Steve Patterson: “Listen to Lyndon, Joe!”

LBJ and Russell
May 3rd, 2021     Guest Authors


The year was 1963. Medgar Evers had been murdered outside his home in Jackson Mississippi. Lyndon Baines Johnson had just ascended to the presidency. LBJ’s Southern segregationist allies held the reins of power in the Congress. The ardent segregationist, Georgia Senator Richard Russell, was the new President’s beloved mentor and was demanding that the new administration not use precious political capital to advance civil rights and voting rights for African Americans. Jim Crow was flying high, but was he in retreat or was he preparing an all-out assault on a second front? The answer would totally depend on the new President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Steve Patterson

Steve Patterson, at his home in Como, MS.

LBJ did not hesitate. He told Senator Russell, “Dick, I love you. I owe you, but if you challenge me on these civil rights bills, I’m going to run over you!”

LBJ sprang into action using all the tools in his political arsenal. The Johnson “treatment” in lobbying members of Congress is now legendary. He would famously draw members uncomfortably close to him, stabbing them in their chest with his index finger as he made each of his points. Flattery, threats, promises, reminders of past favors and future opportunities were commonplace in his persuasive presentations. Johnson was tough as nails, but he also understood the needs and motivations of each member he lobbied. He would often extol members to “Get on the right side of history!” Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey later recalled, “The President grabbed me by the shoulder and damn near broke my arm!” Cajoling, and persuading by any means necessary were the hallmarks of the Johnson “treatment.”

Most historians agree, the Johnson “treatment” saved the day for the civil rights bills. By most counts, over a dozen Senate votes were changed, which paved the way for the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965. It is worthy of note that these bills passed with majority Republican support. I might add that it was a vastly different Republican Party than today’s GOP, with its “Anglo-Saxon” caucus in charge .The Presidency and the Congress had indeed finally gotten on “the right side of history.”

“… until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men’s skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact.” Lyndon Baines Johnson


Today, America is again faced with a critical decision about one of democracy’s most cherished rights —- the right to vote. It’s “High Noon” in the nation’s capitol, and once again Jim Crow is flying high, but this time there’s no doubt about his intentions. The stakes are high, the highest they have been since ole Mr. Jim Crow was born in the 1870’s and reached maturity in the 1890’s!

Any honest look sees that our electoral process is being stolen, state by state, in plain view by Republican lawmakers who know no shame. In state after state, Republican governors and state legislators are on a crusade to rig election laws so that folks who are not likely to vote for them are deemed ineligible to vote and not deserving of a voice. Who are these folks that their “righteous” laws seek to disenfranchise? You guessed it —- they are African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Latino Americans, pretty much anyone that’s not pure Caucasian, or “Anglo-Saxon,” as some like to say these days. But the authors of these draconian efforts are not content to merely target non-whites; they also disadvantage seniors, union members, college students, immigrant families, and anyone else who shows the slightest tendency to vote for Democrats. Their view is that America can never be great again unless we return to the “good old days” of our founding when only white male landowners were allowed to vote and participate in our experiment with representative democracy.

By outrageously, and with absolutely no evidence, claiming that massive electoral fraud exists, Republicans all across America are enacting restrictive voter laws designed to suppress the vote and create burdensome, bureaucratic, barriers to voting. It’s the biggest load of horse dung dumped on the American public in years, and these architects of chaos know it!

In fact, they freely and brazenly admit it! In one recent Supreme Court case, they actually argued “we can’t win” unless these voter restrictions are allowed! Make no mistake, these Republican partisans know their lineup of kooky candidates and their anti-people, corporate-loving agenda cannot garner majority support. So they are left with no option other than rigging the system in their favor by denying a whole lot of folks their citizenship rights! The Brennan Center for Justice recently reported that at least 235 bills have been introduced in 43 states to further obstruct citizens’ right to vote!

“A man without a vote is a man without protection.”

Lyndon Baines Johnson

Fortunately, the current voter suppression laws have not yet been planted in Jim Crow’s home state of Mississippi. Voter suppression in Mississippi usually comes in sneakier ways, like moving precincts at the last minute or arbitrarily removing registered voters from the voter rolls. But hold on, be patient, for these Jim Crow-friendly laws are bound to soon arrive at the steps of our state capitol! Even Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson, whose job includes overseeing elections, recently admitted that Republicans could never win another national election if everyone voted. As if that wasn’t enough, he then went on to criticize “woke, uninformed college students” and their ability to sway elections in the state if they were allowed to vote. Apparently, he was following the lead of the Einstein we elected as our junior United States senator, who made similar comments last year.

Imagine we’re in the middle of an old-fashioned Western. It’s “high noon “in the nation’s capitol. The streets have been cleared. The children, elderly, and timid have sought safe shelter.

Jim Crow and his Republican followers are arrayed on the south end of town. They control most state legislatures and have passed an avalanche of voter suppression laws making it more difficult to vote. Importantly, they have high hopes of gerrymandering congressional seats and regaining control of the House of Representatives in a few months.

And congressional Democrats armed with the memory of Medgar, Martin, and John Lewis are gathered on the opposite end of town. They have a comprehensive 791 page “For the People Act,” which establishes national standards for conducting elections. It makes voting easier, not harder, and places faith in the wisdom of the American people!

Which side will win this shoot out? Will the Outlaw Jim Crow survive to fight another day? Or will America finally live up to her promise of justice for all? Will our democracy finally become truly democratic, or will it rest in the comfortable care of autocratic elites? Will we finally “get on the right side” of history?

Well, the answer to these questions ultimately rests in the lap of our newly elected President Joe Biden. Joe is no LBJ, but this is not 1963, either. I’m more than confident in the President’s persuasive political skills and his abilities as a navigator of complex legislation. I know first-hand he can be one tough bulldog. Ultimately, the Biden “treatment” will resemble LBJ in more ways than most folks realize. I’ve seen Biden get down in a three point stance and charge toward the goal line!

LBJ understood how to use power.

LBJ understood what history demanded of him. Joe Biden does too. After all, as LBJ told Senator Russell, “What the hell is the use of being President if you don’t use it in times like this?”

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