You’re no Lyndon Johnson
September 3, 2012
Ryan Grim and Sam Stein over at Huffington Post are very disappointed in Barack Obama for trying to play politics. They compare the current political situation with Lyndon Johnson’s passing of a major tax cut in addition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. They credit Johnson’s bypassing of congress and taking his case to the People.
Johnson surveyed the legislative landscape and knew he had to shake things up.
Rather than negotiate with Congress, Johnson turned the goodwill of the nation into a force with which to bludgeon the GOP and expand what was politically possible. He took his case to the American people, reminding them that the GOP was the “Party of Lincoln,” and flooded Washington with religious leaders who lobbied Congress.
In fact, they state that “Had Johnson stuck to inside baseball, he would have struck out twice.”
I think they need to read LBJ’s biography. Johnson was the consummate insider who had spent over two decades in congress. He knew, much more so than Obama, how to push a bill through the legislature (emphasis added).
Many believe that Johnson was able to pass the 1964 and 1965 Acts because of an exceptional set of circumstances. During his 24 years in Congress Johnson had gained unprecedented experience in getting legislation through Congress. He also had an unusual two- thirds of Congress in his favour and Congressmen felt particularly after Kennedy’s assassination that they should be righting national wrongs. Johnson was himself exceptionally persuasive and determined and had a lifelong commitment to helping the poor.
He is also described as “exceptionally persuasive,” which is probably better described as the ability to bend people to his will by methods that included simple intimidation or even dragging people into the bathroom with him to continue meetings.
Johnson lived to dominate, and he used crass behavior to bend people to his will. At 6-ft., 3-in. tall and 210 lbs., he liked to lean over people, spitting, swearing, belching, or laughing in their faces…His favorite power ploy, however, seemed to be dragging people into the bathroom with him—forcing them to continue their conversations with the president as he used the toilet.
This is certainly not a guy who merely goes on television and suddenly everyone is writing their congresscritter nasty letters about not getting behind the President’s agenda. Far from it. This is a guy who knew how the sausage was made, and furthermore, reveled in the grinding.
He would certainly use the feelings of the American People as tools to get what he wanted, in the same way that he would refer to President Kennedy and use his memory to overcome resistance. It was one of many tools that he had and could wield effectively. In other words, he knew how to play politics.
Naturally as a politician Johnson was constantly aware of the need to be popular to secure support, that is why he diluted the 1957 Civil Rights Act in order to win support to run instead of John F Kennedy as the Democrat presidential candidate. Lyndon Johnson however didn’t want to be seen as a conservative Southerner and so to prove his ability to rise above his roots, he felt it would be advantageous to promote civil rights legislation. He hoped to stem the flow of African American voters switching to the Republicans.
Barack Obama, by contrast, spent less than two years in the US Senate and has made very few long-term alliances. He does a poor or non-existent job of helping out even his fellow progressives, let alone moderate democrats. He has, in fact shown himself more than willing to throw allies under the bus or ignore them. When he needs to count on votes in the congress, can he point to all the support that he has given his fellow democrats? In a word: no.
The sense that Obama simply won’t sacrifice his brand, or image as a winner, for the greater Democratic good is widespread in Democratic circles. Over the past four years, he has led his party through the political wars, including some they didn’t want to fight, while managing to forge only a handful of new relationships with Democrats outside his tight circle.
He can certainly go to the American People, which, in fact, he did, giving over 400 speeches or remarks and 158 interviews in 2009 alone. In the end, his personal likability isn’t enough to give him a job approval rating of even 50%. With numbers like that, even if he did make his case to the American People and avoided congress, he’d be stuck with a sullen congress and (at best) an ambivalent populace.
In short, in order for Barack Obama to act like Lyndon Johnson, he’d have to be Lyndon Johnson, and…well…