On August 27, 1908 Lyndon Baines Johnson was born on a farm near Stonewall, Texas. He was a political animal if there ever was one. He grew up in an impoverished rural area and worked his way through a teachers’ training college before entering politics. He was known as brash and unvarnished.
In 1937, LBJ won a seat in the House of Representatives. This service was interrupted by World War II, during which he served in the Navy and won the Silver Star for bravery in combat in the South Pacific. When he came back from the war, he served several terms in the House of Representatives until he was elected to the Senate in 1948. John F. Kennedy chose Johnson as his running mate to gain southern votes. They never really got along that well and LBJ was frustrated. In 1963, Johnson was thrust into the role of president when JFK was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
Besides the war in Viet Nam LBJ embarked on what many have called the “Great Society” initiative. Yet, years later Medicare/Medicaid have almost become the single greatest policy failure of modern America in its urban policy. Since the era of Lyndon Johnson, the country has poured hundreds of billions of dollars into poor urban neighborhoods and still the violence and crime generated in these neighborhoods costs hundreds of billions more. And after all this time, all this money and all this energy, the inner city populations are worse off than before. There is more drug addiction and more social and family breakdown among this population than when the Great Society was launched. Walter Russel Meade wrote, “Put it all together and you have a holocaust of youth and hope on a scale hard to match.”
Can we to do better? The state of the American inner city is an unacceptable human tragedy. It is not just a redistribution of wealth from rich to poor as envisioned by Johnson – it is a systemic problem that in my estimation is more spiritual than political. We are trying to solve problems with money that instead require a change of heart and a willingness to have a vision more like that of Martin Luther King, Jr. We need an idealism that comes from spiritual leadership more than politics and law making.
LBJ was great at the art of compromise and political arm twisting but the real change that we need is found in a spiritual call – “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” ML King, Jr. Read 1 Samuel 8 and think about the role of political leaders in the past and now. We need a spiritual revival that reaches out and tears down walls and does not try to trap people in a new kind of serfdom.