American idols: On Greg Abbott, LBJ, MLK, Chris Kyle and Barack Obama

Good morning Austin:

It is Inauguration Day.

Here, courtesy Carl Lindemann, who blogs at the Inanity of Sanity, is a photo and video of Gov.-elect Greg Abbott rehearsing on Monday with Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, Abbott’s wife, Cecilia, and daughter Audrey, the moment today when he will take the oath of office

Dress rehearsal (Photo by Carl Lindemann)
Dress rehearsal
(Photo by Carl Lindemann)


Here is the schedule for the Inauguration.

10:35 a.m. – UT band concert begins

10:55 a.m. UT band concert ends

11:00 a.m. – Post of the colors

11:07 a.m. – Pledge of allegiance

11:08 a.m. – national anthem

11:09:30 a.m. – F-16 flyover

11:10 a.m. – Texas pledge

11:11 a.m. – Providence Texas school choir

11:15 a.m. – invocation

11:17 – Lt. Governor Oath of Office

11:21 a.m. – Lt. Governor Speech

11:34 – Governor Oath of Office

11:39 – Governor Speech

11:54 Benediction

11:57 – God Bless America

The ceremony will be followed by a barbecue on the Capitol grounds and, at 2 p.m. the 2015 Texas Inaugural Parade, which will begin at The Ann Richards Bridge and end at the Texas Capitol.

The Future of Texas Ball, featuring Grammy award-winning country trio Lady Antebellum and Texas country music star Pat Green, is at 7:30 at the Austin Convention Center

At the very same time Monday that Abbott was doing his oath of office run-through, Austin’s annual Martin Luther King Parade was marching down San Jacinto, along the east side of the Capitol, a stone’s throw away.  But never the twain did meet. In fact, the parade was rerouted because of inauguration prep.

(NOTE: The MLK March WILL NOT go to the Capitol this year due to the preparations for the Gubernatorial Inauguration on the following day.)


Leading up to MLK Day, the movie Selma has been in theaters, leading to some public jousting about its historical accuracy, and whether it doesn’t give LBJ enough credit.

For example, Mark Updegrove, a presidential historian and director of the LBJ Library, has taken issue with the depiction of LBJ in the movie.

More recently, Bill Moyers, LBJ’s former press secretary and long the liberal savant of public television, weighed in.

What did you think of the film Selma?

(Poster of 'Selma' the movie.)

Bill: There are some beautiful and poignant moments in the film that take us closer to the truth than anything I’ve seen in other movies to date: the cruelty visited upon black people every day by whites and armed authorities; the humiliation they faced simply trying to register to vote (“Name all the county judges in Alabama!”); the courage and fear of those black people who put themselves on the line for freedom’s sake; the ambivalence in Martin Luther King Jr. as he faced the inescapability of leadership and constant threat of death. I cannot imagine the dread one had to subdue to step on that bridge that day. And I came out of the theater shaking my head in disbelief at the obscenity of the Republican Party as it has piously but insidiously taken up voter suppression as a priority. The Party of Lincoln? Of Emancipation? Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” of 50 years ago has now become their subliminal mantra: “Whites of America, Unite!”


So look who won the midterm elections as voter turnout fell to its lowest in 70 years: A coalition of suppressionists doing everything they can to make it hard for black and poor people to vote – and their big donors who give millions to drown out those very same voices. That’s “Free Speech” in the Roberts era.

As for how the film portrays Lyndon B. Johnson: There’s one egregious and outrageous portrayal that is the worst kind of creative license because it suggests the very opposite of the truth, in this case, that the president was behind J. Edgar Hoover’s sending the “sex tape” to Coretta King. Some of our most scrupulous historians have denounced that one. And even if you want to think of Lyndon B. Johnson as vile enough to want to do that, he was way too smart to hand Hoover the means of blackmailing him.

Then, casting the president as opposed to the Selma march, which the film does, is an exaggeration and misleading. He was concerned that coming less than a year after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, there was little political will in Congress to deal with voting rights. As he said to Martin Luther King Jr., “You’re an activist; I’m a politician,” and politicians read the tide of events better than most of us read the hands on our watch. The president knew he needed public sentiment to gather momentum before he could introduce and quickly pass a voting rights bill. So he asked King to give him more time to bring Southern “moderates” and the rest of the country over to the cause, but once King made the case that blacks had waited too long for too little, Johnson told him: “Then go out there and make it possible for me to do the right thing.”

To my knowledge he never suggested Selma as the venue for a march but he’s on record as urging King to do something to arouse the sleeping white conscience, and when violence met the marchers on that bridge, he knew the moment had come: He told me to alert the speechwriters to get ready and within days he made his own famous “We Shall Overcome” address that transformed the political environment. Here the film is very disappointing. The director has a limpid president speaking in the Senate chamber to a normal number of senators as if it were a “ho hum” event. In fact, he made that speech where State of the Union addresses are delivered – in a packed House of Representatives. I was standing very near him, off to his right, and he was more emotionally and bodily into that speech than I had seen him in months. The nation was electrified. Watching on television, Martin Luther King Jr. wept. This is the moment when the film blows the possibility for true drama — of history happening right before our eyes. So it’s a powerful but flawed film. Go see it, though – it’s good to be reminded of a time when courage on the street is met by a moral response from power.


Abbott tweeted his MLK day wishes.

 Very good. That is probably the most quoted line in the MLK lexicon. It has also become the favorite line of political conservatives, used by them to suggest official MLK sanction for a “color-blind” conservatism that eschews any kind of race-consciousness of the affirmative action variety as a form of racism



Sen. Ted Cruz also issued an MLK Day statement.

There are few men in the history of this Nation who have shaped our national character more than the man we commemorate today.

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. changed the course of history for America, demanding that we put an end to the culture of bigotry against our fellow citizens.

He bravely laid out a challenge that forced our Nation to look deep into its soul and ask: will we continue to tolerate segregation and second-class citizenry for millions of our brothers and sisters? Or, will we usher in a new civil rights era to finally honor the dignity of each person and make the American Dream achievable for all?

Carrying a message of hope and love, he appealed to our conscience and asked each of us to have ‘the courage to face the uncertainties of the future.’

He said that courage, ‘will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom.  When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way, and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.’

Today, we again need to draw upon that reservoir of courage to defeat bigotry and expand opportunity for everyone. The challenge to fight for justice and secure the blessings of liberty for every man, woman, and child in America continues. 

Today, school choice is the civil rights battle of the 21st century, and we need to work tirelessly to ensure that every child has access to an excellent education, regardless of race, ethnicity, or zip code. 

 Dr. King inspires our journey. He fought to unlock the gates of liberty for all and, together, we must work every day to ensure they remain forever open

As it happens, on the same live chat where Bill Moyers talked about Selma, he was asked, “What are your thoughts about the future of Ted Cruz in American politics, and higher office?”
Here is Moyers’ response:
 Ted Cruz? An ambidextrous demagogue. He’s able to pick the people’s pocket while aggrandizing his own self-esteem. An Ivy Leaguer seemingly quite comfortable making a fool out of those who trust him.

I saw Selma Sunday night. I thought it was well done. A good movie, but not a great one. For people who weren’t alive then, which is at this point most people, it is very instructive. But if you lived through it, and were paying attention, the unfolding drama was so powerful, the events were so searing and the characters so vivid, that seeing them on film is a bit of a letdown.
LBJ and MLK at the White House in  1966. (LBJ Library photo by Yoichi Okamoto)
LBJ and MLK at the White House in 1966. (LBJ Library photo by Yoichi Okamoto)


 The movie has a dutiful feel to it – like we’re so determined to get to get all these historic characters in that we don’t give you any way to know your Andrew Young from your Hosea Williams, except that one is skinny and the other isn’t; it doesn’t take advantage of the charming idiosyncrasy of John Lewis’ speech impediment, and it presents Viola Liuzzo only long enough so that we will know who she is when she gets killed by the Klan.
Dylan Baker, who played J. Edgar Hoover, should have been more, “I can’t wait to get home and get out of this girdle,” or perhaps, “I can’t wait to get home and get into a girdle,” strange.  Tim Roth was way too understated as George Wallace who should have been more, as Leonard Pitts described him, “a bantam rooster of a man with piggish eyes and a shiny pompadour,” with, as King famously put it in his Dream speech, “lips dripping with the words of `interposition’ and `nullification.'”
Tom Wilkinson, who nailed the role of James Baker in the TV movie, Recount, about the Bush-Gore election, is good, but I think the makers of Selma would have been better served by intervening to disentangle whatever sticky legal wicket
LBJ and MLK in the Oval Office in 1963. (LBJ Library photo by Yoichi Okamoto)
LBJ and MLK in the Oval Office in 1963. (LBJ Library photo by Yoichi OkamotoI think the makers of Selma would have been better served  whatever sticky legal wicket has
Randy Quaid and his wife are in that has left them stranded in Canada and unable to return home so that could have updated his portrayal of LBJ, whose voluptuous, ego-maniacal warmth he so perfectly captured in  LBJ: The Early Years.
David Oyelow0 is also good as King, but when it comes to speechifying, he is no Martin Luther King. He lacks the cadence and the preacherly musicality that made King’s rhetoric so hypnotically powerful.
I think Moyers is right that the film does LBJ a disservice, even by its own logic. For example, LBJ makes it clear to J. Edgar Hoover, who is desperate to destroy King one way or the other, that he wants King, an apostle of non-violence, leading the movement, and not a more radical figure like Malcolm X. And yet, in the movie, a minute later LBJ seems to be giving his assent to Hoover’s plan to destabilize King’s marriage and perhaps push him to suicide. Its nonsensical.
And Moyers is also right when he complains that LBJ’s powerful “We Shall Overcome” speech introducing the Voting Rights Act in the wake of Selma, comes off as an oddly enervated affair, as if they only had enough money to pay extras to play 100 senators and not all 535 members of Congress.
That could be the case. King’s Selma strategy, as articulated in the movie, was built on provoking white overreaction and then getting that on front pages and the nightly news. But the role of “the press” is for the most part carried by a single New York Times reporter played by John Merical, who is apparently the king of the uncredited performance.(Dumb and Dumber To Neighbor (uncredited); Kill the Messenger Hospital Administator (uncredited); Tammy Retirement Home Visitor (uncredited); Reckless (TV Series) Courtroom Gallery (uncredited); The Bad Weapons Congressman (uncredited); 2014 Banshee (TV Series) Street Vendor (uncredited) ; Line of Sight (TV Movie) Hospital Administrator (uncredited) …
I also saw American Sniper this weekend, on Saturday night, at the same theater where I saw Selma the next night.
The difference between American Sniper and Selma, is that I sat in the first row for Selma by choice and the first row for American Sniper because it set box office records for an MLK weekend,  and that was the only seat left.
Or, as John Nolte at Breitbart reported under the headline, Box Office: `American Sniper’ Breaks Records, `Selma’ in Death Spiral:
The early estimates for director Clint Eastwood’s pro-War On Terror masterpiece “American Sniper” hovered around $40 million. Obviously our provincial box office gurus under-estimated the American people’s desire to see their warriors, wars, and country properly honored and honestly portrayed. In its wide-release debut, the story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle is estimated to hit $75 million. UPDATE: $80 million.
Seventy-five million doesn’t just beat the previous January/Martin Luther King. Jr. weekend record, it obliterates the $41 million earned by “Ride Along” last year …. Despite a also-ran Best Picture nomination and adding +56 theatres, producer Oprah Winfrey’s dishonest Civil Rights drama “Selma” lost -19% of its audience over last weekend. That’s the worst showing of any Best Picture nominee still in theaters. After a disastrous opening weekend, “Selma” could only dig up another $11.2 million over — of all things — the Martin Luther King, Jr. 4-day weekend. God, family and country are box office bonanzas. Race-hoaxes are box office embarrassments.
Dishonest? Hoax?
Well, according to Nolte’s links, the dishonesty had to do with Selma’s unfairness to LBJ, which seems a decidedly unBreitbartian concern. And the “race hoax” had to do with the complaint that racism accounted for Selma’s less-than-expected number of Oscar nominations.
As the Daily Caller reported:
MSNBC host and civil rights activist Al Sharpton is calling for an emergency meeting of his eight-member diversity task force to discuss action against the Academy Awards after the movie “Selma” received only one Oscars nomination.
“The movie industry is like the Rocky Mountains, the higher you get, the whiter it gets,” Sharpton said with usual flair in a statement released Thursday after the announcement of Oscar nominations.
Many, including Sharpton, were outraged that none of the actors in “Selma,” a movie about the 1965 Voting Rights Act, were nominated for the golden statues.
David Oyelowo, who portrayed Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the movie, did not receive a nomination. Nor did director Ava DuVernay.
Nolte sought to debunk the “race hoax,” with this:
While the left crybabies over Oscar’s snub of Selma, here are 225 bigger Oscar snubs; a list of people who have never won a competitive Oscar, and a list of movies better than Selma that not only failed to win an Oscar, but were never even nominated!
Fair enough, though I think “race hoax” is a bit inflammatory.
At any rate, I prefer the lighter satiric touch brought to the subject in this latest poster from the Los Angeles street artists SABO.
SALEM: I Have a Scheme by SABO (
Maybe I’ve been in Texas too long, but I thought American Sniper was a better film than Selma, and Bradley Cooper’s performance more impressive than David Oyelowo’s. But when I paid my Alamo admission to see American Sniper, I didn’t think I was contributing to Nolte’s box office interpretation. Maybe I haven’t been in Texas long enough, but the picture I saw more nearly resembled the one described in David Denby’s review in The New Yorker:
Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” is both a devastating war movie and a devastating antiwar movie, a subdued celebration of a warrior’s skill and a sorrowful lament over his alienation and misery. The movie, set during the Iraq War, has the troubled ambivalence about violence that has shown up repeatedly in Eastwood’s work since the famous scene, midway through “Unforgiven,” in which the act of killing anguishes the killer.
Of course, the melancholy shadow of the sniper hangs over Selma as well. LBJ’s folks try to persuade King not to speak in front of the Alabama state Capitol a the end of the Selma-to-Montgomery march because, they fear, a sniper might lurk in surrounding tall buildings. Three years later, King would be assassinated in Memphis by a sniper. LBJ became president because a sniper shot and killed JFK in Dallas.
Ultimately, MLK and LBJ and Selma led to enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, to the mass enfranchisement of African-Americans, to a party realignment in the South that, in effect, made possible Greg Abbott’s inauguration today, and a national voting population that elected and re-elected Barack Obama president.
As it happens, tonight, as the Future of Texas Ball is getting into full swing, Obama be delivering his State of the Union Address.

Author: Jonathan Tilove

Jonathan Tilove is the Statesman's chief political writer. He was a Washington correspondent for the New Orleans Times-Picayune from 2008 to 2012. Before that he covered race and immigration issues for Newhouse News Service for 18 years.

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