Civil rights meeting. [LBJ Library photo by Yoichi Okamoto. #W425-19]

Obama: The Black LBJ

May 14, 2012

by Jason Stanford

The black Kennedy has become the black LBJ.

In the hyper-political circles I travel in, the release of Robert Caro's latest Lyndon Johnson biography, The Passage of Power, was received with the glee that's usually reserved for an Obama rally. To paraphrase Joe Biden, the fourth book in Caro's promised five-volume LBJ biography is a big flipping deal.

So when Obama came out for gay marriage, I couldn't help thinking about a passage early in Caro's book in which his aides cautioned him against spending political capital on the Civil Rights Act. "What the hell's the presidency for?" asked Johnson. Johnson rose through the legislative ranks as a segregationist Southerner, so when he ended a speech to a joint session of Congress with the phrase "We shall overcome," Johnson fundamentally changed the American political landscape.

That's the nearest equivalent to Obama's evolution on gay marriage, but apparently it's not change that Republicans can believe in. The leader of the Log Cabin Republicans, the pro-gay outhouse for the Republicans big tent, even called Obama's support for marriage equality "offensive and callous" because it came the day after North Carolinians banned same-sex marriage in their constitution.

When LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act, Johnson told an aide, "We have lost the South for a generation." Obama should have an easier time of it because Democrats have already lost the Deep South, where a good chunk of people still don't approve of interracial marriage. The rest of the country has moved on. read more