By Joey Kennedy
Alabama Political Reporter
Woody Harrelson is amazing as Lyndon Baines Johnson in the just-released movie LBJ.
I’m afraid this movie may not have legs. It’s showing in one theater in Birmingham, and my wife and I attended the Saturday afternoon matinee with maybe a dozen other people.
That aside, everybody should see this movie. I know LBJ isn’t on anybody’s radar these days. We have Trump, mass killings, and so much other stuff to occupy us.
Still, this biopic should be mandatory for anybody studying history or wanting to know about U.S. history.
LBJ was a vulgar man in many ways. He showed his scars and cursed and, at least in the movie, took dumps with the bathroom door open.
But if it weren’t for the Vietnam War, which he’s most identified with, Johnson would have to be considered one of the best presidents ever.
Coming from segregationist Texas, Johnson became president after John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Johnson’s state, in Dallas, on Nov. 22, 1963. Instead of turning away from Kennedy’s fairly progressive programs, Johnson embraced them, much to the chagrin of his Southern Democratic allies in Congress.
So during LBJ’s presidency, we got the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Medicare, Medicaid, and the beginnings of Head Start, among other progressive programs. He truly was building a Great Society. We need that kind of vision today.
Yet, we also got the expansion of the Vietnam War, a war we should have never been in, and one that I worried through my teen years if I’d have to be a part of. Oh, I was willing to go, but fortunately, for me, the draft ended right before I turned 18.
It’s unfortunate that LBJ is remembered for Vietnam. He should be remembered for what he accomplished on domestic policy. This conservative racist became a progressive politician who defied his Southern friends to enact some of the major reforms in caring for the working poor that our country still has today. Though, with today’s Republicans and Donald Trump, many of those programs are in jeopardy.
Because of Vietnam, Johnson decided not to run for office in 1968, basically giving Richard Nixon the White House, and we know how that turned out.
Harrelson does LBJ credit. And Jennifer Jason Leigh is wonderful as his adoring wife, Lady Bird Johnson. People have criticized the script for LBJ, but I think that’s unfair. The script is history. This isn’t fiction; this is real life.
The movie does a great job in weaving in the assassination of Kennedy, and Johnson’s response. He was right, despite objections from then Attorney General Robert Kennedy, to ask for an almost-immediate swearing-in as President of the United States of America.
Whatever happens, our government must continue, and any great lapse in a chief executive would create chaos in our nation and the world.
I know that a movie about Lyndon Johnson doesn’t sound sexy or worth seeing. But if Harrelson doesn’t win an Academy Award for his performance, he will be robbed.
Harrelson and LBJ gives this president his due. Do yourself a favor: See this movie.
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]