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Both Sides: Caro on LBJ-BHO, Huff/Matalin on a Gay Week

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Both Sides: Caro on LBJ-BHO, Huff/Matalin on a Gay Week

Arianna and Mary discuss the greatest biographer of our era writing about the most complicated president of our era. Bob Caro's four volumes try to figure out how one person could combine ruthlessness and compassion, how one politician could be a "legislative genius" who pursued the exactly wrong strategy in a failed presidential campaign (wooing DC insiders in 1960 while JFK wooed delegates) and in a calamitous war abroad. Has there ever been a more mixed legacy?

*On LBJ and BHO. Caro's first two books portrayed a cunning, conniving politician who was more feared than loved... yet who became in the last two volumes someone who wedded willfulness to justice. How did this happen?

Arianna focuses on how Johnson immediately understood that a martyr had to die for a cause and that he would make sure that Kennedy's cause was civil rights. Beyond his outsized legislative skills, "he understood the moment and how to relentlessly bring the nation together around civil rights." Mary adds that while many citizens presume that anybody can handle public office, Johnson was an "intuitive politician who brought a lifetime of experience" to that day in Dallas. He had a "practical mind devoid of self-delusion and, as Lincoln said, was able to define people as they defined themselves."

We listen to tapes of LBJ showing why he was called "the greatest salesman ever one on one." But after hearing him charm J. Edgar Hoover with flattery, we listen to him reproach Defense Secretary Robert McNamara on how Kennedy erred by promising a withdrawal from Vietnam -- "that was bad psychologically."

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Arianna calls his dressing down of McNamara "awful, it gives me the creeps [hearing that] and knowing that he lied to the American people again and again." As for Obama, she hopes that he too shows leadership by doing the supposedly "impossible" while Mary argues that -- as Johnson did after the assassination and Bush after 9/11 -- "there is today a crisis he can rally people around and that's the debt."

If Caro asked us for suggestions who should next get his treatment, who would it be? Arianna: "George W. Bush because Iraq parallels Vietnam in catastrophic decisions" -- she'd like a tick-tock of how we went to war (Colin Powell provides one next month in a new biography); Mary: Mustafa Ataturk, the revolutionary statesman and founder of the modern Turkish republic because of his enormous historic influence in the Middle East; the Host: "if Caro is interested in the acquisition and use of power -- appointive with Robert Moses, elected with Lyndon Johnson -- how about how a no-name citizen became powerful and with what result, Ralph Nader."

*On Gay Marriage and Bullying. Thoughts on Biden outing Obama on gay marriage? Arianna is enthusiastic. "If someone does something right, we should celebrate. Of course there was a lot that [shifted] the wind -- Prop. 8, state votes, all the activism -- but Obama did it and it was bold and impressive." And while she applauds his reference to staff and friends in loving same-sex relationships, she adds that "if he knew as many unemployed people as gay people, he might be stronger on jobs."

It appears that conservatives are against all "evolution", Darwin's and Obama's. Mary discounts it as a purely political "flip-flop". "If he really wants to show leadership here, he should also defend those who oppose gay marriage from liberal attacks as evil homophobes." Is she equating those arguing for their rights with those who block them? She explains that both deserve respect.

After 32 consecutive losses in state-wide referenda, we're in a "let the chips fall where they may moment," according to the openly gay Rachel Maddow. But whatever the impact in solidifying bases if not in switching votes, at least Obama is no longer hurting his brand of hope and change. But does Romney now play into Obama's trope that the president looks "forward" while the governor looks backward? Arianna agrees that Romney does appear to be more a 19th or 20 century man, and not, to quote Fox's Shep Smith, "on the right side of history."

Speaking of history, is it politically kosher to discuss Romney's bullying of a gay student in high school or "should it not be a consideration since Bush's and Obama's substance abuse as teens didn't stop them from becoming president"? There's a furious consensus that even raising the issue is unfair. Mary belittles the Washington Post expose and asserts that the incident never happened (despite four eyewitnesses) and Arianna thinks the issue "pathetic -- it was 50 years ago!"

[Host: To maintain BSN's model of at least two sides, allow me to question their consensus: W's and O's opponents certainly tried to use their youthful indiscretions against them, with modest success -- of course, those two each admitted to their substance problems early on while Romney says now that he can't recall an event that he apologizes for. Is that truthful now? Social norms have hugely changed in 50 years but there is something disturbing about, as Andrew Sullivan put it "a president having bullied a young gay man in high school." If the governor were still a bully, the incident would resonate more. On this question, his friends say no, but his 2008 opponents, according to Game Change -- and his 2012 opponents -- apparently think yes.

The question of whether this event reflects on his character then or now is one voters get to weigh for themselves. At the least, I now know how CNN's John King felt asking Newt Gingrich about "open marriage." NYT columnist Gail Collins got it about right.]

*Quick Takes: Saints, Kids, Insemination(s). Mary talks about violence in sports, including her Saints and its bounty system; both engage in a cost-benefit analysis of having children (on Mothers Day no less) and delicately handle the Dutch virgin who wanted to help women start families without having to pay for a sperm bank...so he inseminated 82 of them. Mary: "where were the husbands!!"

Also: this week marks the 2nd anniversary show of Both Sides Now, the only 2-sides/2-women nationally syndicated radio talk show. The Show or daily BothSidesMinutes are now heard on over 300 stations. Thank you WOR-710 for anchoring us, Vicki Vergolina for producing us and Arianna and Mary for same-sex parenting us.

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now, which is powered by the American Federation of Teachers.

Send all comments to Bothsidesradio.com, where you can also listen to prior shows.

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