Don and George and Ted and Lyndon

JACK L. LEVIN

November 28, 1992|By JACK L. LEVIN

Only once -- until Governor Schaefer backed President Bus this year -- did a Maryland governor of one party endorse the presidential candidate of the other. That was on October 25, 1964, when Republican Theodore R. McKeldin told a wildly cheering Democratic crowd at the packed 5th Regiment Armory that he supported Lyndon B. Johnson because ''he believes what I believe,'' beginning with ''the brotherhood of man under the Fatherhood of God.''

That endorsement (which I wrote), delivered passionately by Maryland's most popular politician, made national news and was a factor in Johnson's nearly 2-to-1 victory over Barry Goldwater in Maryland.

Leaving aside the political calculations in each politician's decision, the difference between the two endorsements is sharp and clear. Governor Schaefer was making the best of things as he perceived them in a world that is unfair and unjust, while Governor McKeldin was striving to make things better in a world that he believed can and must be improved.

Whatever may have motivated Governor Schaefer to support the standpat President Bush -- loyalty to an old friend, annoyance with the Democratic candidate and his Maryland leadership, etc. -- it was not the sharing of deeply-held convictions, such as those that irresistibly drew McKeldin and Johnson together. Nor was it doing the right thing in opposing popular opinion and bringing it around.

As early as 1957, Lyndon Johnson had teamed up with another courageous Texas legislator, Sam Rayburn, to fight the powerful James Eastlands of Mississippi, George Wallaces of Alabama, Strom Thurmonds of South Carolina and most of the South. He had implemented the findings of Harry Truman's committee that produced ''To Secure These Rights,'' the shocking report that documented lynchings, inequality of educational opportunities and denial of voting rights.

He had pushed the Civil Rights Act through Congress -- ''radical'' legislation that proposed the extension of civil rights, including the right to vote, to all Americans. He had set up a Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department to authorize U.S. District Courts to deal with violators. That took guts and leadership in a time when prejudice, discrimination and violence against minorities was politically correct.

Maryland's maverick Governor McKeldin had shown the same guts and leadership in breaking racial barriers in his segregated state. He refused to live with injustice because it was popular. He chose instead, by persuasion and example, to change the mindset of voters who elected him twice governor of Maryland and twice mayor of Baltimore.

And he shared with Johnson the unique leadership capacity that enabled both to attract and hold voters who disagreed with them -- sometimes violently -- but who nevertheless followed them, out of respect and affection. They became allies in defying conventional wisdom and working to repeal Jim Crow laws.

What Johnson was striving toward at the federal level, McKeldin was doing in Maryland. Johnson appointed Carl T. Rowan to head the U.S. Information Agency. McKeldin named blacks for the first time to key state jobs. He supported admission of qualified black students to the ''A'' course at Polytechnic -- three years before the Supreme Court declared segregated public schools illegal. He set up the Maryland Commission on Interracial Problems and Relations to fight discriminatory practices .

Johnson and McKeldin were agents of change. President Bush and Governor Schaefer, on the other hand, were defenders of the status quo. Mr. Schaefer's endorsement of President Bush was not inevitable, but the endorsement of Johnson by McKeldin was. That Governor Schaefer might support Bill Clinton was conceivable, but that McKeldin might support Barry Goldwater, Johnson's opponent, would have been unimaginable.

Schaefer-Bush was a marriage of political convenience,

McKeldin-Johnson one of principled political commitment between the two greatest civil-rights champions Maryland and America have ever known.

Jack L. Levin is a Baltimore businessman.

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