Interview with Harry McPherson
QUESTION 19
PAUL STECKLER:

The view from the White House of politics, are we going to roll out?

PAUL STECKLER:

In the 1966 election, President, ah, Ronald Reagan is elected Governor of California, in lieu--after Watts. Lester Maddox is elected Governor of Georgia, you get a resurgence of racial tension. From the White House, did they view this as a conservative swing in America? Is that what you were feeling at that point?

HARRY MCPHERSON:

Let me tell the story. In 1965 at the end of the greatest legislative year in modern American history, Voting Rights Act, consumer legislation, environmental legislation, anti-poverty legislation, wonderful achievements. Johnson tried one last thing and that was home rule for the District of Columbia. That had been a long sought liberal goal. The bill was held up in the House of Representatives and to get it out required a two thirds vote. So, Johnson put all of us on the phone to members of the House, asking them for their vote to release the bill for home rule for the District. We ran into problems from people that I never expected to hear those problems from. People who had voted with us on civil rights legislation, said, "Well, you know the District of Columbia is different. It's the national city and not just a local city." I began to hear a tone that was different. And I think it had a lot to do with the District having become a Black city.



HARRY MCPHERSON:

In 1966, ah, an awful lot of people in the House of Representatives who had been elected in the landslide in '64, elected in basically Republican seats, ah, were defeated after one term. Ah, the President's popularity had begun to slide. Ah, we were in Asia, ah, during the campaign, Johnson was at a Manila Conference and then traveling around Asia, ah, and we lost 40 seats. Most Presidents lose in the mid-term election. We lost a lot. What we really lost was the ability to push through the really big programs. If Johnson had wanted to push through a doubling of the, what we might call the social budget, education and health and so on, to push through a tax increase to pay for them at the same time taking care of the military expenditures in Vietnam. If he had wanted to do all that, I think he could not have because we had lost that cushion of votes in the Congress that had enabled the Great Society to be put through in the first place. There was still, on the Hill, ah, a lot of committee chairmen who had served for decades with Lyndon Johnson as a Senator and a Congressman and they still got through some legislation simply, as they put it, "Because Lyndon wants it." They would vote it through. Ah, but not the big things, not, not the heroic agenda of 1964 and '65. By '66, '67 it had become a much drier creek bed and not the torrent that it had been before.

PAUL STECKLER:

Cut please. That was very nice.