Monday, May 23, 2016

All the Way on HBO and its Relevance to Hillary

I saw All the Way on HBO last night.  I thought this movie about the Texas politician and Vice President who became President on the day of what I still see as the worst public event in my lifetime - the assassination of JFK in November, 1963 - was outstanding for at least part of the way, in its portrayal of LBJ's mastery of domestic policy.  But it was frustrating for what it barely addressed - how Lyndon Baines Johnson messed up so badly in foreign policy, in Vietnam.

I came of age in the 1960s.  Not only was I devastated by the murder of JFK and his zest and idealism, but I appreciated and cheered the way Johnson came back with extraordinary Civil Rights legislation and all kinds of pathbreaking law for life in America, such as Medicare.  For a very short time, it looked as if the future could survive what happened to JFK. And then the Vietnam War, not started by LBJ but prosecuted and expanded by him, shattered all of that forever, or certainly at least until this very day.

All the Way does a great in job in showing how Johnson brought into being those domestic miracles, how he played the necessary Senators and recalcitrant parts of the country like a chess master moving pieces on a board.  Bryan Crantson gives an astonishingly  good performance, capturing every bit of Johnson's swagger, political cunning, vulgarity, wisdom, and insecurity.  Anthony Mackie and Bradley Whitford are spot-on and memorable in their portrayals of MLK, Jr. and the hapless Hubert Humphrey.   The deliveries and demeanors of the Senators and other players in this movie don't miss a beat.

Did LBJ really believe in civil rights and other domestic revolutions he championed and succeeded in putting into Federal law?  At the time, I was pretty sure he did, and All the Way - assuming that LBJ's words and expressions in the movie are based on truth - reinforces and satisfies that sense.

But what went wrong with LBJ in Vietnam?  All the Way provides little more than a shadow of that calamitous development, and thus not much help in understanding how and why it happened that the U.S. got drawn into this unconstitutional, disastrous war.   When it has happening, my best explanation was that Johnson was just over his head when it came to foreign policy, unable to navigate and parse what his generals and advisors were telling him, and above all not wanting to appear weak or indecisive. He just lacked the requisite experience.

Which brings this movie back to 2016 and its relevance to a decision facing all Americans today.   Though Hillary Clinton is not without her failings, including in foreign policy, she has far and away the most foreign policy experience of the three candidates still standing - easily more than Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump's experience in foreign policy is zero.  Hillary Clinton, as a former Secretary of State, has more experience in seeing to America's best interests in the world than anyone other than a former President or Secretary of State.

LBJ's error in Vietnam, just hinted at like a hurricane on the horizine in All the Way, changed the United States for the worse in a way that has endured to this very day.  Given the challenges that our country now faces in the world, we need someone in the White House with enough experience to avoid making an equivalent mistake in the next few years, which could have far worse consequences than what happened in the 1960s.   Thank you HBO for bringing home this point so effectively, though it was likely not your intention.   In the short and long run, All the Way may be more important for what it didn't actually show on the screen.

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