An unlikely pair of Texas presidents

AUSTIN, Texas — This city of nearly half a million straddles the Colorado River in Central Texas and is home to two distinctly different presidential flavors: Democratic and Republican. I realized this as I stepped out of The Hideout, a coffeehouse located just off Austin’s Sixth Street (akin to Kirkwood Avenue in Bloomington), and waited for two motorcades to pass by.

That was my first Presidential Encounter in Austin last week: I got to watch President-elect George W. Bush speed down the street, complete with a motorcycle escort and a bonus traffic jam for unsuspecting motorists. I was merely an inconvenienced pedestrian trying to go shopping. I couldn’t attempt to keep walking for another 10 minutes while I waited for Vice President-elect Dick Cheney’s motorcade to depart the Driskill Hotel. Bush was waving out the window; Cheney appeared to be using a cell phone.

My second Presidential Encounter of the week was by choice: I visited the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum at the University of Texas at Austin. I also visited the Johnson Settlement located 50 miles west of Austin in the Hill Country, to see where our 36th president grew up.

I was swept away by both: taking a break in the Hill Country, I sat down and looked at the landscape that surrounded me. It was by no means a lush environment, but it was a hearty environment, one that develops character in people — Rugged American Individualism at its best — and an understanding that government serves a purpose in the life of people.

At the LBJ museum, one gains an appreciation for the former president and his momentous works. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act, the Clean Air Act and Head Start are examples of LBJ’s impressive legacy.

Although Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, it was LBJ who gave their great-great grandchildren the freedom to participate in our democracy.

Without a doubt, LBJ was a president who desired to do good for his country. He drew upon his experience growing up in poverty to become a more compassionate and decent man whose chief domestic policy goals were to eliminate poverty and raise the standard of living for all. A war he inherited — one that right wing anti-Communists wanted escalated and one that the left wing wanted finished — hampered him. It could be said Vietnam ended up costing LBJ his job.

But the basic facts remain: LBJ was a decent man. He wanted to do the right thing for the people of the United States, something that appears to stand in stark contrast to the aspirations of the latest president-elect to come from the state of Texas.

Bush was born rich, stayed rich and only as an adult realized he was interested in politics. He wants to give the rich a tax break under the assumption that since they pay the most they deserve the biggest break — there’s nothing like a regressive tax scheme that punishes the poor for being poor. Two of the most important components of life in America face reversal under Bush’s administration: civil rights and environmental protection.

First, with former Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft as attorney general, protection of key civil rights, such as the right to an abortion, will fall by the wayside. I also suspect a full investigation into the voting rights abuses that occurred in Florida will never take place — something LBJ was active in trying to prevent.

Second, with Bush announcing he is interested in drilling for oil in the Alaskan wilderness, we have a threatened environment. Regulatory powers will be shifted to the states and the ensuing race to the bottom will be sickening

Bush’s agenda, if he can successfully carry it out, appears to be in direct opposition to the LBJ legacy.

I’m not sure, but I imagine that the people of Austin will be glad to be rid of Bush, just to get him out of their town. It’s unfortunate that we have been saddled with him instead.

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