In a 1964 recorded phone conversation Lyndon Johnson tells Richard Russell, his mentor in national politics, that he would like to abandon Vietnam. But he repeats his decision to escalate because he feels the Republicans would damage him politically if he didn’t. No I’m not suggesting that Republicans bear primary responsibility for a war that is now widely considered a mistake. We’ve been told where the buck stops. I mention the incident as part of a pattern of which it may have been the beginning.
Every Democratic President since LBJ has been hounded and forced to “compromise” with considerable success by strident opposition that could hardly be called “loyal,” perhaps none more than the current White House occupant. The firing of Shirley Sherrod is the most recent evidence of this pattern. Obama had to have approved it, although I doubt he anticipated the disrespectful manner in which it was done. Whatever his personal feelings, he was reacting to the sounds of the footsteps from the racist right. I believe similar fear from opposition hawks, rather than personal conviction, was the basis of his decision to send more troops to Afghanistan.
Intimidation by the political right has also been effective in Congress. Some Democrats who voted for the Iraq war resolution may have believed the “intelligence” presented by the Bush administration. In my opinion most were influenced by the fact that Republicans scheduled the vote two months before the 2002 elections while the country was still fired up by 9/11. The point can be made that every war from Vietnam until today has at least been stoked, if not initiated, by Republicans. Difference of opinion on military matters in general has broken consistently along party lines, if Congressional votes and polls are any indication.
The familiar GOP battle cry, “they all do it” doesn’t fit every situation. Roughing up and intimidating virgin presidents from the other party is a field of particular Republican expertise. Can you imagine Ronald Reagan or either of the Bushes receiving the treatment Obama is now getting? The civility once pervading politics has become a relic. Somebody should inform the Democrats.