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Hey, Hey, LBJ: How Many Kids Did You Starve Today?

Posted on December 7 2009 1:49 pm
David Forsmark is the owner and president of Winning Strategies, a full service political consulting firm in Michigan. David has been a regular columnist for Frontpage Magazine since 2006. For 20 years before that, he wrote book, movie and concert reviews as a stringer for the Flint Journal, a midsize daily newspaper.
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President Lyndon Johnson and advisor Joseph Califano Jr.

President Lyndon Johnson and advisor Joseph Califano Jr.

Last week, one of our hottest discussions on NewsReal involved the controversy over Bishop Thomas Tobin recommending that Congressman Patrick Kennedy not partake of communion as long as he is a proponent of abortion.

Former Johnson Administration official, Joseph Califano Jr. had a rather chilling op-ed in response to this principled action by the Bishop in Saturday’s Washington Post.

Califano shockingly revealed that the Johnson Administration was willing to starve people in India in order to get them to adopt a “family planning” regime, but no one was denied communion over this.  This, to him, was an example of the good old days when Catholic Bishops apparently knew their place.  Califano writes:

“In the 1960s, LBJ became the first president to aggressively promote family planning abroad and at home. Abroad, he refused to send grain to India during a famine until Indira Gandhi committed to a family planning program.”

One of Stalin’s most famous atrocities, is the famine he created in the Ukraine by exterminating  the Kulak farmers and collectivizing the farms (which was covered up by the New York Times’s Walter Duranty).  This isn’t in that league; but to hear that a President of the United States would withhold food during a famine for political purposes other than, say, stopping international aggression, is stunning.

But it’s cool with Califano.

That’s right.  This wasn’t a mea culpa, it was casual and callous and made to prove his point.  “Oh, hey, your mom told you about the starving children in India?  Well, we allowed for there to be a few more, so that ultimately there would be a few less.”

But nobody chanted, “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”   Not over this, anyway.

Califano’s op-ed details a history of the Bishops’ negotiating policy with various White Houses, all to give a context to say that Tobin is out of line.  Here is a more full context for the killer quote above:

American bishops didn’t used to do this. Even when they disagreed sharply with policies pursued by Catholic officeholders, they were willing to sit down and discuss alternatives. I know. I saw this when I served as chief domestic adviser for President Lyndon Johnson and as secretary of health, education and welfare for President Jimmy Carter.

In the 1960s, LBJ became the first president to aggressively promote family planning abroad and at home. Abroad, he refused to send grain to India during a famine until Indira Gandhi committed to a family planning program. At home, he ordered federal agencies to make contraceptives available to the poor. I was the (Catholic) White House aide responsible for enforcing those policies.

Johnson’s actions prompted a stinging attack from Catholic bishops, who charged that he was coercing the poor to practice birth control. The president told me to “work something out” with the bishops, who were our needed allies in battling poverty and racial discrimination. At meetings with Father Francis Hurley, the bishops’ top Washington staffer, and Detroit Archbishop John Dearden, leader of the American bishops, I assured them that we were offering an option to the poor, not coercing acceptance. We ultimately agreed that if the president phrased his policy in terms of “population control” (which allowed for more food and the church-approved rhythm method of family planning as well as contraception), the bishops would cool their rhetoric. LBJ kept his word, and when he later signed a U.N. declaration supporting population control, the bishops were silent.

Blah blah blah.  It’s kind of hard to focus on the surrounding blather after Califano’s confession.

Bishop Tobin doesn’t seem like the kind of guy whose conscience will be seared upon hearing that someone who thinks it was admirable public policy to starve people into submission, disapproves of how he is handling his duties.

During a weekend in which commentators were holding up the hurt feelings act by the White House gate-crashers as a sign that we are becoming a shame-less society; Joseph Califano illustrated that is true–  but in a truly horrifying manner.

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