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Politics & Polls #17: All The Way

October 26th, 2016, 8:57pm by Sam Wang

We took a break from the current political season to talk with Robert Schenkkan, who wrote the play “All The Way.” It’s the story of President Lyndon Johnson and his monumental effort in his first year in office to get the Civil Rights Act passed. This event fascinates me because of its importance for equality in the United States, and because it triggered the single greatest political realignment in modern history. The 2016 campaign grew out of the tensions of 1964.

Schenkkan wrote a great play that got turned into a movie. He stayed pretty close to the historical events, and managed to make a discharge petition sound exciting. Honest, it’s true. This thing is as realistic than any political drama I know of, up there with All The President’s Men and Veep. Julian Zelizer and I had fun talking with him in this special episode of Politics & Polls.

Tags: 2016 Election · Politics

22 Comments so far ↓

  • Randal

    I’m glad that LBJ is getting the credit he deserves for what he did in this era. His legacy must own the decisions he made in Vietnam, and the costs that we paid for them, but a fair assessment must also acknowledge his masterful use of the levers of power to begin the process of bringing a sense of justice into our government and our society. I still get chills when I listen to his speech in Congress, and hear that southern drawl as he says “we shall overcome”. We are still overcoming, with far to go, but he took a brave and necessary step in that journey, at great personal and political cost for himself and his party.

  • Amitabh Lath

    I heard that Fermilab (then known as the National Accelerator Laboratory) was sited in Illinois because LBJ needed Senator Dirksen’s support to pass the Civil Rights bill. Dirksen was a super-senator who could deliver a lot of votes.

    The original design was an upgrade to the Berkeley Bevatron, which had discovered the antiproton in 1955.

    It paid off for Illinois. I remember going on a field trip to the lab in the mid 1970’s and it was all cornfields. Now the entire area (Naperville etc) is a technology corridor.

    • anonymous

      Interesting. These quid pro quos were routine even before Johnson. The only reason there is a National lab in Oakridge, Tennessee is that FDR needed a couple of billion dollars secretly for the Manhattan project and the senator in charge of the finance committee happened to be from Tennessee.

  • Julian

    Had the great fortune to get tickets to see this on tour in Dallas. As a late Gen Xer, it was absolutely gripping, while providing people like me more context for the social/political events of those years. As one who learned about these events only from textbooks and casual mentions at extended family gathering, this was huge. So many of the themes of 1964 resonate today (esp. Wallace’s disruptive influence), the widespread public expression ugly sentiments, and politicians who sometimes go to extreme measures to do the right thing (or avoid doing the right thing).

  • AP

    Very interesting discussion. I was particularly intrigued by Prof. Zelizer saying that we know things through art, whereas Mr Shenkkan advocated the maximum freedom, whereas he can make up events and dialogue as long as they are not completely implausible. So his LBJ is a fictional character loosely inspired by the real person. I wonder how that can be called knowledge of LBJ, how the former president would feel about it. The other thing that stood out for me is the parallel with Goldwater and the prediction of a crisis for the Republican party, whereas not only Republicans won the following election but the southern strategy became the permanent strategy of the GOP and Goldwater a respected figurehead. If history is going to repeat itself, we should expect Republicans to win in 2020 with some version of the Trump strategy, not a long term crisis.

    • CSC

      Jesus Sam.

      Now you’re do’n promotions?!

      Shame on you!

      I remember ’08, when I discovered N.Silver, after he re-purposed his saber-metrics spreadsheet for electoral purposes.

      Now, his 538 site is a Grantland wannabe, with ALL that reference implies (may Grantland R.I.P.).

      Please don’t go down the “monetization” path.

      There’ll be no place left to go for “honest,” “simple” electoral analysis.

    • Sam Wang

      You have to be joking. This is a noncommercial site.

      Personally, I checked out the play from Firestone Library and read it. It was good.

    • Benjamin Hertzberg

      Monetization is for people without tenure.

    • Jeremiah

      As we are seeing in the Republican party the southern strategy is not going to win them any more presidential elections (essentially Trump is the southern strategy on steroids.) so the Republican party is going to have to change if they want national political success. If history is really going to repeat itself then there needs to be some kind of realignment (like in 1968) that evens up the playing field so the Republicans need to make inroads in some other demographic other than an ever increasing number of non-college educated white men. If the Republicans want to stay with their core message of a hardworking, small business and mostly Christian society then the Latino community would be fertile ground. I think George W Bush was on the right track with his “compassionate conservatism” message but this would take some very adroit political messaging to pivot from their current anti-immigrant/Latino rhetoric that has been employed over the last few years. Unfortunately, pivoting embracing more in the religious right makes their policy more socially conservative and anti-woman, I’m not sure how to reconcile both ends of the spectrum there.

    • RP

      @Jeremiah — That’s the problem with identity politics. The GOP could be an infinitely-sized tent if their message focused on things like federalism, the rule of law, separation of powers, taxation, the appropriate role of government, the problems with centralization, etc. Time will show that the Southern Strategy was a short-sighted mistake that ideologically bankrupted most of the party.

      On the topic of federalism: it not only strengthens the republic, but gives national candidates a way of building broader coalitions, i.e., you kick certain issues back to the states where they belong in the first place. Federalism certainly helps avoid the pitched, do-or-die battles we undertake every four years, now that the Federal government is too important and pervasive.

    • Jeremiah

      @RP “The GOP could be an infinitely-sized tent if their message focused on things like federalism, the rule of law, separation of powers, taxation, the appropriate role of government, the problems with centralization, etc.”

      I don’t think these issues would make the tent infinitely sized or the Democrats would always be in power.

  • Olav Grinde

    Politics is a dirty game – but sometimes, in order to accomplish good, you have to get your hands dirty and exert the power it takes to get the job done.

    In that respect and many others, I do think LBJ’s triumph of getting the Civil Rights Act passed, and the tactics used, is comparable to the maneuvering required of Lincoln to ensure passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.

    I look forward to seeing the film!

    * * *

    Sadly, I think such positive legislation has become all but impossible today. Polarization is part of that reason…

    In political circles that compete for ideological purity – and where conservatism has been redefined into something altogether different – compromise is now tantamount to treason. Tragically, this is very comparable to the competition for religious purity amongst the leaders of Islamic fundamentalism – and Christian fundamentalism.

    I don’t think that comparison is beyond the pale.

  • Rachel Findley

    Very interesting discussion. LBJ is in some ways a tragic figure in American history. Viet Nam brought him down, as it killed many others.

    People who are experiencing the same event at the same time usually perceive it differently. Even tapes can’t tell us what the speaker meant or what the listener understood. That leaves room for some artistic license–but I could wish the artist stayed true to what is known historically about sequence and connections.

    As a teenager from Illinois I went to DC with a group of Quakers to lobby our Senator, Everett Dirksen, on the civil rights bill. We went to see Senator Douglas first to get some advice on what might motivate Dirksen. I remember both Senate offices, and my mother’s linen dress I wore. I took notes, but I don’t remember anything that was said. And I have no idea whether our visit had even a thumb-on-the-scale influence.

    History is made up of memories and (other?) physical traces. It changes. That’s disconcerting.

  • Rachel Findley

    Sam, why isn’t the Nevada Senate race (D-Cortez: tied) on the PEC recommended ActBlue contributions list? Are they drowning in money?

  • Paul Quirk

    Sorry this is out of place.

    It would be great if Sam laid out how he accounts for the differences from 538, NYT, and HuffPo, and which if any he finds credible. In particular, Nate S. gave reasons for 538 conservatism on HRC (mostly 3rd parties and undecideds). How does Sam react? HuffPo steadily reducing DJT’s chances while the others fluctuated. What’s that about?

    • Rachel Findley

      What seems really to make the difference between 538 and PEC: Nate Silver is using correlations among states, so that all the swing states may be more likely to all swing together, rather than acting like independent coin tossups.
      See Silver’s explanation here:
      I am not sure how one would statistically measure correlations between states to create a matrix of correlations. Different groups of states have seemed to hang together in past elections. There have been attempts to identify “nations” within the USA, different counties or congressional districts that share culture, history, economic circumstances. I don’t think those are very reliable indicators.
      If you had a good matrix of correlation you could probably use linear econometric techniques to adjust predictions.

    • Matt McIrvin

      The thing is, 538’s error bars have always been oversized, so I’m not sure I buy their explanations relying on specifics of this year’s race.

  • Rob Dee-Lite

    this one is less for Sam (as I know he grows tired of being asked about his ‘competition’, for lack of a better word), and is more for the group – what is with Nate’s model the last day or so?

    I realize with the robust results coming in that everybody’s model gets updated at different times, but what I saw today appeared to be fairly business as usual for Hillary – the national polls (which 538 uses) ranged from tied (the horrible LA times poll) to 9%, with a plurality in the 5% – 9% range for Hillary.

    I didn’t see anything particularly unusual in the state polls either – seemed to confirm that the firewall is holding up in Battleground states at the margins expected, in some cases higher than recently though. Most of the other aggregators, including PEC, seem to be holding steady, and any leveling off seems to be at the aggregators who were predicting a higher than 95% chance of victory, where any slightly ‘less good’ result brings things down.

    then I go to 538 and his polls-only average seems to have moved like a point and a half towards Trump since yesterday. Not Polls-Plus (which also moved) – Polls ONLY!

    I checked Huffington Post Pollster and didn’t see any showstopping polls, not even a SurveyMonkey that showed something weird like a Trump lead in Virginia. what gives?

    I’m somewhat a novice at this SO if I missed something, please point it out.

  • Michael Tiemann

    Curiously Obama’s net approval rating just hit 9.0% yet polls are tightening. Something’s gotta give.

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