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Saying that he has “lived out the promise of LBJ’s efforts,” President Barack Obama said Thursday that former President Lyndon Johnson’s fights for equality provided a foundation for his own election as the nation’s first black president.
“That’s why I am standing here today -- because of those efforts, because of that legacy,” he said at the 50th anniversary commemoration of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, held at Johnson’s presidential library in Texas.
Obama, who accepted the 2008 nomination of the Democratic Party on the 100th anniversary of Johnson’s birth, hailed the former president as a “giant man” whose political skills and ambition left an unparalleled legacy of equal rights for all Americans.
“What President Johnson realized is that equality required more than the absence of oppression. It required the presence of economic opportunity,” he said.
Obama dismissed “cynical” critics of Johnson’s social programs – including Medicare and the Voting Rights Act – saying that he and each member of his family has benefited from Johnson’s legislative accomplishments.
Not shying away from Johnson’s early record, the president noted the former Senate Majority Leader’s early opposition to civil rights reforms for nearly two decades before realizing he was the “only one” who could dismantle legal segregation for good.
“As a master of politics and the legislative process, he grasped like few others the power of government to bring about change,” he said, adding that the charming and sometimes ruthless Texan also understood that only laws could “anchor” that change.
“He knew that poverty and injustice are as inseparable as opportunity and justice are joined,” Obama said.
The event commemorating Johnson’s civil rights legacy drew luminaries from around the nation; former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton spoke over the past two days, and former President George W. Bush is set to address the group Thursday evening.