"In The Garden Of The Beasts" is Erik Larson's terrifying 2011 account of the experiences of American Ambassador William Dowd and his family in Germany in 1933-34 as the Third Reich led a civilized nation into moral oblivion. As I prepared to lead a book discussion on "...Beasts", my mind inexplicably kept leaping to LBJ. When you've been distracted by a mind thread that seems to come out of nowhere do you ever try to unravel it? Will you indulge me as I unravel this one of mine?
I discovered in my pre-meeting research that historian David Halberstam - author of "The Best And The Brightest"- is an important influence on Erik Larson. That book got the thread started; JFK led to LBJ. But the rest of the puzzle eluded me until realizing - days after leading the book discussion - that what had cemented LBJ in my head was his famous remark that signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 would ensure the Democrats lost the Southern vote for fifty years. LBJ's uncanny political prescience was superseded only by his political bravery.
Ah, political bravery - the thread further unravels. In the mid 1930's - with respect to the rising menace of the Third Reich - political bravery was in short supply. And not just in the U.S., although that's where my thread jumped from FDR to LBJ. According to William Shirer in "The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich" - "That the allies could easily have overwhelmed Germany at this time, is as certain as it is that such an action would have brought the Third Reich to its end in the very years of its birth."
At the end of this thread was my admiration for LBJ who decided to face down his long time allies and political friends from the deep South. And there's little doubt LBJ - and the Democratic Party - paid a high political price for not letting those folks obstruct the moral arc of the universe. Just imagine if - in the mid 1930's - the U.S., France, Poland, had been so brave.