFFERENTLY?   JULIAN: WELL THERE’S MANY   REASONS, IT IS IMPORTANT TO   REMEMBER WHEN LYNDON JOHNSON   BECAME PRESIDENT YOU KNOW HE   FACED THE CONGRESS THAT WAS   CALLED DYSFUNCTIONAL HE FACED   A CONGRESS THAT WAS CALLED   GRIDLOCKED.   HE FACED THE CONGRESS THAT ONE   LIBERAL FROM PENNSYLVANIA, JOE   CLARK, CALLED THE SAPLESS BRANCH   OF GOVERNMENT.   BACK THEN IT WAS A SOUTHERN, A   COALITION OF SOUTHERN DEMOCRATS   AND REPUBLICANS WHO BASICALLY   BLOCKED PROGRESS ON EVERYTHING   THAT WAS LIBERAL.   FROM MEDICARE TO CIVIL RIGHTS.   AND THERE IS A WINDOW THAT LASTS   LONGER THAN WHAT PRESIDENT OBAMA   WILL HAVE.   TWO THINGS THAT WERE QUITE   IMPORTANT THAT PRESIDENT OBAMA   DID NOT HAVE.   IN ADDITION TO THE CIRCUMSTANCES   UNDER WHICH JOHNSON BECAME   PRESIDENT WAS A CIVIL RIGHTS   MOVEMENT THAT WAS BROAD IN   SCOPE, WHICH WAS CONDUCTING   DEMONSTRATIONS ALL AROUND THE   COUNTRY, WHICH WAS ORGANIZED NOT   JUST TO THE GRASSROOTS LEVEL,   BUT ALL THE WAY INTO WASHINGTON   AND IT WAS A KIND OF MOVEMENT   WHICH, PRESIDENT OBAMA, EVEN   WITH HIS ELECTION DID NOT ENJOY.   AND THE ELECTION OF 1964 IS   DIFFERENT THAN WHAT PRESIDENT   OBAMA HAD IN 2008.   THAT’S WHEN JOHNSON’S REELECTED,   THE RESULT OF THAT ELECTION WERE   HUGE LIBERAL MAJORITIES UH IN IN   CONGRESS.   TWO HUNDRED NINETY-FIVE   DEMOCRATS IN THE HOUSE 68   DEMOCRATS IN THE SENATE WITH   LIBERALS HAVING THE BALANCE OF   POWER AND IT DISCREDITED   REPUBLICAN PARTY WHERE BARRY   GOLDWATER, WHO LOST THE JOHNSON,   HAD BASICALLY MADE CONSERVATISM   LOOK LIKE THE ONE THING YOU   DIDN’T WANT TO BE.   DOUGLAS: IT’S INTERESTING THOUGH   THAT WHAT YOU SAID DISCREDITED   REPUBLICAN PARTY AT THAT POINT   BECAUSE OF THE GOLD WATER’S   — BECAUSE OF BARRY GOLDWATER’S   CAMPAIGN AND THE THE ENORMOUS   DIFFICULTY THAT CAMPAIGN.   THEY DID NOT SAY WE HAVE HAD A   STUNNING DEFEAT AND MAY NEED TO   LOOK AT THINGS IN DIFFERENT   WAYS.   IN PRESENT TIMES, THERE DOESN’T   SEEM TO BE THAT SUSTAINED IMPACT   OF A GREAT ELECTORAL LOSS.   JULIAN: PART OF IT WAS THAT   GOLDWATER IN 1964 MADE THAT   ELECTION NOT JUST ABOUT HIMSELF   OR NOT JUST ABOUT THE GOP, BUT   ABOUT THE CONSERVATISM.   I MEAN HE ARGUED THAT THE   REPUBLICANS COULD MOVE TO THE   RIGHT THAT REALLY ATTACKING UH A   KEY FUNDAMENTAL PROGRAMS THAT   WERE BEING PROPOSED THAT EXISTED   THAT WAS A GOOD THING TO DO.   THERE WAS A PERCEPTION THAT IT   WAS DISCREDITED, BUT THE OTHER   IMPORTANT THING IS THAT   REPUBLICANS WERE MINORITY IN   CONGRESS, SO WHAT YOU OFTEN SEE   IN CONTEMPORARY TIMES IS   CONGRESSIONAL REPUBLICANS HAVE A   VERY DIFFERENT AGENDA THAN THE   PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES BECAUSE   THEY HAVE CONTROL, THEY HAVE A   VERY GOOD PLACE ON CAPITOL HILL.   BACK THEN, THE REPUBLICANS   DIDN’T.   THEY SAW THE TWO AS INTERTWINED.   DOUGLAS: AND ALSO THAT THE OBAMA   WHILE HE CONTROLS BOTH HOUSES   THE DEMOCRATS CONTROL BOTH   HOUSES IN CONGRESS AFTER THE   2011 ELECTION, IT WASN’T   — THE 2000 ELECTION, IT WASN’T   ANYTHING LIKE THE SCALE OF   CONTROL THAT AS YOU WERE JUST   POINTING OUT THAT JOHNSON HAD.   JULIAN: IT’S MUCH NARROWER   MAJORITIES THE PERCEPTION WAS IT   WAS MORE FLEETING, UH ITS   IMPORTANT TO KNOW WHEN HE HAD   THE MAJORITIES THINGS HAPPENED.   HE HAD SEVERAL MAJOR PIECES OF   LEGISLATION DODD-FRANK, ACA, AN   ECONOMIC STIMULUS BILL, ALL   PASSED SO IT IS A GOOD LESSON.   OBAMA’S EARLY YEARS OF THE POWER   THAT FAVORABLE DEMOCRATIC   MAJORITIES CAN HAVE WERE   FAVORABLE MAJORITIES FROM EITHER   PARTY CAN HAVE THE PRESIDENT.   DOUGLAS: IT’S ALSO INTERESTING   WHEN WE TALK ABOUT BOTH THE   FRUSTRATIONS OF THE PRESIDENT   AND THE REALITIES OF OF THIS   PERIOD OF TIME.   THAT IN THE PRESENT, THERE’S A   LOT OF TALK ABOUT HOW GOOD   BIPARTISANSHIP IS, AND THAT   ALMOST IN THAT IN ITSELF, THAT   ANYTHING THAT HAS A BIPARTISAN   ASPECT TO IT, THAT BY DEFINITION   MEANS IT IS THE BETTER THING AND   MORE NOBLE THING.   BUT THE BIPARTISANSHIP THAT WAS   HAPPENING IN THE EARLY 1960S WAS   ACTUALLY VERY MUCH SO ON THE   SIDE OF THE WORST THINGS THAT   WERE HAPPENING IN AMERICAN   POLITICS.   JULIAN: THAT’S AN IMPORTANT   POINT.   SINCE THE LATE 1930S WHEN FRANK   — 1930’S, WHEN FRANKLIN   ROOSEVELT AFTER HE HAD BEEN   REELECTED, THERE’S THIS   COALITION OF BIPARTISAN   COALITION SOUTHERN DEMOCRATS WHO   CHAIRED MOST OF THE BIG   COMMITTEES IN CONGRESS, AND   MIDWESTERNER REPUBLICANS, AND   THEY TEAMED UP A COMMITTEE THEY   TEAMED UP ON THE FLOOR, AND THEY   HAD THE NUMBERS TO BLOCK MOST   LIBERAL LEGISLATION.   AND THIS WAS LEGISLATION MANY   AMERICANS SAW AS QUITE URGENT.   BY THE 1950’S AND THE 1960’S,   LIKE ENDING SEGREGATION.   BUT THEY HAD IMMENSE POWER EVEN   AS NORTHERN LIBERALS CAME INTO   CONGRESS THEY COULDN’T BREAK THE   STRANGLE HOLD OF THIS BIPARTISAN   COALITION SO BACK THEN IF YOU   WERE A LIBERAL, THE THING YOU   WANTED WAS MORE PARTISANSHIP AND   YOU WANTED END BIPARTISAN   BACKROOM DEALS WHICH CONSTANTLY   BLOCKED PROGRESS ON EVERYTHING.   DOUGLAS: PEOPLE WILL ALSO SAY   THAT ONE OF THE PROBLEMS WE HAVE   IS THE TWO PARTY SYSTEM.   THERE OUGHT TO BE A THIRD PARTY   .   THEN HISTORIANS WILL POINT OUT   WELL ACTUALLY THERE ALWAYS HAS   , BEEN A THIRD PARTY THAT   SOUTHERN DEMOCRATS VERSUS   NORTHERN DEMOCRATS WERE REALLY   TWO DIFFERENT PARTIES.   BUT IN A SENSE THERE WERE REALLY   FOUR PARTIES.   THE REPUBLICANS WERE TWO   DIFFERENT PARTIES TOO, THESE NOT   AS CONSERVATIVE AND SOME CASH   — NOT AS CONSERVATIVE IN SOME   RESPECTS ON SOCIAL ISSUES, NOT   AS RACIST AS THE DEMOCRATS IN   THE SOUTH WERE, BUT NONETHELESS   THIS ALLIANCE UH BETWEEN   MIDWESTERNER REPUBLICANS WHO   WERE VERY DIFFERENT FROM NELSON   ROCKEFELLER AND LIBERAL   REPUBLICANS.   IS THAT FAIR?   JULIAN: THAT IS FAIR, ALTHOUGH   UH WITHIN THE GOP THE LIBERAL   REPUBLICANS I DON’T THINK WERE   QUITE AS POWERFUL AS WE   SOMETIMES REMEMBER.   THERE WERE THE JACOB JAVITS,   NELSON ROCKEFELLERS WHO WERE   VERY LIBERAL ON ISSUES LIKE RACE   MORE LIBERAL THAN MOST DEMOCRATS   UM BUT THE WEIGHT OF POWER STILL   WAS IN THE MIDWEST.   ONE OF THE KEY FIGURES IN MY   BOOK IS SENATOR EVERETT DIRKSEN   WHO WAS THE SENATE MINORITY   LEADER FROM ILLINOIS.   HE WAS VERY CONSERVATIVE ON MOST   GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS HE WAS   — PROGRAMS.   HE WAS AGAINST UNIONS.   HE WAS AGAINST FEDERAL   REGULATIONS.   HE IS A SENATOR WHO WAS KNOWN AS   THE WIZARD OF OOZE UH BECAUSE OF   HIS LONG-WINDED SPEECHES ON THE   FLOOR.   DOUGLAS: IN RECENT YEARS,   THERE’S BEEN A BIGGER EFFORT BY   PARTICULARLY VERY CONSERVATIVE   REPUBLICANS TO COURT WITH SOME   SINCERITY THE AFRICAN AMERICAN   VOTERS THE AFRICAN AMERICAN   CONSERVATIVES.   AND SO THERE’S BEEN A REVIVAL OF   THE LANGUAGE OF THE PARTY   LINCOLN.   AND THIS STATISTICAL ARGUMENT   THAT COMES UP OFTEN THAT A   HIGHER PROPORTION OF REPUBLICANS   IN CONGRESS VOTED FOR THE CIVIL   RIGHTS ACT IN ’64 THAN THE   PROPORTION OF DEMOCRATS.   ITS DECEPTIVE BECAUSE OF THESE   DIVISIONS THAT WE ARE TALKING   ABOUT.   BUT IN REALITY, DOES THAT DOES   THAT ALSO OBSCURE THAT IT’S NOT   IT’S NOT THAT THE SOUTHERN   DEMOCRATS BECAME THE REPUBLICAN   PARTY, IT’S THAT THIS ALIGNMENTS   OF HYPER CONSERVATIVE AND   SOMEWHAT RACIST REPUBLICANS IN   THE MIDWEST WHO WERE ALREADY   ALIGNED WITH THESE WHITE   SUPREMISTS IN THE SOUTH WHO WERE   DEMOCRATS.   THAT THEY ENDED UP IN A NATURAL   NOT JUST ALLIANCE BUT TAKING   OVER OVER THE REPUBLICAN PARTY.   JULIAN: WELL THEY DID ALTHOUGH   SOME OF THESE REPUBLICANS   INCLUDING DIRKSEN, DO BECOME UH   THE CRAFTERS OF CIVIL RIGHTS ACT   OF 1964 OF THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT   OF 1965, EVEN THOUGH THEY WERE   CONSERVATIVE AND HAD ALIGNED   WITH THESE SOUTHERNERS WHO WERE   VERY MUCH AGAINST THESE ISSUES   , THEY CHANGED.   AND SO THEY DO BARE SOME CREDIT   FOR THIS LEGISLATION, THEY WERE   QUITE IMPORTANT.   BUT THE SOUTHERN FILIBUSTER   AGAINST THE CIVIL RIGHTS ACT IN   1964 WOULD NOT HAVE ENDED UNLESS   EVERETT DIRKSEN A REPUBLICAN   BOUGHT ABOUT 20 REPUBLICANS OVER   TO THE SIDE OF ENDING THE   FILIBUSTER.   WHAT’S IMPORTANT THOUGH THEY   DIDN’T JUST CHANGE ON THEIR OWN.   IT WASN’T SIMPLY THIS EUREKA   MOMENT THAT THEY HAD.   THEY WERE FEELING THE PRESSURE   LIKE ALL OTHER AMERICANS, LIKE   ALL OTHER POLITICIANS FROM THE   CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT.   WHICH WAS MOBILIZING ALL OVER   THE COUNTRY AND MAKING CIVIL   RIGHTS AN IDEA WHOSE TIME WOULD   — HAD COME.   SO THE CREDIT REALLY ISN’T   PARTISAN.   THE CREDIT I THINK REALLY LAYS   WITH THE MOVEMENT AND THE   PARTIES GRADUALLY REACTING TO   WHAT THE MOVEMENT WAS DOING.   DOUGLAS: SO WHY WAS IT THAT   THOSE REPUBLICANS, LIKE DIRKSEN,   WHO HAD BECOME SO CRITICAL OF   OF THE PASSAGE OF THE ACT, WHY   WERE THEY NOT IMMEDIATELY   SUPPORTIVE OF IT?   JULIAN: THEY LIKE FEDERAL   REGULATIONS AND THEY WERE ALWAYS   SCARED ABOUT EXPANDING THE   POWERS OF THE FEDERAL   GOVERNMENT.   WITH THE CIVIL RIGHTS ACT,   DIRKSEN IS PARTICULARLY WORRIED   THAT THAT THE GOVERNMENT WILL   GET TOO MUCH POWER OVER   EMPLOYMENT DECISIONS IN   BUSINESSES.   PART OF THE LEGISLATION   ORIGINALLY WAS MUCH STRONGER IN   DEALING WITH DISCRIMINATION IN   EMPLOYMENT.   THAT DIRKSEN DIDN’T LIKE.   THAT FIT NOT INTO AN ARGUMENT   ABOUT RACE, BUT AN ARGUMENT   ABOUT GOVERNMENT BUSINESS   RELATIONS.   SO IN THE END HE NEGOTIATES THAT   TO BE MUCH WEAKER IN THE FINAL   LEGISLATION THAN IN THE ORIGINAL   PROPOSAL.   RELIGIOUS LEADERS, ARE VERY   IMPORTANT IN MOBILIZING   REPUBLICAN SUPPORT.   SO CIVIL RIGHTS ADVOCATES   REALIZED THAT AFRICAN-AMERICAN   PROTESTS WILL ONLY GO SO FAR IN   A STATE LIKE ILLINOIS, OR A   STATE LIKE WISCONSIN, BECAUSE OF   THE DEMOGRAPHICS.   SO, THEY MOBILIZE PREACHERS, AND   PREACHERS MEET WITH REPUBLICANS   ON CAPITOL HILL, AND TELL THEM,   “THIS HAS TO END”.   RELIGIOUS ASSOCIATIONS   COORDINATE WITH LOCAL PREACHERS   IN THE MIDWEST TO DELIVER   SERMONS EVERY WEEK, SAYING “LET   THE CIVIL RIGHTS BILL COME UP   FOR A VOTE, WRITE YOUR   CONGRESSMAN AFTER SERVICES ARE   OVER.”   AND HUBERT HUMPHREY, WHO WAS   THEN VICE PRESIDENT, WHO   SHEPHERDED THIS BILL THROUGH THE   SENATE, SAID THAT RELIGIOUS   LEADERS WERE REALLY THE SECRET   TO WHY THIS LEGISLATION FINALLY   WENT THROUGH.   DOUGLAS: INTERESTING, AND SO   THAT WAS ALSO AT A TIME WHEN   PEOPLE WHO WERE ELECTED TO GO TO   WASHINGTON AND GO TO THE WHITE   HOUSE ACTUALLY STILL WENT TO   CHURCH.   JULIAN: WELL, YOU KNOW, JOHNSON   IS THIS PRESIDENT WHO TAKES OVER   IN THE MOST HORRIBLE OF   CIRCUMSTANCES.   HE TAKES OVER PROBABLY THE   LOWEST POINT OF HIS CAREER.   BEING VICE PRESIDENT WAS   PROBABLY THE WORST EXPERIENCE HE   EVER HAD.   HE WAS SOMEONE WHO LIKED TO DO   THINGS, AND HE DIDN’T DO MUCH AS   VICE PRESIDENT, AND THE KENNEDYS   MADE SURE OF THAT.   SO HE’S SOMEONE WHO TAKES OVER,   AND I SAY EARLY IN THE BOOK, HE   HAS A VERY AMBITIOUS VISION OF   WHAT HE WANTS TO DO.   HE WANTS TO COMPLETE A SECOND   NEW DEAL.   THIS IS WHEN HE CAME INTO   WASHINGTON, AND HE WANTS TO GO   EVEN FURTHER.   JOHNSON’S A BRILLIANT   POLITICIAN, HE’S BEEN IN   CONGRESS FOR SO LONG, HE HAS   GREAT RELATIONSHIPS WITH PEOPLE   LIKE EVERETT DIRKSEN, HE   UNDERSTANDS THE PROCEDURES, BUT   MOST IMPORTANT, HE UNDERSTANDS   THE LIMITS OF PRESIDENTIAL   POWER, SO HE’S DETERMINED RIGHT   AWAY TO DO AS MUCH AS HE CAN   BECAUSE AS HE ALWAYS TOLD HIS   ADVISORS, CONGRESS ALWAYS GETS   THE BEST OF EVERY PRESIDENT, AND   IT WAS GONNA GET THE BEST OF   HIM.   SO HE MOVES FAST AND FURIOUSLY,   BUT HE UNDERSTANDS HOW IMPORTANT   THIS MOVEMENT IS GONNA BE TO HIS   SUCCESS, AND THAT’S IN SOME WAYS   WHAT’S MOST UNUSUAL ABOUT HIM AT   THAT MOMENT.   DOUGLAS: BUT WHAT DOES THAT   TRANSLATE INTO?   JULIAN: WELL, HE’S OFTEN MEETING   WITH MARTIN LUTHER KING AND   OTHER CIVIL RIGHTS LEADERS,   PLOTTING OUT STRATEGY, URGING   THEM TO GO BACK TO THE STATES   AND TO BUILD PRESSURE ON MEMBERS   OF CONGRESS, AND WHEN THE   WINDOW’S OPEN, BECAUSE OF WHAT   THE MOVEMENT DOES, JOHNSON   DOESN’T HESITATE, HE MOVES   FORWARD WITH THE BILL, HE PUSHES   AGGRESSIVELY, HE USES EVERY TOOL   IN HIS TOOLBOX TO TRY TO GET THE   LEGISLATION THROUGH.   DOUGLAS: AND THERE’S A LOT OF   COMMENTARY NOW ABOUT THAT THIS   WAS A KIND OF PRESIDENT WHO KNEW   HOW TO MOVE THINGS THROUGH   CONGRESS BY UNDERSTANDING THE   RULES, BY A PARTICULAR WAY OF   INTERACTING WITH THE PEOPLE WHEN   HE WAS TRYING TO CONVINCE THEM   TO GO HIS WAY.   WAS THAT THE SINGULAR BRILLIANCE   OF THIS ONE PARTICULAR   LEGISLATIVE GENIUS?   HOW MUCH OF THAT WAS A FACTOR IN   THIS?   JULIAN: IT’S IMPORTANT, BUT THE   POINT OF THE BOOK IS THAT’S NOT   ENOUGH TO UNDERSTAND WHY THIS   TRANSFORMATIVE MOMENT HAPPENED.   WE NOW HAVE CREATED A MYTH OF   LYNDON JOHNSON AFTER DECADES   WHEN HE WAS BASICALLY, UH,   BLASTED AS ONE OF THE WORST   PRESIDENTS EVER BECAUSE OF   VIETNAM, WHERE HE IS NOW SEEN AS   THIS MAGICIAN, A WIZARD, OF   WASHINGTON, WHO KNEW HOW TO DO   WHAT NO ONE ELSE CAN DO.   THE ICONIC IMAGE IS OF THE   TREATMENT WHERE LYNDON JOHNSON,   SIX FOOT FOUR, WOULD LITERALLY   HOVER OVER SOMEONE ATTEMPTING TO   GET THE VOTE HE WANTED, BUT THAT   IS NOT ENOUGH.   WHAT REALLY MATTERED WAS THE   CONDITION OF CONGRESS.   EARLY ON, OTHER THAN CIVIL   RIGHTS AND THE WAR ON POVERTY,   WHICH IS STILL A PRETTY SMALL   PROGRAM WHEN HE FIRST INTRODUCES   IT, MUCH OF HIS AGENDA IS   TOTALLY STIFLED AS WELL, IN   1964.   JOHNSON’S DESPERATE TO GET   MEDICARE THROUGH CONGRESS, BUT   THERE’S SOMEONE NAMED WILBUR   MILLS, WHO’S THE CHAIRMAN OF THE   WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE, A   SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT, WHO SAYS   NO.   EVEN AFTER KENNEDY’S DEATH, EVEN   AFTER A LOT CHANGE OF PUBLIC   OPINION THAT BECAME SUPPORTIVE   OF THIS BILL, MILLS WOULDN’T   ALLOW IT UP FOR VOTE.   IT’S REALLY NOT UP UNTIL THE   ELECTION OF 1964, NOT JOHNSON’S   ARM TWISTING, THAT WE GET A BILL   LIKE MEDICARE.   SO IT’S IMPORTANT, AND I DON’T   TO DISMISS IT, BUT IT’S NOT   ENOUGH TO UNDERSTAND WHAT   HAPPENED AND WHY SO MUCH   HAPPENED IN THAT PERIOD.   DOUGLAS: THIS WHOLE DESCRIPTION   OF THE TREATMENT, WHICH IS THE   SORT OF THE THING POLITICAL   JOURNALISTS, PEOPLE LIKE ME,   LOVE TO ZERO-IN ON IN THE MOMENT   WHEN YOU’RE COVERING THINGS THAT   ARE HAPPENING, AND YOU SEE A   SCENE LIKEAND THE AMERICAN   PEOPLE LIKE THESE SCENESLIKE   IDEA OF HERE’S THIS PICTURE OR   THIS MOVING FOOTAGE OF A   PRESIDENT INTERACTING WITH   SOMEONE ELSE AND IT MEANS SOME   SPECIFIC THING, OR PRESIDENT   OBAMA HAVING A BEER WITH A WITH   A COP FROM BOSTON OR FROM   CAMBRIDGE, WE LIKE THOSE SORTS   OF MOMENTS, AND WE LIKE TO   IMAGINE SOME BIG IMPORTANCE TO   THEM.   BUT THE “TREATMENT,” HIS   INTIMIDATING POSTURE TOWARD   PEOPLE, ALWAYS STRUCK ME AS   COMPLETELY ABSURD, THAT THAT WAS   A SIGNIFICANT PART OF THE   EXPLANATION OF WHY THERE WAS   SUCCESS AT THE TIME.   THE IDEA THAT SORT OF PERSONAL,   PHYSICAL INTIMIDATION OF MEMBERS   OF CONGRESS REALLY TRANSLATED   INTO A SIGNIFICANT CHANGE OF   VOTES, ALWAYS STRUCK AS A   COMPLETELY THEATRICAL   PROPOSITION.   JULIAN WELL ONE OF THE PARTS OF   : THE BOOKS THAT KIND OF   CHALLENGES THAT IS THE YEARS   BETWEEN 1966, WHERE YOU HAVE   MIDTERM ELECTIONS WHERE YOU HAVE   THIS CONSERVATIVE COALITION   REGAINS ITS POWER, AND 1968, THE   FINAL TWO YEARS OF HIS   PRESIDENCY, JOHNSON’S DOING ALL   OF THAT.   HE’S STILL LEANING ON PEOPLE,   HE’S STILL, YOU KNOW, HE’S STILL   USING EVERY MECHANISM OF   INTIMIDATION TO TRY TO GET VOTES   ON BILLS LIKE OPEN HOUSING, BUT   IT’S NOT WORKING.   HIS LEGISLATION IS MUCH THINNER   IN THOSE FINAL TWO YEARS.   MUCH OF THE LEGISLATION HE GETS   IS NOT WHAT HE ORIGINALLY   WANTED, IT’S REALLY WATERED   DOWN, AND HE’S A FRUSTRATED   PRESIDENT.   PART OF THAT IS VIETNAM JUST   SWAMPING EVERYTHING ELSE, PART   OF IT IS ONCE CONGRESS CHANGED,   HE COULDN’T REALLY USE ALL THOSE   SKILLS OF HIS GREAT EFFECT.   TWO AND THERE’S ONE CONVERSATION   WHERE HIS ADVISOR IN 1967 IS   TELLING PRESIDENT JOHNSON,   “CAN’T YOU DO MORE IN CONGRESS,   CAN’T YOU GET SOME OF THESE   BILLS THROUGH?   YOU’RE THE MASTER OF THE SENATE,   THAT’S WHAT EVERYONE SAYS”.   AND JOHNSON, YOU COULD HEAR HIS   ANGER BUBBLING UP ON THE PHONE   , HE SAYS, “MASTER OF THE   SENATE?   I’M NOT THE MASTER OF A DAMN   THING, I CAN’T GET THIS CONGRESS   TO PASS A SINGLE THING THAT IT   DOESN’T WANT TO DO. SO JOHNSON   — TO DO.”   SO JOHNSON UNDERSTOOD THAT SOME   OF THE HYPERBOLE ABOUT WHAT HE   COULD DO WAS EXAGGERATED, AND   SOMETIMES DANGEROUS, BECAUSE HE   FELT THAT PEOPLE EXPECTED TOO   MUCH OF HIM AND HAD TOO MUCH OF   AN EYE ON THE WHITE HOUSE, AND   NOT ENOUGH OF AN EYE ON CAPITOL   HILL.   DOUGLAS: BUT THE SORTS OF THINGS   HE COULD DO, AND THAT DID HAVE A   REAL EFFECT, AND YOU CHRONICLE A   LOT OF IT HERE, ARE THINGS THAT   WE OFTEN TIMES TODAY SAY ARE   REALLY BAD, OR THE SIGNS OF THE   WORST KIND OF POLITICS, LIKE   PORK-BARREL POLITICS, AND GIVING   PEOPLE THINGS THAT WILLTHAT THEY   CAN THEN TRUMPET THAT THEY   BROUGHT HOME TO THEIR HOME   DISTRICTS IN RETURN FOR VOTES ON   OTHER THINGS.   THAT WAS ACTUALLY A BIG PART OF   THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THIS   STRATEGY.   JULIAN: SURE, IT’S TRUE, SO ONCE   ALL THE PIECES ARE IN PLACE FOR   A BILL TO PASS, JOHNSON USED A   LOT OF THAT, AS DID THE SENATE   MAJORITY LEADER, UM, AND THE   HOUSE, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE.   THEY USED THESE TOOLS, SO DURING   THE SENATE FILIBUSTER, JOHNSON   FAMOUSLY PROMISED SUPPORT FOR A   WATER PROJECT IN ARIZONA TO GET   A VOTE TO END THE FILIBUSTER.   HE WOULD CALL ON UNIONS TO   INTIMIDATE REPUBLICANS IN   PENNSYLVANIA, REMINDING THEM   THEY JUST GOT LEGISLATION FOR   SOMETHING ELSE, SO THEY BETTER   SUPPORT HIM ON THE FILIBUSTER,   THINGS WHICH TODAY WE WOULD   CONSIDER UGLY, SOMETIMES   CORRUPT.   BACK THEN, WERE PART OF THE   PROCESS THROUGH WHICH   LEGISLATION MOVED.   AGAIN, THAT WAS NOT THE REASON   CIVIL RIGHTS PASSED.   THE MOVEMENT WAS THE REASON IT   PASSED, BUT THEY WERE IMPORTANT   TO ENSURING THAT THE LEGISLATION   DIDN’T GET STIFLED AT ANY   MOMENT.   DOUGLAS: IN THAT PERIOD THAT THE   CONGRESS OPERATED UNDER SUCH   ELABORATE RULES, AND I WANT YOU   TO EXPLAIN A LITTLE BIT THAT WHY   IT WAS THAT A WILBUR MILLS COULD   SINGLEHANDEDLY STOP SOMETHING AS   IMPORTANT AS WHAT WOULD   ULTIMATELY BECOME MEDICARE, OR   WHY JAMES EASTLAND, THE CHAIRMAN   OF THE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE IN   THE SENATE, COULD STOP EVERY   CIVIL RIGHTS BILL FOR 20 OR 30   YEARS, EFFECTIVELY.   JULIAN: THE RULES OF CONGRESS,   BOTH THE FORMAL RULES AND THE   INFORMAL CUSTOMS OF CONGRESS AT   THAT TIME EMPOWERED THE   COMMITTEE CHAIRS, SO THE SPEAKER   OF THE HOUSE WAS IMPORTANT, THE   SENATE MAJORITY LEADER WAS   IMPORTANT, BUT REAL POWER RESTED   ON THE COMMITTEE CHAIRMEN.   THE COMMITTEE CHAIR COULD   BASICALLY DECIDE WHAT ISSUES   WOULD COME UP FOR A VOTE, WHAT   WOULDN’T.   IF A COMMITTEE CHAIR BACK THEN   SAID I WILL NOT SUPPORT   LEGISLATION, THAT LEGISLATION   WAS PRETTY MUCH DEAD.   IT WOULD TAKE AN UNUSUAL   MOBILIZATION TO STOP THAT.   SO JAMES EASTLAND, WHO CHAIRS A   SENATE SUBCOMMITTEE ON CIVIL   RIGHTS JOKED THAT HE HAD POCKETS   PUT INTO HIS PANTS JUST SO THAT   HE COULD BURY ALL THE CIVIL   RIGHTS BILLS THAT HE WOULDN’T   LET UP FOR A VOTE.   WILBUR MILLS FAMOUSLY MADE SURE   THERE WERE NO SUBCOMMITTEES ON   HIS COMMITTEE, JUST SO HE DIDN’T   HAVE COMPETING VOICES ON HIS   PANEL.   DOUGLAS: AS TIME GOES BY, AND   PEOPLE FORGET TO THESE   CHARACTERS WERE AND WHAT THEY   WERE ABOUT, PARTICULARLY COLLEGE   AGE STUDENTS AND YOUNG ADULTS   TODAY HAVE NEVER HEARD ANY OF   THESE NAMES FOR THE MOST PART,   UNLESS THEY’RE MAJORING IN   HISTORY.   AND, BUT IN A BOOK LIKE THIS,   YOU, YOU DESCRIBE PEOPLE AS   WHITE SUPREMACISTS OR   SEGREGATIONISTS BUT IS IT   ACTUALLY, ARE WE UNDERSTATING IN   THE, IN THE NORMAL WAY THAT WE   WRITE ABOUT THESE TIMES, THE   VIEWS OF THESE INDIVIDUALS?   WE SAY WHITE SUPREMACIST PEOPLE   DON’T EVEN, I’M NOT SURE   EVERYONE EVEN KNOWS WHAT THAT   MEANS ANYMORE.   BUT A FIGURE LIKE JAMES   EASTLAND, HIS VIEWS WEREN’T, HE   WASN’T JUST A REALLY PREJUDICED   GUY.   HE BORDERED ON THE EDGE OF, OF   NAZI IDEOLOGY, FLIRTED WITH   THOSE KINDS OF EXTREME RIGHT   WING ORGANIZATIONS IN THE UNITED   STATES.   JULIAN: I THINK SOMETIMES IT’S   HARD TO REMEMBER WHAT THE   POLITICAL AND SOCIAL SYSTEM WAS   THAT THEY WERE PROTECTING.   SO CERTAINLY IF YOU LEARN ABOUT   CIVIL RIGHTS AND RACE RELATIONS   YOU GET A SENSE OF WHAT IT MEANT   FOR SOMEONE TO OPPOSE THE CIVIL   RIGHTS ACT OF 1964.   IT WASN’T LIKE I’M FOR   GOVERNMENT OR AGAINST   GOVERNMENT, I’M NOT SO LIBERAL   ON RACE RELATIONS.   YOU WERE PROTECTING A SYSTEM, A   RACIALLY SEGREGATED SYSTEM THAT   WAS JUST BRUTAL ON   AFRICAN-AMERICANS.   AND I DO THINK THAT SOMETIMES WE   FORGET THAT’S THE CASE.   WE DO IT ON OTHER POLICIES, SO   IN CONTEMPORARY TIMES WE TALK   ABOUT ALL THE OPPOSITION THAT   EXISTED TO PRESIDENT OBAMA’S   HEALTH CARE PROPOSAL AND HOW IT   WAS ATTACKED BY THE TEA PARTY.   AND WE FORGET THAT OPPONENTS OF   MEDICARE USED TO CALL THE   PROPOSAL SOCIALIZED MEDICINE.   THE AMA MOBILIZED OPPOSITION   THAT WAS FIERCE AGAINST THE IDEA   THAT ELDERLY PEOPLE SHOULD HAVE   ACCESS TO HOSPITAL INSURANCE   WHICH TODAY SEEMS BASIC.   BUT BACK THEN DOCTORS WERE   LITERALLY RECEIVING PAMPHLETS   FROM THE AMERICAN MEDICAL   ASSOCIATION THAT THEY HANDED OUT   TO PATIENTS SO THAT WHEN A   PATIENT LEFT THEIR DOCTOR’S   VISIT THEY READ “IF MEDICARE   PASSES NEXT TIME YOU COME, A   BUREAUCRATS BASICALLY GONNA TAKE   CARE OF YOUR HEALTH CARE.”   RONALD REAGAN RECORDS A RECORD   THAT CONSERVATIVES LISTEN TO IN   THE EARLY 1960’S THAT SAYS, OPEN   QUOTE HEALTH CARE SOUNDS GREAT,   BUT IF THIS PASSES THIS IS THE   FIRST OPENING STEP TO SOCIALISM   IN AMERICA.   .”   SO IT’S BOTH THE SEVERITY OF THE   OPPOSITION WE FORGET, AND   CERTAINLY WITH RACE RELATIONS I   THINK OFTEN WE DON’T UNDERSTAND   EXACTLY WHAT WAS AT STAKE IN   1964 AND ’65.   AND OFTEN DOWNPLAY THE   SIGNIFICANCE OF THE LEGISLATION   THAT PASSES IN THAT PERIOD.   BECAUSE ONCE YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT   WAS BEING FOUGHT YOU SEE WHAT A   LANDMARK THOSE BILLS WERE.   DOUGLAS: WE FORGET THAT THIS   COALITION OF CONSERVATIVE   DEMOCRATS AND CONSERVATIVE   REPUBLICANS, BUT THAT HAD ALSO   INCLUDED A CERTAIN CRITICAL   POINT, NOT JUST CONSERVATIVE   DEMOCRATS BUT ALL SORTS OF   DEMOCRATS.   FDR, WITH THE NEW DEAL, ENTERS   INTO THESE DEALS WITH ALL OF   THESE WHITE SUPREMACIST FIGURES   WHO COULD HAVE OBSTRUCTED THE   BILLS IN THAT, THE NEW DEAL   BILLS IN THAT PERIOD OF TIME.   AND THEY CUT THESE ARRANGEMENTS   THAT SAY YES THE NEW DEAL CAN   MOVE FORWARD BUT AFRICAN   AMERICANS HAVE TO BE EXCLUDED   FROM IT IN EVERY WAY POSSIBLE,   SEGREGATION CAN’T BE TAMPERED   WITH AS A RESULT OF THIS   LEGISLATION.   SO SOME OF THE, WHAT WE THINK OF   AS THE GREATEST, OR AT LEAST   MOST IMPORTANT, DEPENDING ON   YOUR, MOST CONSEQUENTIAL   LEGISLATIVE ACTIONS IN THE 20TH   CENTURY ARE ONES THAT STILL,   EVEN WHEN PROPOSED BY SOMEBODY   LIKE FDR, HAD BAKED INTO THEM   PRESERVATION OF THIS SYSTEM OF,   OF SEGREGATION.   JULIAN: YEAH, AND THAT’S WHEN,   ONCE YOU PUT CONGRESS INTO OUR   STORIES OF AMERICAN HISTORY YOU   UNDERSTAND WHY THAT WAS THE   CASE.   TOO OFTEN THE HISTORY OF THE   UNITED STATES FOCUSES ON THE   PRESIDENT, AND IT FOCUSES   EXCLUSIVELY ON THE PRESIDENT.   SO YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND FULLY   WHAT THE CONGRESS WAS THAT THAT   PRESIDENT FACED.   IN THE 1930’S, YOU SEE THIS   STORY UNFOLD.   THIS IS WHEN THE STORY TAKES   FORM.   FDR WAS ALWAYS VERY CAREFUL THAT   MOST OF THE BIGGEST FEDERAL   PROGRAMS WHEN IT CAME TO   SOUTHERN STATES THERE WAS LOCAL   AND STATE CONTROL BUILT IN, JUST   FOR THE PURPOSES YOU SAID.   AND THAT’S PART OF WHAT’S   HAPPENING IN THE MID-1960S, THAT   DEAL WITH THE SOUTHERNERS IS   STARTING TO COME UNDONE.   THAT DEAL IS BEING TESTED BY THE   WHITE HOUSE, BUT JUST AS   IMPORTANTLY BY LIBERAL DEMOCRATS   LIKE A GUY NAMED RICHARD BOLLING   FROM MISSOURI WHO HAD BEEN   ENTERING INTO CONGRESS IN THE   1940’S AND 1950’S AND NO LONGER   WANTED TO LIVE WITH THAT.   HUBERT HUMPHREY, WHEN HE RUNS   FOR THE SENATE IN 1948, THIS IS   WHEN HE COMES ONTO THE NATIONAL   SCENE.   HE GIVES A SPEECH AT THE   PHILADELPHIA DEMOCRATIC   CONVENTION THAT YEAR.   AND HE MAKES A REALLY BOLD   SPEECH WHERE HE SAYS, FOR THOSE   OF YOU WHO BELIEVE IN STATE’S   RIGHTS, AND I’M PARAPHRASING,   THE TIME HAS COME TO EMBRACE   HUMAN RIGHTS AND CIVIL RIGHTS,   AND IF YOU DON’T AGREE, LEAVE.   AND SOME SOUTHERNERS TAKE HIM UP   ON THAT, STROM THURMAN WILL RUN   AS A THIRD PARTY CANDIDATE.   BUT THIS WAS EXACTLY THE DEAL   THAT LIBERALS, WHOSE NUMBERS   GREW ON CAPITOL HILL IN THE   1950’S, WANTED TO CHALLENGE,   WANTED TO FIGHT, AND WERE NO   LONGER WILLING TO, TO DEAL WITH   .   AND FOR A SHORT WINDOW BETWEEN   1964 AND 1966 THEY HAVE THEIR   DAY, AND THE RESULT IS THE GREAT   SOCIETY.   IT’LL BE SHORT, THOSE   CONSERVATIVES WERE ENTRENCHED   AND THEY COME BACK VERY QUICKLY,   BUT THEY HAVE THEIR MOMENT.   DOUGLAS: THE MECHANISMS THAT IN   THE END HAD SOME EFFECT OVER THE   PROCESS HERE AND THAT GAVE THE   PRESIDENT AND HIS CONGRESSIONAL   ALLIES SOME SORT OF A, OF A   DEGREE OF LEVERAGE TO TRY TO   SLOWLY BUILD THESE COALITIONS   THAT WERE NECESSARY.   BUT THEY WERE THINGS LIKE A FORM   OF BIPARTISANSHIP THAT WAS   ACTUALLY BAD.   IT WAS NECESSARY TO UNDO THE   BIPARTISANSHIP THAT WAS   HAPPENING THEN.   IT WAS PORK BARREL POLITICS,   GIVING THINGS TO PEOPLE THAT’S   SUPPOSED TO BE BAD TODAY.   IT WAS ABUSE OF THE RULES THE,   AND, BUT THESE, THESE   INTRANSIGENT RULES, THAT THE,   WHICH WE ALSO TODAY, IF YOU ARE   ON THE DEMOCRATIC SIDE OF THE   EQUATION, YOU THINK THAT WHAT’S   HAPPENING RIGHT NOW WHERE   REPUBLICANS IN CONGRESS HAVE   TRIED TO HOLD UP LEGISLATION TO   EXTRACT FROM THE PRESIDENT A   CONCESSION ON A SOMEWHAT   UNRELATED THING, THAT BEING   IMMIGRATION.   IF YOU’RE A DEMOCRAT YOU THINK   THAT’S A TERRIBLE ABUSE OF THE   RULES, IF YOU’RE A REPUBLICAN   YOU THINK THAT PRESIDENT OBAMA   AND NANCY PELOSI TERRIBLY ABUSED   THE RULES WHEN THEY, BY THE   MECHANISMS BY WHICH THEY PUSHED   THROUGH THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT.   AND SO WE GENERALLY THINK THAT   THE RULES ARE BAD AND THAT   LEVERAGING THESE RULES TO   ADVANTAGE IS REALLY BAD.   AND YET THOSE WERE THE KEY   INGREDIENTS OF HOW GOOD THINGS   WERE DONE IN THE PAST.   DO WE HAVE IT ALL WRONG ABOUT   THE WAY CONGRESS SHOULD WORK   NOW?   JULIAN: WELL I DO THINK THOSE   RULES CAN BE USED EFFECTIVELY,   THEY CAN BE ABUSED.   THEY WERE THEN, THEY WERE TODAY.   WHEN THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT   PASSES, DEMOCRATS USE THE RULES   FOR, IN THEIR MIND, A VERY   LEGITIMATE GOAL.   DEMOCRATS USE SOMETHING CALLED   THE RECONCILIATION PROCESS WHICH   IS ONE OF THESE RULES THAT MOST   AMERICANS YOU KNOW THEIR EYES   GLAZE WHEN THEY HEAR THIS.   BUT IT’S A RULE THAT CAME FROM   THE 1970S WHICH IS IF YOU ATTACH   SOMETHING TO A BUDGET BILL, IT   CAN’T BE FILIBUSTERED.   AND DEMOCRATS, WHEN OBAMA WAS   ELECTED DECIDE TO STRONG ARM   THAT PIECE OF LEGISLATION.   AND SO THAT’S AN EXAMPLE OF   WHERE SOME OF THIS STILL TAKES   PLACE.   REPUBLICANS HAVE BEEN VERY   EFFECTIVE UNDER OBAMA AT USING   THE RULES FOR, IN THEIR MIND,   VERY LEGITIMATE GOALS TO TOTALLY   OBSTRUCT AND BLOCK OPPOSITION.   SO IT STILL HAPPENS.   I DO THINK AN IMPORTANT   DIFFERENCE IS ALL OF THIS IS   EXPOSED.   THIS IS AN ERA WHERE A LOT OF   THESE DEBATES, A LOT OF THESE   STRATEGIES TOOK PLACE BEHIND   CLOSED DOORS, WHEREAS TODAY   THERE IS NO MORE SPACE LIKE THAT   IN AMERICAN POLITICS.   DOUGLAS: ONE OF THE STRENGTH OF   YOUR BOOK I THINK IS THE   ARGUMENT YOU MADE JUST A FEW   MINUTES AGO AND YOUR OBSERVATION   YOU MADE, AND THAT IS TO PUSH   AGAINST THE NOTION THAT IN THE   MID-1960S TOWARD THE END OF THE   1960S THAT THIS KIND OF   OPPORTUNE UH, CHAPTER IN HUMAN   HISTORY OPENED AND SUDDENLY   THERE WAS LIBERAL THINKING OR   PROGRESSIVE THINKING, WHICHEVER   TERM ONE WANTS TO USE, THAT   SUDDENLY MADE IT EASY FOR THESE   THINGS TO GO THROUGH.   AND YOU VERY AUTHORITATIVELY   SHOW THAT THAT REALLY WASN’T THE   CASE, THAT THESE MECHANICAL   THINGS WERE SO IMPORTANT.   BUT IT ALSO GETS AT THIS, UH,   SORT OF CONFUSION I SOMETIMES   HAVE ABOUT THE IMPULSE TOWARDS   COMING UP WITH SORT OF CAUSAL   NARRATIVES TO EXPLAIN HISTORY.   AND OFTENTIMES ITS WHETHER   THERE’S THIS MOMENT, IT WAS SORT   OF A MOMENT, IN TERMS OF THE   MOVEMENT, THERE WAS A CHANGE IN   AMERICAN THINKING IN A BIG BROAD   WAY, THERE WERE CHANGES IN THE   CONGRESS.   BUT THE REALLY BIG THING THAT   HAPPENS WAS THAT JOHN F.   KENNEDY GETS ASSASSINATED.   THAT BY ITSELF.   AND ALL THROUGH HISTORY WE HAVE   THESE MOMENTS WHERE GEORGE BUSH   HAPPENS TO HAVE ARRIVED IN   OFFICE WHEN 9/11 HAPPENS AND   SUDDENLY HAS THESE POWERS WHICH   HE COULD NOT POSSIBLY HAVE   IMAGINED UNDER OTHER   CIRCUMSTANCES.   BARACK OBAMA COMES INTO OFFICE   AND SUDDENLY IS FACED WITH AN   ECONOMIC CATASTROPHE NOT OF HIS   OWN MAKING WHICH ARGUABLY IS THE   REAL REASON THAT HAS CRIPPLED SO   MUCH OF HIS LEGISLATIVE AGENDA   OVER THE ENSUING EIGHT YEARS.   BUT HOW DO YOU RECONCILE KIND OF   THE IMPULSE FOR A FANCY THEORY   VERSUS THE POSSIBILITY THAT THE   DINOSAURS JUST DIED BECAUSE AN   ASTEROID HIT THE EARTH?   JULIAN: IT’S A FAIR POINT.   I MEAN HISTORIANS TEND TO TALK   ABOUT UH MANY FACTORS BEHIND   ANYTHING.   SO WE’RE NOTORIOUSLY GREY UH   WHEN EXPLAINING ANYTHING AS   OPPOSED TO BE BLACK AND WHITE UH   LIKE MANY SOCIAL SCIENTISTS ARE.   UM, YOU KNOW I DO THINK WITH THE   KENNEDY EXAMPLE, THAT A CASE   WHERE SOMETHING HAPPENS AND YOU   KNOW IT’S A HORROR THAT HAPPENS   THERE’S NOT GREAT EXPLANATION   AND IT CHANGES POLITICS, BUT IT   IS POSSIBLE TO OVER EMPHASIZE   HOW IMPORTANT THAT WAS TO ALL   THE LEGISLATION THAT PASSES.   YOU KNOW, OTHER THAN THE CIVIL   RIGHTS BILL WHICH IS NOT BECAUSE   KENNEDY DIED, UH AGAIN THAT WHAT   THE MOVEMENT WAS DOING.   A LOT OF THE LEGISLATION   REMAINED STIFLED IN 1964, NOT   ONLY MEDICARE BUT EDUCATION   PROGRAMS THAT WERE DIRECTLY   RELATED TO KENNEDY UH WHEN   AMERICANS HEARD LETS FULFILL   KENNEDY’S AGENDA THOSE WERE THE   BILLS THEY WERE THINKING OF.   THEY DIDN’T GO ANYWHERE UNTIL   AFTER THE 1964 ELECTION.   SO IT TAKES MUCH MORE THAN THE   , MEMORY OF A DECEASED   PRESIDENT.   WHAT IS INTERESTING IS IT   ELEVATES A PERSON WHO WAS GOING   TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE MOMENT.   A PERSON WITH DEEP ROOTS IN   CONGRESS WHO UNDERSTOOD HOW TO   USE A WINDOW LIKE THIS WHEN IT   EMERGED AND YOU CAN ALSO ARGUE   IT PUT INTO PLACE SOMEONE WHO   WAS GOING TO TAKE THE WRONG   STEPS IN VIETNAM.   MANY PEOPLE WOULD SAY ANOTHER   PRESIDENT MIGHT HAVE HANDLED   THIS DIFFERENTLY.   HE MIGHT NOT HAVE HAD THE SAME   POLITICAL FEARS THAT JOHNSON   ALWAYS HAD ON BEING WEAK ON   DEFENSE.   THAT QUICK MOMENT HAD THIS HUGE   EFFECT ON OUR FOREIGN POLICY.   SO THOSE ARE IMPORTANT BUT   STRUCTURE DOES MATTER AND I   THINK IT’S IMPORTANT TO TELLING   STORIES ACCURATELY.   OTHERWISE WE HAVE KIND OF FALSE   IMPRESSIONS OF HOW POLITICS   WORKS.   SO IF WE JUST FOCUS ON THE   PERSON, IF WE JUST FOCUS ON   THESE ELECTIONS, OR DRAMATIC   MOMENTS, WE’RE ALWAYS   FRUSTRATED.   THAT’S WHY WE ALWAYS SAY EVERY   PRESIDENT EVERYTHING’S GOING TO   CHANGE.   BECAUSE IF YOU FOCUS ON THE   PERSON, IT DOES CHANGE EVERY   FOUR TO EIGHT YEARS.   BUT IF YOU FOCUS ON THE   STRUCTURE, HOW DOES WASHINGTON   WORK, HOW DOES CONGRESS WORK?   YOU CAN PRETTY MUCH PREDICT UH   THE HONEYMOON IS GOING TO BE   SHORT AND THE PROBLEMS THE   PREVIOUS PRESIDENT HAD ARE GOING   TO BE SIMILAR PROBLEMS THE NEW   PRESIDENT HAS.   DOUGLAS: LET’S TALK ABOUT THE   GREAT SOCIETY ITSELF AND THE   YOUR BOOK IS VERY NICELY   REVIEWED BUT WHERE THERE HAS   BEEN ANY KIND OF PUSHBACK ON IT,   IT HAS TENDED TO BE FROM   CONSERVATIVES, CONSERVATIVE   WRITERS, ESSENTIALLY CONTESTING   WHAT THEY DESCRIBE AS WHAT   APPEARS TO BE YOUR POSITION THAT   THE GREAT SOCIETY WAS A GOOD   IDEA OR A GOOD THING JUST   FUNDAMENTALLY THAT.   THEY RAISE THE CASE THAT, SOME   OF THESE FOLKS WOULD SAY THAT,   THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH JOHNSON   AND IN LOVE WITH THESE KINDS OF   LIBERAL POLITICS AND ARE   IGNORING, QUOTE ON QUOTE, THIS   IS FROM THE WALL STREET JOURNAL,   THEY SAY CONSIDER ALSO THE WAR   ON POVERTY’S EFFECTS LIKE   WELFARE DEPENDENCY, ONE IN FIVE   AMERICANS BELONG TO A FAMILY   RECEIVING IN 1983 FEDERAL   BENEFITS LIKE FOOD STAMPS AND   HEAD START AND GOES ON AND ON   AND RATTLES OFF WHAT ARGUABLY IS   SOMEWHAT RACIST, IN MY VIEW,   DESCRIPTION OF SOME OF THE   CONSEQUENCES SUCH AS TEEN   PREGNANCY RATES BECAUSE THEY’RE   ALL DESCRIBED AS HAVING HAPPENED   AMONG AFRICAN AMERICANS AND NOT   JUST AMONG POOR PEOPLE.   BUT HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO THAT   NOTION THAT MAYBE THE GREAT   SOCIETY WASN’T SO GREAT?   JULIAN: YEAH I MEAN THAT WAS AN   ODD REVIEW.   IT USED THE BOOK AS A PLATFORM   TO ATTACK LIBERALISM AND THAT’S   NOT UNUSUAL WHEN YOU WRITE ABOUT   THE GREAT SOCIETY ACTUALLY.   IT’S INTERESTING TO SEE HOW THIS   BECOMES A MEANS OF HAVING THIS   OTHER KIND OF DEBATE.   THE BOOK ISN’T MEANT AS A LOVE   NOTE TO LYNDON JOHNSON OR THE   GREAT SOCIETY, THERE ARE MANY   PROBLEMS WITH THE PROGRAMS.   I TALK ABOUT HOW WHEN MEDICARE   WAS CREATED THEY CUT A DEAL,   JOHNSON AND WILBUR MILLS EARLY   ON, THAT THEY WON’T PUT CONTROLS   ON COSTS.   THEY’LL LET THE DOCTORS AND   HOSPITALS WHAT IS REASONABLE AND   THE GOVERNMENT WILL PAY IT.   THAT RIGHT AWAY WAS A HUGE   PROBLEM IN THE LEGISLATION.   CIVIL RIGHTS, YOU KNOW, SOME   THINGS WERE LEFT BEHIND THAT   WERE QUITE ESSENTIAL AND YOU CAN   MAKE THE ARGUMENT SOME OF THE   DOMESTIC PROGRAMS WERE BADLY   CONCEIVED AND DIDN’T ACHIEVE ALL   THEIR GOALS.   BUT I THINK THAT KIND OF A   CRITIQUE IS JUST WRONG.   I DO THINK ON POVERTY IT’S JUST   A MISTAKE NOT TO SEE IN THE TEN   TO TWENTY YEARS AFTER THE   PASSAGE OF THESE PROGRAMS, NOT   JUST THE WAR ON POVERTY, FOOD   STAMPS, HEAD START, MEDICAID,   THIS HAD A REALLY BIG EFFECT ON   LOWERING RATES OF POVERTY IN A   WAY NO OTHER MOMENT IN   GOVERNMENT AND POLICY HAS SINCE   THAT TIME.   THE STATISTICS ARE QUITE CLEAR.   THE RATE GOES DOWN REALLY   DRAMATICALLY AND THE SUPPORTS   THAT THESE PROGRAMS CONTINUE TO   PROVIDE THROUGH TODAY MAKE THE   CONDITION OF POVERTY CERTAINLY   MUCH BETTER THAN THEY WOULD BE   WITHOUT THAT.   IF WE DIDN’T HAVE FOOD STAMPS,   IF WE DIDN’T HAVE HEAD START,   IF WE DIDN’T HAVE OTHER   PROGRAMS, MEDICAID, THE   SITUATION WOULD BE MUCH WORSE   AND A LOT OF THE PROBLEMS WE   TALK ABOUT WITH POVERTY AREN’T A   RESULT OF THE GREAT SOCIETY, ITS   EITHER A RESULT OF THINGS THOSE   PROGRAMS YOU KNOW WEREN’T ABLE   TO ACHIEVE BUT ALSO CHANGES IN   PUBLIC POLICY, TAX POLICY,   REGULATIONS, FUNDING FOR THE   INNER CITIES THAT HAVE HAPPENED   IN THE ERA OF RONALD REAGAN.   SO, SO I THINK THAT CRITIQUE   GETS IT WRONG.   I THINK THERE’S A LOT OF   CRITICISM TO MAKE OF THE GREAT   SOCIETY BUT I THINK SOMETIMES   THEY’RE NOT CAREFUL LOOKING AT   THE DATA AND LOOKING AT THE   EVIDENCE OF WHAT THESE HAVE   ACHIEVED.   AND IT’S NO SURPRISE THAT MANY   CONSERVATIVES TODAY BASICALLY   LIVE WITH A LOT OF THESE   PROGRAMS AND ACCEPT THEM.   AND SO THE STORY IN 2010 OF TEA   PARTY REPUBLICANS PROTESTING   PRESIDENT OBAMA’S HEALTH CARE   PROGRAM WHICH WOULD INCLUDE   SAVINGS IN MEDICARE BY SAYING   GET YOUR GOVERNMENT HAND OFF MY   MEDICARE, WAS A FUNNY STORY, IT   WAS HYPOCRITICAL, BUT IT   CAPTURED THAT GENERALLY EVEN   CONSERVATIVES WHO RAISE THESE   COMPLAINTS UNDERSTAND THAT THESE   HAVE BEEN AN IMPORTANT AND   BECOME A REALLY CENTRAL PARTS OF   AMERICAN LIFE.   DOUGLAS: THERE ARE CONSEQUENCES   OF THESE SORTS OF LEGISLATIONS   THAT GO FAR BEYOND THE SPECIFIC   THINGS THAT THEY ADDRESS.   SOCIAL SECURITY, ONE OF ITS   BIGGEST IMPACTS WAS THAT IT   MEANT THAT YOUNG PEOPLE IN THE   PRIME OF THEIR LIVES NO LONGER   HAD TO STAY BACK ON THE FARM AND   TAKE CARE OF THE OLD PEOPLE THAT   THEY DESCENDED FROM IN A TIME   WHERE OLD PEOPLE WERE LIKELY TO   STARVE TO DEATH OR COME VERY   CLOSE TO IT OUT IN THE COUNTRY,   YOU COULDN’T LEAVE THEM BEHIND.   SO BECAUSE OF SOCIAL SECURITY   AND LATER BECAUSE OF MEDICARE IT   ACTUALLY LIBERATED MILLIONS OF   PEOPLE TO ACTUALLY PURSUE   ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITIES.   THERE’S AN ARGUMENT LIKE THAT   AROUND THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT,   THAT I HAVEN’T REALLY HEARD MADE   VERY OFTEN AND I DON’T KNOW   WHETHER IT WOULD HOLD UP OR NOT   BUT THAT IT OUGHT TO ENCOURAGE   ENTREPRENEURIALISM AND THE   ABILITY FOR PEOPLE TO FEEL MUCH   MORE AT LIBERTY TO PURSUE   WHATEVER THEY WANT TO PURSUE.   BUT YEAH IT IS CURIOUS THAT   THOSE ASPECTS OF THESE THESE   — THESE BILLS ARE VIEWED PURELY   IN THIS LIBERAL, DEMOCRATIC SORT   OF CONSTRUCT, GOVERNMENT TOO BIG   OR GOVERNMENT TOO SMALL.   AND THERE’S A SIMILAR THING TO   THAT THAT’S STRIKING TO ME AND   YOU DON’T EVER REALLY ADDRESS IT   IN THE BOOK BUT YOU YOU OFFER A   LOT OF EVIDENCE OF IT.   YOU DESCRIBE A NUMBER OF THESE   IMPORTANT SEGREGATIONISTS OF THE   SOUTH AND HOW THEY EVOLVE OVER   TIME, BUT YOU, SEVERAL TIMES YOU   IDENTIFY PEOPLE AS   SEGREGATIONISTS OR WHITE   SUPREMACISTS BUT WHO HAD BEEN   VERY SUPPORTIVE OF GOVERNMENT   PROGRAMS TO HELP THE POOR AND   SOMETIMES YOU SAY SPECIFICALLY   THE POOR WHITE PEOPLE.   BUT THERE IS THIS INTERESTING   HISTORY OF SOUTHERN POLITICS   , WHERE UNTIL THE 1960S,   ESSENTIALLY EVERY SOUTHERN   POLITICIAN OF ANY CONSEQUENCE   ARGUED THAT THE GOVERNMENT   SHOULD BE DEEPLY INVOLVED IN   ELIMINATING POVERTY OR MAKING   POVERTY LESS DESPERATE BECAUSE   SO MANY PEOPLE WERE SO   DESPERATELY POOR.   BUT THEY ARE TALKING ONLY ABOUT   POOR WHITE PEOPLE.   AND THEN YOU GET TO THE 1960S   AND THIS LEGISLATIVE- THIS   LANDMARK LEGISLATIVE PERIOD AND   ITS THEN THAT POVERTY-   ANTI-POVERTY PROGRAMS AND   PRO-BLACK PEOPLE PROGRAMS BECOME   CONJOINED, THAT NOTION THAT THAT   THEY GO TOGETHER.   AND THAT’S ALSO WHEN SO MANY   WHITE POLITICIANS OF THE SOUTH   ABANDONED THE WHOLE IDEA OF THE   GOVERNMENT PLAYING A PART IN ALL   OF THAT.   BUT IS IS THAT A FAIR READ TO   HOW WE EVOLVED TO THE CURRENT   POLITICS?   JULIAN: YEAH I THINK THAT’S WHEN   THESE TWO ISSUES BECOME   CONFLATED.   SO, EVEN IF YOU TALK ABOUT A   SOUTHERN CONSERVATIVE THE   PRINCIPLE AREAS THEY WERE   CONSERVATIVES WERE RACE   RELATIONS AND UNIONS WHICH THEY   DIDN’T WANT COMING INTO THE   SOUTH.   BUT ON OTHER ISSUES LIKE FEDERAL   SUPPORT FOR RURAL AREAS, RURAL   ELECTRIFICATION, AGRICULTURAL   SUPPORT, POVERTY POLICY, THEY   WERE OFTEN COMFORTABLE WITH   THAT FEDERAL MONEY AS LONG AS IT   WAS CONTAINED AND CONTROLLED.   BUT THAT CHANGES IN THE   MID-1960S, SOME PEOPLE SAY THAT   THE WAR ON POVERTY FROM THE   START, EVEN THOUGH IT WAS FOR   ALL AMERICANS, THE REAL GOAL WAS   TO PROVIDE YET ANOTHER PILLAR   TO CIVIL RIGHTS.   THIS WAS ONE PART OF A BIGGER   CAMPAIGN TO CREATE RACIAL   JUSTICE BUT CERTAINLY FOR MANY   CONSERVATIVES THIS IS WHEN THEY   BACK OFF FROM ISSUES LIKE   FIGHTING POVERTY AND YOU HEAR   ARGUMENTS EITHER EXPLICIT OR   CODED THAT POVERTY POLICY IS   ABOUT POLICIES FOR AFRICAN   AMERICANS AND THAT’S VERY   DIFFERENT THAN WHAT IT WAS IN   THE ’60S OR EVEN THE REALITY OF   WHERE FEDERAL MONEY GOES SINCE   THE 1960S BUT THAT POLITICAL   ARGUMENT CERTAINLY EMERGES.   ONE STORY I FOUND BEFORE THE   RIOTS HAPPENED JOHNSON SENDS A   BILL TO CONGRESS, WHICH NO ONE   THINKS IS GOING TO BE   CONTROVERSIAL.   IT’S MONEY FOR RAT EXTERMINATION   IN CITIES, WHICH IS A HUGE   PUBLIC HEALTH PROBLEM AT THE   TIME.   IT’S NOT A LOT OF MONEY, BUT   THIS BUT THESE ARE GOING TO BE   GRANTS TO HELP COMBAT THIS   PROBLEM AND MOST PEOPLE THOUGHT,   THIS IS GONNA GO THROUGH.   WHO WANTS CHILDREN TO BE SUBJECT   TO BEING BITTEN BY RATS?   AND THEN THE RIOTS TAKE PLACE,   AND ALL OF A SUDDEN THIS   INCONSEQUENTIAL BILL GETS TIED   UP IN THE POLITICS OF RACE AND   THE POLITICS OF POVERTY.   CONSERVATIVES ATTACK THE BILL   AND SAY LOOK WHAT IS HAPPENING   IN THE RIOTS.   WE CAN’T SUPPORT THIS.   ONE CONSERVATIVE CALLS IT TO THE   “CIVIL RATS ACT” THAT JOHNSON’S   TRYING TO PUSH.   AND BY THE TIME THE RIOTS END,   THE BILL IS DEAD.   THAT’S A SMALL EXAMPLE WHERE YOU   CAN SEE JUST WHAT YOU’RE TALKING   ABOUT.   THOSE TWO AREAS OF POLICY START   TO BLEND INTO EACH OTHER.   DOUGLAS: WE ALSO FORGET, I   THINK, THE IMPACT OF THAT SORT   OF   PHENOMENON ON THE PERSPECTIVES   OF AFRICAN-AMERICANS.   BECAUSE HERE YOU HAVE THIS GROUP   OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE, IN A VERY   CIVIL WAY, ALL THROUGH THE   CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT FOR THE   MOST PART IN THE MOST POLITE AND   MANNERED AND UNPROVOCATIVE WAY   BEEN TRYING TO PUT FORTH JUST   THIS MORAL QUESTION THAT REALLY   WAS THE IDEA THAT NOT THAT WE   DESERVE THINGS BECAUSE THERE’S   SOMETHING SPECIAL ABOUT US BUT   THAT YOU’VE BEEN PROVIDING THESE   OPPORTUNITIES AND THESE BENEFITS   TO EVERYBODY ELSE FOR THIS   REALLY LONG PERIOD OF TIME.   WE’VE BEEN DEPRIVED OF IT.   WOULDN’T IT BE FAIR FOR THE   GOVERNMENT TO DO THE SAME THINGS   FOR US THAT IT DOES FOR THEM?   AND THEN, AT THE VERY MOMENT   THAT FINALLY THEY PREVAIL, THAT   SUDDENLY THIS ENORMOUS PART OF   THE ELECTORATE AND THE POLITICAL   COMMUNITY DECIDES, NO ACTUALLY   , WE SHOULDN’T BE INVOLVED IN   THE BUSINESS OF HELPING PEOPLE   IN THOSE WAYS AT ALL.   BUT THE IMPACT OF THAT ON   AFRICAN-AMERICAN THINKING AND   PERSPECTIVES ON AMERICAN LIFE   WAS PRETTY DRAMATIC.   JULIAN: AND IT’S NOT JUST FROM   CONSERVATIVES THAT THIS   HAPPENED.   THE OTHER BILL I TALK ABOUT IS A   BILL FOR OPEN HOUSING IN 1966.   JOHNSON SENDS THIS TO CONGRESS   AND HAS A LOT OF SUPPORT AMONG   LIBERALS.   IT’S BASICALLY TO PREVENT   DISCRIMINATION IN THE SALE OR   RENTAL OF HOUSING.   AND THIS WAS SEEN AS REALLY   CENTRAL TO THE NEXT PHASE OF   CIVIL RIGHTS.   MARTIN LUTHER KING IS THE PERSON   WHO’S HELPING GET SUPPORT FOR   THIS.   HE MOVES INTO AN APARTMENT IN   THE SLUMS OF CHICAGO TO BRING   NATIONAL ATTENTION.   BUT WHAT THE BILL INSTANTLY   REVEALS, THE PROPOSAL FOR THE   BILL, IT GETS STIFLED FOR TWO   YEARS, IS THAT A BACKLASH IS   BREWING AMONG DEMOCRATS WHO ARE   LIBERAL, NOT SIMPLY   CONSERVATIVE.   SO MANY DEMOCRATS FROM URBAN   AREAS, FROM WHITE/ETHNIC   CONSTITUENCIES, START TO REALLY   REVOLT AND EXPRESS THEIR   DISPLEASURE AT THE IDEA THAT THE   FEDERAL GOVERNMENT WILL GAIN THE   RIGHT TO HAVE A SAY IN WHO YOU   CAN SELL A HOUSE TO OR WHO YOU   CAN’T SELL YOUR HOUSE TO.   AND THAT’S PART OF HOW THE   MIDTERMS OF 1966 TURN AGAINST   LIBERALS IN A LOT OF AREAS IN   ILLINOIS.   SO THAT AFFECTS AFRICAN-AMERICAN   THINKING TOO, TO SEE THEIR OWN   PARTY, WHO HAD BEEN SUPPORTIVE   OF SO MANY PROGRAMS, START TO   BACK AWAY WHEN IT DEALT WITH   ISSUES OF NORTHERN CITIES.   DOUGLAS: IT’S ALSO INTERESTING   TO ME THAT, AT THE BEGINNING OF   THIS WHOLE PROCESS, THE VERY   FIRST PIECE OF LEGISLATION OUT   OF THE BOX IS THIS TAX CUT AND   HE GETS THAT OUT OF THE WAY   FIRST BEFORE HE THEN GOES INTO   THE SOCIAL LEGISLATION.   BUT THERE IS A MESSAGE THAT GOES   WITH THAT TAX CUT , WHEN HE’S   GETTING THAT FIRST BILL PUSHED   THROUGH COMMITTEE, WHERE HE   MAKES THE CASE THAT THIS IS NOT   GOING TO COST ANYTHING.   WE’RE GOING TO MAKE THIS BIG   CHANGE IN EXPANSION OF   GOVERNMENT, BUT THERE WE CAN CUT   THINGS OTHER PLACES AND WE CAN   STILL BALANCE THE BUDGET.   WE CAN STILL GET DOWN TO THE   NUMBER THAT THAT THAT THESE   CONSERVATIVES WANT.   AND THAT SETS THAT IN THAT ONE   MOMENT FREEZES WHAT REALLY HAS   BECOME THE SORT OF FANTASY THAT   THAT FANTASY THIS CURSE ON   AMERICAN POLITICS FOR THE LAST   FIFTY YEARS.   BUT THIS IDEA THAT WE CAN   ACCOMPLISH GREAT THINGS, OUR   GOVERNMENT CAN ALWAYS DO NEW AND   REMARKABLE THINGS, BUT IT CAN   ALWAYS BE DONE WITHOUT ACTUALLY   GETTING MORE REVENUE FROM THE   AMERICAN PEOPLE.   JULIAN: YES IT’S TRUE.   I MEAN IT’S IMPORTANT TO   REMEMBER THIS IS A PERIOD WHEN   TAX RATES FOR THE WEALTHY WERE   OVER 90% UM AND MUCH HIGHER.   KENNEDY HAD BEEN PUSHING FOR A   TAX CUT   THAT THE IDEA WAS TO GIVE   WORKERS, MIDDLECLASS AMERICANS   MORE MONEY.   THEY WOULD SPEND IT, AND IT   WOULD GROW THE ECONOMY.   AND I START THIS SECTION WHERE   JOHNSON BECOMES PRESIDENT WITH   THAT BILL, AND HE ENTERS INTO   THIS NEGOTIATION WITH HARRY   BYRD, WHO’S THE CHAIRMAN OF THE   SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEE, WHO’S   SAYING TO HIM, “I’LL PUSH THE   TAX CUT THROUGH, EVEN THOUGH IT   WILL INCREASE DEFICITS,” WHICH   BOTHERED HIM, “BUT ONLY IF YOU   KEEP YOUR BUDGET TO A   RELATIVELY LOW FIGURE.   ” AND JOHNSON DOES THIS.   LIBERALS IN HIS ADMINISTRATION   SAY, “WE CAN’T DO THIS.   YOU CAN’T START A ‘GREAT   SOCIETY’ WITHOUT MONEY.   YOU CAN’T CUT TAXES.   ” BUT JOHNSON’S SAYING, YOU   KNOW, THESE ARE THE GUYS WHO   CONTROL CAPITOL HILL, AND I’M   NOT GOING TO GET AWAY WITH MUCH   MORE, AND I WANT THIS TAX CUT.   SO HE DOES THAT.   THROUGHOUT HIS PRESIDENCY HE’S   ALWAYS VERY RELUCTANT TO ASK   FOR HUGE AMOUNTS OF FEDERAL   SPENDING.   IT IS, IN SOME WAYS, A GREAT   SOCIETY ON THE CHEAP   .   DOUGLAS: AND BECOMES A FAIRLY   PERNICIOUS AND CONSTANT ELEMENT   OF AMERICAN POLITICAL LIFE ON   BOTH SIDES OF THE EQUATION WHERE   WE, AND I THINK IT ALSO   ENCOURAGES THE NOTION THAT SINCE   IT IS AN AXIOM ACCEPTED BY ALL,   THAT WE SHOULD BE ABLE TO DO   MORE WITH THE SAME AMOUNT OF   MONEY.   AND SO THEN THE QUESTION IS WELL   WHERE DOES THE MONEY COME FROM,   IT MUST BE POSSIBLE TO MAKE   CUTS, WELL WE CAN’T CUT THINGS   THAT DO THAT ALREADY DO A GOOD   THING, SO IT MUST BE THAT THE   GOVERNMENT DOES BAD THINGS.   WE HAVE TO IDENTIFY WASTE AND   FRAUD AND THE BAD THINGS   GOVERNMENT DOES AND CUT FROM   THERE.   AND THEN THAT NOTION BECOMES   BROADLY ACCEPTED THAT THAT AT   ANY GIVEN MOMENT THERE ARE HUGE   AMOUNTS OF MONEY BEING WASTED BY   THE GOVERNMENT THAT’S, AND I’M   SURE THAT THERE WERE, BUT   PROBABLY NOT TO THE DEGREE THAT   WE’RE OFTEN LEFT TO BELIEVE.   AND SO WE HAVE REAGAN, PRESIDENT   REAGAN GIVES US STAR WARS ON THE   CHEAP, AS WELL IS IT, BUT WE WE   JUST BORROW THE MONEY TO DO IT.   AND SOCIAL AGENDAS OF OTHER   PRESIDENTS, AGAIN AND AGAIN AND   AGAIN, WE KEEP TRYING TO TO   SQUARE THIS UNSQUARABLE THING.   JULIAN: THAT’S WHAT HAPPENED   WITH THE WAR ON POVERTY WHEN HE   WHEN HE PROPOSES IT AND GETS IT   PASSED IN 1964.   HE DOESN’T ASK FOR A VERY BIG   BUDGET, IT’S MINISCULE AT THE   TIME.   HIS PLAN IS TO ASK FOR MORE   LATER ON.   BY THE FOLLOWING YEAR, HE’S   PLANNING FOR MORE BUT HE NEVER   GETS IT BECAUSE THE POLITICS   TURN AGAINST THE PROGRAM.   THE WAR ON POVERTY, WHICH, AS I   SAID, ACCOMPLISHED A LOT IS   ALWAYS VERY MEAGERLY FUNDED.   DOUGLAS: BEFORE WE RUN OUT OF   TIME, WE HAVE TO TALK FOR A FEW   MINUTES ABOUT THIS INCREDIBLY   KIND GIFT THAT WAS GIVEN TO YOU   BY HOLLYWOOD.   AND THAT WAS THE FILM SELMA.   AND YOU WERE DRAWN INTO SOME OF   THE QUESTIONS AROUND THE AROUND   THE ACCURACY OR BOTH THE SORT   OF TECHNICAL ACCURACY BUT ALSO   SORT OF THE LARGER, SUBJECTIVE   ACCURACY OF THE DEPICTION OF   JOHNSON IN PARTICULAR.   JULIAN: YEAH, IT’S BEEN AN   AMAZING EXPERIENCE I COULD SAY.   THE BOOK AND THE MOVIE CAME OUT   LITERALLY THE SAME WEEK.   I SAW THE MOVIE RIGHT WHEN IT   OPENED IN NEW YORK, A LITTLE   AHEAD OF THE NATIONAL OPENING.   I WAS QUITE MOVED BY THE MOVIE   GENERALLY.   THE BASIC MESSAGE OF THE FILM   WAS ONE THAT RESONATES WITH THE   BOOK, THAT A LOT OF THE CHANGES   THAT TOOK PLACE IN THE ’60S   WEREN’T JUST A PRODUCT OF   PRESIDENTS AND CONGRESS.   IT WAS A PRODUCT OF PEOPLE   TAKING TO THE STREETS, OF PEOPLE   MOBILIZING, ORGANIZING,   PROTESTING.   THE MARCHES IN SELMA WERE   ESSENTIAL TO GETTING JOHNSON TO   MOVE EARLIER ON A VOTING RIGHTS   BILL THAN HE WAS READY TO DO.   IT CAPTURES THE STRATEGIC UM   SKILLS OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, AT   TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHAT’S   GOING ON IN WASHINGTON, HOW DO I   CONNECT IT TO THE PROTESTS AND   HOW DO I BRING THIS ALL   TOGETHER?   IT ISN’T A GOOD PORTRAYAL OF   LYNDON JOHNSON, IT’S WRONG.   I’VE SAID THAT I DON’T THINK IT   GETS HIM RIGHT.   LYNDON JOHNSON BY 1965 IS FULLY   NOT JUST IN FAVOR OF VOTING   RIGHTS BUT COMMITTED TO IT.   HE BELIEVES THIS IS GONNA BE A   SIGNATURE BILL FOR HOW PEOPLE   REMEMBER HIM.   THE FIRST THING HE DOES ALMOST   AFTER BEING REELECTED IS TO TELL   NICK KATZENBACH, WHOSE GOING BE   THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, TO WRITE   UP A LEGISLATION SO IT’S READY   TO GO.   IN FEBRUARY OF 1965, ONE MONTH   BEFORE SELMA, KATZENBACH, SENATE   MAJORITY LEADER MIKE MANSFIELD,   AND EVERETT DIRKSEN ARE HAVING   DAILY NEGOTIATIONS IN DIRKSEN’S   OFFICE WHERE THEY DRINK BOURBON   AND SMOKE CIGARETTES, BUT THEY   BASICALLY COME UP WITH THE   FRAMEWORK FOR A VOTING RIGHTS   BILL.   AND THE BIG DEBATE IS OVER WHEN   TO SEND IT, NOT IF, NOT HOW   IMPORTANT IT IS.   AND KING UNDERSTOOD THIS, KING   AND JOHNSON WERE WORKING CLOSELY   TOGETHER DURING THIS PERIOD TO   FIGURE OUT HOW TO BREAK THROUGH   CONGRESS.   JOHNSON WANTED TO WAIT LONGER   THAN KING DID.   SO I THINK THE MOVIE MAKES A   MISTAKE.   I DO FEAR THAT THIS IS WHAT   PEOPLE WHO DON’T KNOW ANYTHING   ELSE ARE GOING TO TAKE AWAY, HE   WAS JUST A PRESIDENT OBSESSED   WITH SURVEILLANCE, NOT REALLY   INTERESTED IN VOTING RIGHTS, BUT   MORE IMPORTANTLY, IT MISSED   SOMETHING REALLY FUNDAMENTAL TO   THE PERIOD.   THAT YOU HAD A PRESIDENT   WORKING, COORDINATING, THINKING   THROUGH THE PROBLEMS OF A PIECE   OF LEGISLATION, WITH THE LEADER   OF A MOVEMENT THAT WAS SEEN AS   RADICAL AT THE TIME.   IT’S QUITE AMAZING TO SEE A   SOCIAL MOVEMENT AND THE WHITE   HOUSE WORKING TOGETHER.   SO I FEEL THAT THE MOVIE KIND OF   MISSED AN OPPORTUNITY WITH THAT.   I STILL TELL PEOPLE SEE THAT   MOVIE, IT’S ACTUALLY QUITE   IMPORTANT, AND THE HEART OF THE   MOVIE STILL OFFERS A VIEWER   SOMETHING REALLY REMARKABLE IN   UNDERSTANDING THE COURAGE IT   TOOK TO FIGHT FOR THIS BILL ON   THE STREETS OF SELMA.   DOUGLAS: HOW IMPORTANT IS IT   THAT FILMS LIKE THIS GET THINGS   RIGHT OR HOW CLOSE TO RIGHT THEY   GET THEM?   JULIAN: WELL, I DO THINK IT’S   IMPORTANT NOT TO GO TOO FAR, UM,   FROM, FROM HISTORICAL REALITY.   THIS IS AN ERA WHERE THIS IS THE   FIRST CUT OF HISTORY FOR MANY   PEOPLE.   AND THAT’S JUST A TRUTH, IT’S A   PROBLEM OF HOW CIVICS IS TAUGHT   AT HIGH SCHOOLS AND HOW MUCH   PEOPLE READ.   SO YOU DON’T WANT THEM TO SEE   MOVIES AND GET THINGS THAT ARE   FUNDAMENTALLY WRONG.   A PERSON SUPPORTED ONE THING BUT   IS PRESENTED AS NOT SUPPORTING   IT.   I DO THINK FILMMAKERS,   PLAYWRIGHTS, TELEVISION WRITERS,   HAVE FREEDOM TO PLAY AROUND WITH   CHRONOLOGY AND TO TELL THE STORY   IN THE WAY THEY WANT, TO MAKE   DRAMA WHERE IT MIGHT NOT EXIST.   THIS IS IMPORTANT, POLITICS IS   OFTEN JUST BORING.   YOU KNOW, IT’S CONVERSATIONS,   IT’S NEGOTIATIONS, IT’S NOT   ALWAYS HIGH MOMENTS OF THRILLING   INTERACTION.   SO, THAT’S PART OF WHAT   HOLLYWOOD CAN DO.   IT BRINGS IT TO LIFE, IT MAKES   IF VIVID, BUT I DO THINK THEY   NEED TO BE CAREFUL, AND I THINK   THIS IS A CASE WHERE IN SOME   WAYS THE FILM GOT TIED INTO   SOMETHING THAT WASN’T NECESSARY   AND GIVES AN INCORRECT   IMPRESSION ABOUT NOT JUST ANY   FIGURE, BUT THE PRESIDENT OF THE   UNITED STATES.   THE GOOD THING ABOUT THIS, WHEN   HOLLYWOOD DOES THIS, WHEN THEY   CREATE A CONTROVERSY, IN   ADDITION TO YOUR BOOK COMING OUT   AT THE SAME TIME, IS IT CREATES   A CONVERSATION ABOUT ISSUES THAT   ARE OTHERWISE NOT PART OF THE   DINNER TABLE.   SO, ALL OF A SUDDEN, PEOPLE   INCLUDING KIDS, ARE TALKING   ABOUT YOU KNOW WHAT WAS THE   RELATIONSHIP WITH THE PROTESTORS   AND THE WHITE HOUSE? HOW DOES A   BILL COME ABOUT? HOW DOES   WASHINGTON WORK? AND THAT’S ONE   OF THE THINGS I THINK THE   FILMMAKER’S ACTUALLY DONE WELL.   SHE STIMULATED A NATIONAL   CONVERSATION ABOUT ISSUES THAT   ARE RELEVANT TODAY.   DOUGLAS: WHY IS IT, OR AT LEAST   IN MY OBSERVATION, THAT MARCHES   AND SUCH TODAY MEAN NOTHING TO   US?   THEY MEANT A LOT THEN, SO MAYBE   THE REVERSE IT IS A QUESTION.   WHY DID THE FACT THAT A GROUP OF   BLACK PEOPLE WALKING DOWN THE   STREET, OR A HUNDRED THOUSAND   BLACK PEOPLE SHOWING UP IN   WASHINGTON, D.C. OR A GROUP OF   , VETERANS MARCHING THROUGH   WASHINGTON, OR YOUNG PEOPLE   ANGRY ABOUT THE VIETNAM WAR   HAVING SUCH AN IMPACT ON   PRESIDENT JOHNSON AND LATER IN   THE 1960’S, WHY DID THOSE EVENTS   MATTER IN A WAY THAT TODAY   THEY’RE LARGELY IRRELEVANT?   JULIAN: THAT’S A GOOD QUESTION.   I MEAN, PART OF THE ANSWER LIES   IN THE MOVEMENTS.   THE MOVEMENTS OF THE 1960S WERE   INCREDIBLY EFFECTIVE AT   COORDINATING WHAT WENT ON IN   WASHINGTON AND WHAT WENT ON IN   THE GRASSROOTS.   A LOT OF THESE PROTESTS WERE   ABOUT VERY SPECIFIC THINGS THAT   I THINK WAS QUITE IMPORTANT.   SO SELMA IS ABOUT A VOTING   RIGHTS BILL THAT’S ALREADY OUT   THERE AND THEY WANT TO MOVE IT   THROUGH.   AND I THINK THAT KIND OF FOCUS   AND COORDINATION MADE THE   MOVEMENT VERY POWERFUL.   YOU SAW THAT ON THE ANTI-WAR   MOVEMENTS, AND OTHER KINDS OF   PROTEST AT THE TIME.   YOU HAD LEADERS LIKE KING WHO   WERE VERY SHREWD AND STRATEGIC   AND UNDERSTOOD THAT WHAT   HAPPENED IN WASHINGTON WAS IN   THE END AS IMPORTANT AS WHAT   WENT ON IN THE STREETS.   HE DIDN’T SEE THE TWO AS   DISCONNECTED.   I THINK YOU CAN ARGUE SOME   MOVEMENTS, BOTH ON THE LEFT AND   THE RIGHT, ARE MORE FRAGMENTED   AND DISJOINTED AND DON’T HAVE A   THING THAT THEY’RE PUSHING FOR,   IT’S JUST PROTEST.   BUT IN THE END, THAT DOESN’T   HAVE AS GREAT EFFECT ON MEMBERS   OF CONGRESS.   PART OF IT IS ABOUT WASHINGTON.   SO, YOU KNOW, IF YOU HAVE   GERRYMANDERED DISTRICTS WHERE UM   A MEMBER OF CONGRESS DOESN’T   REALLY CARE WHAT’S GOING ON IN   THE STREETS SOMEWHERE ELSE, IT’S   NOT GONNA HAVE AS BIG EFFECT.   SO THAT TREND TOWARD INCUMBENCY,   WHICH IS AROUND IN THE 1960’S,   BUT CONTINUES TO ACCELERATE,   CERTAINLY DAMPENS PART OF IT.   AND THEN FINALLY THE MEDIA AND   HOW IT’S COVERED.   BACK THEN, IT’S QUITE DRAMATIC   HOW WHEN THESE PROTESTS TOOK   PLACE, MOST OF THE MEDIA FOCUS,   IT WAS A MEDIA WHERE THEY COULD   REACH A BROAD PART OF AMERICA.   SO IF YOU WANTED TO WATCH TV,   YOU WERE GOING TO SEE IMAGES OF   SELMA.   TODAY, IF THERE’S A MARCH ON THE   LEFT OR THE RIGHT, YOU CAN WATCH   TV AND IGNORE WHAT’S GOING ON IN   THE NEWS.   YOU COULD WATCH ON ANY CHANNEL,   ANY DEVICE.   AND I THINK THAT FRAGMENTATION   OF THE MEDIA OFTEN MAKES IT   HARDER FOR A MOVEMENT TO HAVE   THAT SAME KIND OF IMPACT.   NOT AS MANY PEOPLE ARE WATCHING.   THEY’RE NOT PAYING ATTENTION.   AND THAT WASN’T THE CASE BACK   THEN WHEN THERE WAS JUST A MUCH   MORE LIMITED NUMBER OF OUTLETS.   DOUGLAS: IN THE END, THIS BOOK   IS AN ARGUMENT AGAINST WHAT? OR   AGAINST WHOM? OR AGAINST WHAT   IDEA?   IS IT MASTER OF THE SENATE?   IS IT ROBERT CARO’S VERSION OF   LYNDON JOHNSON?   IS THAT WHAT YOU’RE CONTESTING?   JULIAN: I’M CONTESTING A GENERAL   APPROACH TO UNDERSTANDING   POLITICS THAT CENTERS   EXCLUSIVELY ON THE PRESIDENT.   AND THE ARGUMENT IS THAT YOU   HAVE TO UNDERSTAND HOW AND WHEN   CONGRESS CHANGES TO UNDERSTAND   WHY WE HAVE GREAT MOMENTS OF   POLITICAL CHANGE.   AND THE SECOND IS TO SAY THAT   IT’S NOT ENOUGH TO HAVE A   NOSTALGIA THAT CONGRESS IS   BETTER BACK THEN THAN IT IS   TODAY.   IT TAKES PEOPLE TO CHANGE   CONGRESS.   IT TOOK A CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT,   IT TOOK VOTERS IN 1964 TO MOVE   CONGRESS TO A PLACE THAT LYNDON   JOHNSON COULD EXPLOIT.   SO I AM ARGUING AGAINST UM A   GENERAL TENDENCY IN WRITING   ABOUT AMERICAN POLITICS, IN HOW   WE VIEW POLITICS TODAY, A   CONSTANT OBSESSION THAT THE   PRESIDENT IS THE ONLY PART OF   THE STORY.   DOUGLAS: A MESSIAH COMPLEX.   JULIAN: YEAH, THERE WAS ONE   ARTICLE ABOUT THE BOOK THAT   CAPTURED IT IN A SNAPPY TITLE.   FRANK BRUNI SAID MAN OF THE   MOMENT.   AND THIS IS ABOUT PUTTING THE   MOMENT BACK INTO THESE STORIES   AND UNDERSTANDING WHY WE GET A   MOMENT THE WAY IT WAS, AND HOW   THAT AFFECTS AMERICAN POLITICS.   AND NO ONE WOULD HAVE AGREED   MORE WITH ME, I THINK, THAN   LYNDON JOHNSON, WHO THROUGHOUT   THE TAPES I HEARD, WAS ALWAYS   TELLING PEOPLE TO WATCH OUT, NOT   TO HAVE TOO MUCH OF EXPECTATIONS   ABOUT WHAT A PRESIDENT COULD DO   ON HIS OWN.   AND JOHNSON, WHO UNDERSTOOD DOWN   DEEP, THAT WASHINGTON REVOLVED   AROUND THIS INSTITUTION ON   CAPITOL HILL AND THAT UNLESS YOU   DID THAT, UNLESS YOU GOT THE   CONGRESS YOU NEEDED, NOTHING WAS   GONNA GET DONE.   DOUGLAS: AND SO IN TERMS OF A   LESSON THAT CAN BE DRAWN OR A   SET OF LESSONS OR SOMETHING TO   HOPE FOR, WHATEVER IT MIGHT BE.   IN TERMS OF THE REMAINDER OF   THIS PRESIDENCY AND WHAT MAY   COME IN THE NEXT PRESIDENCY.   WHAT’S THE AND I KNOW HISTORIANS   HATE LESSONS, WE ASK FOR   LESSONS, BUT WHAT IS THE LESSON   THAT WE CAN DRAW FROM FROM YOUR   UNDERSTANDING OF THIS HISTORY   THAT HAS SOME REAL APPLICATION   EITHER TO THE CURRENT PRESIDENCY   OR THE NEXT ONE?   JULIAN: I THINK FOR THIS   PRESIDENT I DON’T HAVE MANY   LESSONS AT THIS POINT BECAUSE   CONGRESS IS WHAT IT IS AND   THERE’S GONNA BE LIMITS ON WHAT   HE CAN DO, PRESIDENT OBAMA,   OUTSIDE OF EXECUTIVE POWER.   BUT THERE IS A LESSON.   THAT IF PEOPLE ARE FRUSTRATED   WITH CONGRESS, IF PEOPLE THINK   THAT THIS SENATE AND HOUSE   GENERALLY HAVE BECOME   DYSFUNCTIONAL, THERE’S REALLY   TWO AVENUES YOU HAVE TO PURSUE   TO CHANGE THAT.   ONE IS MUCH MORE ATTENTION TO   MIDTERM ELECTIONS AND TO THE   CONGRESSIONAL ELECTIONS IN 2016.   BOTH REPUBLICANS WHO WANT A   DIFFERENT KIND OF PARTY AND   DEMOCRATS WHO WANT MORE POWER   CAN’T PUT ALL THEIR FINANCIAL   CHIPS IN THE PRESIDENTIAL   BASKET.   AND THE SECOND IS TO LOOK MORE   SERIOUSLY AT HOW CONGRESS WORKS.   LOOK AT THE CAMPAIGN FINANCE   SYSTEM.   LOOK AT THE WAYS DISTRICTS ARE   DRAWN.   UNLESS YOU DEAL WITH THOSE   FUNDAMENTALS, WE ARE   GUARANTEEING WE WILL HAVE THE   SAME CONGRESS IN THE NEXT TWO OR   THREE CYCLES.   AND THAT’S A LESSON OF THE BOOK   THAT THE GREAT CHANGE REALLY   COMES WHEN THOSE FUNDAMENTALS   ABOUT THE WAY THE LEGISLATIVE   PROCESS WORKS ARE TACKLED, ARE   DEALT WITH, AND ARE TRANSFORMED.   DOUGLAS: THANK YOU FOR BEING   HERE.   JULIAN: THANKS FOR HAVING ME.   DOUGLAS: JULIAN ZELIZER.   HIS BOOK IS THE FIERCE URGENCY   OF NOW.   TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK,   TO SEND US A COMMENT, TO   DOWNLOAD A PODCAST OF THIS AND   OTHER EPISODES, OR TO READ A   TRANSCRIPT, VISIT US AT   MILLERCENTER.   ORG, WHERE AMERICAN FORUM IS   AVAILABLE 24 HOURS A DAY.   I’M DOUG BLACKMON.   SEE YOU NEXT TIME.   [APPLAUSE]   [CAPTIONING PERFORMED BY THE   NATIONAL CAPTIONING INSTITUTE,   WHICH IS RESPONSIBLE FOR ITS   CAPTION CONTENT AND ACCURACY.   VISIT NCICAP.ORG]  

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