1964 Presidential campaign. [LBJ Library photo by Cecil Stoughton. #C779-46-WH64]

What the 2012 Election Is Really All About

Oct 01, 2012

by Joseph A. Califano, Jr.

[Originally published in Huffington Post on 10-01-12]

More than any other candidate or issue, the election of 2012 is all about the extraordinary legacy of America's most overlooked, complicated, liberal and legislatively productive president, Lyndon B. Johnson and his Great Society.

Barack Obama is the first African American to occupy the highest office in the land. Can anyone doubt that Obama owes his presidential opportunity to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Civil Rights Act of 1964, and LBJ's commitment to give African Americans a fair shot at educational and economic opportunity?

The demography of the electorate has been recast not simply by LBJ's domestic civil rights legislation, but by his repeal of the National Origins Act of 1924. That Act restricted immigration to white Protestants (largely British and northern Europeans), in reaction to the flood of Italian and Irish Catholics, Jews and Eastern Europeans that entered the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Hours after the Voting Rights Act was passed, Johnson was phoning senators to pass his Immigration Reform Act to eliminate those restrictions. When he signed the bill beneath the Statue of Liberty two months later, he said, "Never again will the twin barriers of prejudice and privilege shadow the gate of freedom." read more

Joseph A. Califano Jr. was President Lyndon Johnson's chief assistant for domestic affairs and Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare from 1977 to 1979. He is Founder and Chair Emeritus of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.