HBO presented the Tony winning play from Broadway this weekend with Bryan Cranston leading an ensemble of amazing actors to put life into that time when LBJ did actually transform the nation. It was an amazing perspective on reality, personal frailty, and what it took to really change America. It was also a window into everything that is going on today and anyone watching it could not help asking themselves, does history never stop repeating itself? There was the South fighting any change that might give blacks (negroes in those times) real equal representation. They are still fighting that change today 50 years later in the form of gay and transgender rights. They still use the Bible and claims of freedom to spew their discrimination. State’s rights is still code for hate and disenfranchisement. I don’t mean to pick on the South, but there it is.
Probably one of the more interesting tug of wars that is so important today is between doing what is right and the reality of politics. LBJ delayed the Voting Rights Act because he could not get the Civil Rights Act through Congress with the resistance from Southern Democrats. It in many ways was the lesson of Abe Lincoln on freeing the slaves. The right thing to do (Emancipation Proclamation) was down the road from the compromises he offered the South until we escalated into civil war. So fast forward till today and we have the Bernie/Hillary fight where Bernie wants radical change and Hillary wants incremental change. Oh, and the Republicans want no change. Is the lesson here, like for LBJ, that we must be politically practical and drag the conservatives kicking and screaming into the future?
I would say yes and no. It has become fairly obvious that the conservatives have just about everything wrong, whether it is LGBT rights, or the economy, much less global warming. If we had rational politics and we saw some movement then I would agree with incrementalism. But we simply don’t and most people are in denial about that. We are actually moving backwards as a conservative loaded judiciary has destroyed the Voting Rights Act, we see religious rights as a tool to discriminate again, and nothing, absolutely nothing that moves the country forward is going to get through a Republican controlled Congress. There are no levers that we saw LBJ wield.
So the lesson of LBJ using his political skills to move the country forward may not be viable anymore. That is what Barack was trying to do. The outrage shown by the more radically prone blacks in All the Way was resisted by Martin Luther king seeing (and being helped to see) that winning a battle was not winning the war. But today? Global Warming is now irreversible, economic inequality is growing like an aggressive cancer, and conservatives again want to use state’s rights as an excuse to disenfranchise people they don’t agree with. And they have shown us they won’t compromise unless the compromise is capitulation by the other side. We have been trying incrementalism and we are back sliding.
So all in all, the lessons of All the Way are that nothing really changes. The forces of fighting change use the same tired rhetoric and lies to keep us all from advancing. Sometimes you have to compromise to move forward, and people and politics are complex. Strength may appear as weakness, and weakness may actually be strength. But the lesson of today is if the other side is unwilling to compromise, and politics of yesterday don’t work, we may have to try something new.
Oh, and I saw All the Way on Broadway and Bryan Cranston and the cast had me riveted in my seat. Maybe that is why it won the Tony for best Dramatic Play, and best Dramatic Actor. It was riveting again last night as I watched the film production. I see another Emmy coming Cranston’s way.