Just how bad are things today? Let’s compare. Exactly 50 years ago, the Vietnam War was raging — the Tet offensive had begun and 30,000 more troops went to Vietnam while the war dead were returning home in body bags.
Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, race riots broke out in almost every large city in America, and one political party’s convention became a domestic war zone. In Europe, Czechoslovakia’s Prague Spring was crushed by a bellicose Soviet Union.
Even before being elected, Richard Nixon was interfering with foreign policy in his own interests. President Lyndon B. Johnson was driven from office, and he was succeeded by a man who would end up resigning in disgrace.
Imagine if all of this had been covered by cable news 24/7? We would have had a national breakdown.
In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, Jeff Schechtman talks with Arizona State University professor Kyle Longley, who has written extensively about Johnson and 1968.
Longley reminds us how angry and frustrated the American people were throughout that decade. During the 1966 midterms, the Democrats lost 47 House seats. Johnson, who had sought power and the presidency his entire life, was watching the world spin out of his control. We learn much about the inability of even so well prepared a leader as LBJ to handle so many crises simultaneously.
By the end, Johnson had clearly lost his political grip, and his manic behavior, as seen through today’s lens, was troubling. What’s most striking, Longley tells Jeff Schechtman, is how many of the same themes and issues of race, class, political corruption, nuclear disarmament, Russia, and the limits of American power once again unsettle the US this year.
Kyle Longley is the author of LBJ’s 1968: Power, Politics and the Presidency in America’s Year of Upheaval (Cambridge University Press, February 22, 2018).