Lyndon Johnson's dire warning is more important than ever

Two days before the 1966 midterms, President Lyndon B. Johnson warned Americans about the danger of catering to "white backlash." His comments at a news conference are as important today as they were 53 years ago:

"I can think of nothing more dangerous, more divisive, or more self-destructive than the effort to prey on what is called 'white backlash.' I thought it was a mistake to pump this issue up in the 1964 campaign, and I do not think it served the purpose of those who did. I think it is dangerous because it threatens to vest power in the hands of second-rate men whose only qualification is their ability to pander to other men's fears. I think it divides this nation at a very critical time -- and therefore it weakens us as a united country.

"I think that the so-called 'white backlash' is destructive, not only of the interests of Negro Americans, but of all those who stand to gain from humane and farsighted government. And those that stand to gain from humane and farsighted government is everybody. Nevertheless, there are those who try to stimulate suspicion into hatred, and to make fear and frustration their springboard into public office. Many of them do it openly. Some let their henchmen do it for them. Their responsibility is the same.

"Racism -- whether it comes packaged in the Nazi's brown shirt or a three-button suit -- destroys the moral fiber of a nation. It poisons public life. So I would urge every American to ask himself before he goes to the polls on Tuesday: Do I want to cast my vote on the basis of fear? Do I want to follow the merchants of bigotry?"

Via CNN

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