Friday, October 31, 2008

Remembering Lady Bird Johnson: Liz Carpenter: A Hillary supporter's case for voting for Obama

In 1960, Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson took a whistle stop train tour on behalf of Kennedy-Johnson ticket through a number of small towns, including my family's hometown of Culpeper, Virginia. I have always remembered Lyndon Johnson's words as he left Culpeper in the dust -- "What has Richard Nixon ever done for Culpeper?" It amused Culpeper citizens and my family at the time and it still makes me chuckle today. I thought of that campaign fondly as I read Liz Carpenter's piece about a later campaign by the Johnsons. I hope you enjoy it. . . . Womanpolitico -- Kay Slaughter

06:11 PM CDT on Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Liz Carpenter was press secretary to Lady Bird Johnson from 1963 to 1969 and is a best-selling author. Jim Comer is a speaker and the author of "When Roles Reverse: A Guide to Parenting Your Parents."

Forty-four years ago this month, I boarded a train at Washington's Union Station with Lady Bird Johnson for a 1,682-mile whistle stop campaign. We stopped 47 times, in towns large and small. Along the way, Lady Bird faced down hecklers, spoke to hundreds of thousands of voters and made history. Just three months earlier, President Johnson had signed the Civil Rights Bill of 1964, which ended discrimination in public accommodations. For the first time, African-Americans had full access to restaurants, hotels, theaters and public transportation. Many Southerners were furious with the president.

But we couldn't write off the South in the election, and, with her blend of gentility and grit, Lady Bird was the perfect surrogate. As I planned her schedule, she told me, "Don't give me the easy towns, Liz. Let me take the tough ones."

While her charm came through, she did not mince words. In a Southern accent that she shared with her audiences, she said, "The hard duty of assuring equal constitutional rights to all Americans falls, not only on the president but on all who love this land. I am sure we will rise to that duty. We are a nation of laws, not men, and our greatness is our ability to adjust to the national consensus."

Those words were powerful but not popular. We faced hecklers at some stops, crude signs at others, and even death threats. Our roughest moments came in Charleston, S.C., where the hecklers would not stop, and neither would Lady Bird. Her courageous words got through, overwhelming the messengers of hate.

More than four decades have passed. I turned 88 a few days after the Democratic Party nominated an African-American as its candidate for president.

Much credit goes to President Johnson who persuaded senators to pass a tough civil rights bill after a hundred years of filibuster and delay. Barack Obama's nomination would not have been possible without presidential leadership and the work of thousands of unsung heroes, some who gave their lives to ensure "equal justice under the law."

Although I was an enthusiastic Hillary Clinton supporter in the primaries and feel she would make a great president, I believe her spirited contest with Mr. Obama strengthened each of them. For the last four months of the campaign, the two major candidates agreed on 90 percent of the issues.

While I look forward to the day we have a woman in the Oval Office, I'm happy to endorse Barack Obama. He is right on the issues, smart and unafraid to surround himself with people who challenge his views.

Hillary has made scores of speeches supporting Mr. Obama. If she can get over her loss, so can we. Any Democrat who considers supporting John McCain must count the cost of such a vote: Four more years of Bush policies, the continuation of the war in Iraq, expanded tax cuts for the rich, no progress in health care reform, right-wing Supreme Court justices and a vice president who is profoundly unprepared to be president. Sarah Palin is against everything the women's movement stands for: She may be female in gender, but she's a good old boy at heart.

As I cast my ballot, I'll be remembering 1964 and the Lady Bird Special slowly winding its way through the South. I'll hear the cheers and the hecklers. I'll recall the soft-spoken courage of Lady Bird, who went into her beloved South and campaigned for long-overdue change.

And I'll picture a 3-year-old named Barack Obama who grew up, believing that he, too, had a chance to become president.

Liz Carpenter was press secretary to Lady Bird Johnson from 1963 to 1969 and is a best-selling author. Jim Comer is a speaker and the author of "When Roles Reverse: A Guide to Parenting Your Parents
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