Thank Lady Bird for America's highway vistas

Please raise your glass in a toast to the late Lady Bird Johnson.

On this date in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Highway Beautification Act, which attempted to limit billboards and other forms of outdoor advertising, as well as junkyards and other unsightly roadside messes, along America's interstate highways.

The first lady was the main proponent of the law.

Most of us don't think about the law much now. We've become accustomed to highways uncluttered by billboards. When I drove from Detroit to Pittsburgh last week, it seemed natural and right that I should enjoy the beautiful vistas of early autumn trees in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania.

To appreciate what a difference Lady Bird's Highway Beautification Act has made in America, go to China.

On the drive from the Beijing or Shanghai airport to a hotel downtown, one's view of the country is assaulted by massive billboards that look as if they could dwarf a 747, pushed smack against the edge of the highway and crowding out anything else you might want to see.

By the way, preserving our views wasn't easy. The final vote came down to a highly partisan, 14-hour session of the House of Representatives that turned rancorous.

At one point, then-Rep. Robert Dole, R-Kan., offered an amendment to strike out the term “secretary of commerce” wherever it appeared and insert the words “Lady Bird” -- apparently an implication that the first lady was in charge of the operation. He lost by a voice vote.

She may not have been in charge, but it wouldn't have passed without her pushing for it. If you love looking at this great land as you drive across it, join me in a toast to her today.