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The One-Term Presidents Make a Comeback

Political history, fairly or not, tends to brand the modern presidents who served just one full term in the White House as losers.
Image: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, John McCormack, Emanuel Celler, Luci Johnson, Everett Dirksen, Carl Albert, Carl Hayden
FILE - In this Aug. 6, 1965, photo, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in a ceremony in the President's Room near the Senate Chambers on Capitol Hill in Washington. Three years ago, the Supreme Court warned there could be constitutional problems with a landmark civil rights law that has opened voting booths to millions of African-Americans. Now, opponents of a key part of the Voting Rights Act are asking the high court to finish that provision off. Surrounding the president from left directly above his right hand, Vice President Hubert Humphrey; House Speaker John McCormack; Rep. Emanuel Celler, D-N.Y.; first daughter Luci Johnson; and Sen. Everett Dirksen, R-Ill. Behind Humphrey is House Majority Leader Carl Albert of Oklahoma; and behind Celler is Sen. Carl Hayden, D-Ariz. (AP Photo)AP

The one-termers make a comeback

Political history, fairly or not, tends to brand the modern presidents who served just one full term in the White House as losers. But the one-termers have been making quite a comeback of late. Today in Austin, TX at 12:50 pm ET, two-termer President Obama will honor Lyndon Johnson -- who served only one full term after deciding not to run for a second due to the Vietnam War -- to mark the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act LBJ signed into law in 1964. There’s also been plenty of nostalgia for LBJ’s other legislative achievements (Medicare, Medicaid) in this current era of political dysfunction and congressional gridlock. Another one-termer, George H.W. Bush, has been enjoying his moment in the sun, too, with the recent 25th-anniversary celebration of his presidency and with positive remembrances like this one from writer Jonathan Chait. (Bush also stole yesterday’s political picture of the day by greeting Obama on the tarmac in Houston.) Even Jimmy Carter has been enjoying a renaissance with the new play “Camp David” about the Israel-Egypt peace accord. As historian Robert Dallek has observed, past presidents are often judged by present circumstances. So it shouldn’t be surprising that LBJ’s legislative record is getting a second look during a period of congressional gridlock, or that Bush 41’s cautious presidency is drawing praise compared with Bush 43’s not-so-cautious presidency, or that Carter’s Middle East breakthrough looks impressive given the stalemate there now. It's all a reminder how history -- and perceptions of history -- do change, especially when viewed through a present-day lens.

Why Obama’s speech on LBJ will be fascinating to watch

But we can also tell you that few things annoy the Obama White House more than the Obama-vs.-LBJ comparisons through that same present-day lens. (Just see yesterday’s New York Times piece "For Obama Presidency, Lyndon Johnson Looms Large.") Team Obama is right that the comparisons are a bit unfair -- after all, if you want to compare legislative records, it’s better to compare LBJ’s ’64 and ’65 years with Obama’s ’09 and ’10 years, not now when there’s divided government. LBJ also won his achievements with historic Democratic majorities in Congress after JFK’s death and Goldwater’s landslide defeat. But those achievements pretty much stopped in ’67 and ’68. We can also tell you that the Johnson family wants more for Obama -- to acknowledge that without Johnson’s presidency and the Civil Rights Act, Obama’s presidency wouldn’t be possible today. And all of this serves as the backdrop for what should be a fascinating speech to watch.

Guidance for Obama’s remarks

As for guidance on Obama’s remarks, NBC’s Kristen Welker reports that the president will talk about how far the nation has come since the landmark Civil Rights Act was signed in 1964, and will also discuss what civil rights means today, according to a senior administration official. “This is an opportunity to remind everyone just how courageous President Johnson was in leading our country forward,” the official told Welker. President Obama also will reiterate his frequently-stated goal of creating equal opportunities for every American who is willing to work hard and play by the rules, from women, to the LGBT community and people living with disabilities.

George W. Bush’s speech on LBJ will be fascinating to watch, too

In all, four presidents are marking the anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, including former Presidents Carter and Clinton (who spoke earlier) and former President George W. Bush (who speaks today). And Bush’s remarks will be interesting as well, because he shares something in common with Johnson: How do you build a post-presidential legacy when your presidency is so remembered for an unpopular war? As for Bill Clinton’s speech yesterday, he used it to blast the efforts to restrict voting rights. “Is this what Martin Luther King gave his life for? Is this what Lyndon Johnson employed his legendary skills for? Is this what America has become a great thriving democracy for? To restrict the franchise?” Clinton said, per MSNBC’s Adam Serwer. “We have too many current challenges to waste today trying to recreate a yesterday that we’re better off done with.” If you wanted an example of the work Bill Clinton has done to repair any damage he sustained with the African-American community after the ’08 primaries, you got it last night.

House votes on Ryan budget

In Washington, meanwhile, the biggest story today will be the vote on Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget, which takes place at 11:30 am ET, according to NBC’s Frank Thorp. Given that Democrats and Republicans have ALREADY hammered out a budget agreement, today’s vote is mostly a political exercise -- and it will play a role in the 2014 races since several House Republicans (Tom Cotton, Steve Daines, Cory Gardner, and Bill Cassidy, Phil Gingrey, Paul Broun, Jack Kingston) are running in competitive Senate contests. Here is how these folks have voted on past Ryan budgets:

April 15, 2011: Gardner (yes), Gingrey (yes), Broun (yes), Cassidy (yes), Kingston (yes)

March 29, 2012: Gardner (yes), Gingrey (yes), Cassidy (yes), Broun (didn’t vote), Kingston (yes)

March 21, 2013: Cotton (yes), Gardner (yes), Cassidy (yes), Kingston (yes), Broun (no), Gingrey (no), Daines (yes),

Scott Brown to make it official

Also in 2014 news, former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown makes his New Hampshire Senate bid official today in Portsmouth (doors open to the event at 6:00 pm ET). Normally, announcements are overhyped events. But we’re paying close attention to Brown’s because he needs a good one given his unforced error saying: "Do I have the best credentials? Probably not. 'Cause, you know, whatever. But I have long and strong ties to this state." According to advanced excerpts of Brown’s remarks, he’ll talk about his ties to the state. “Our campaign for the U.S. Senate begins not far from where my life began. I was born right over there at the Naval Shipyard. When my Mom was a young woman, she was a waitress in Hampton Beach, my Dad an airman at Pease.” And he’ll blast Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) for her health-care vote. “She is a nice person, but wrong on the issues facing the people of New Hampshire. She made that clear when she cast the deciding vote that forced Obamacare on this state and our country.” One important reminder: Don’t assume Brown is headed to a coronation for the GOP nomination. New Hampshire Republicans are more conservative than Massachusetts Republicans.

On the importance of changing the subject

Finally, Senate Republicans were able to block Democratic efforts on equal pay, and the GOP worked hard to blunt the Democrats’ political attacks on the subject. But this week’s conversation on equal pay is a reminder that President Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi can team up to change the subject, especially when health care has dropped away (for now) as an issue. Also Democrats got the headlines they wanted here:

The Wall Street Journal: "Senate Republicans Block Paycheck Fairness Act."

The New York Times: "Senate Republicans Block Bill on Equal Pay"

The Washington Post: "Senate Republicans unanimously reject equal pay bill."

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