A History of Our Time: Readings on Postwar America

By William H. Chafe; Harvard Sitkoff et al. | Go to book overview

“Dump Johnson”

William H. Chafe

For those young antiwar protesters who wished to retain “political viability within the system,” Allard Lowenstein provided a powerful role model. A bundle of political energy and charismatic charm, Lowenstein through the late 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s had seemed like a youthful knight in shining armor, leading various student crusades for reforming the political process, and redeeming America’s promise to the ideals of equal opportunity, peace, and justice.

Lowenstein’s politics represented a perfect amalgam of anticommunism and social reform. As one of the first presidents of the National Student Association (NSA) in 1950–51, the young, New York City–raised graduate of the University of North Carolina had pioneered both a tough anticommunist position for NSA on foreign policy and a commitment to racial equality and social progress at home. His exposé of the evils of apartheid in South Africa in 1962 helped highlight the genius and moral passion of Nelson Mandela’s fight for black majority rule in that country. Then, Lowenstein became the primary white leader stirring northern white students to go South to Mississippi and join the civil rights struggle. Now, in 1967, Lowenstein assumed the most daunting mantle of all—leading an insurgency from the left within the Democratic Party to end the war in Vietnam, all the while working within the system. The following selection describes Lowenstein’s tactical and strategic brilliance in creating the move to “dump” Lyndon Johnson as the Democratic Party’s standard bearer in 1968. But in the process, the article also raises the larger question of whether it is possible to walk the thin line between rebellion against a policy of a political regime, and operating within the ground rules of that same regime.

Stunning in its tactics and bold in its assumptions about the vulnerability of those in power, the campaign to “Dump Lyndon Johnson” as

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