January 25, 2014

"That man will twist your arm off at the shoulder and beat your head in with it."

Said a Southern Democrat about LBJ, back in the 60s, quoted in the David Remnick article about Obama in this week's New Yorker.
“Johnson was unique,” [LBJ biographer Robert Caro told Remnick]. “We have never had anyone like him, as a legislative genius. I’m working on his Presidency now. Wait till you see what he does to get Medicare, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act through....”
Obama is not so impressed with LBJ. He told Remnick:
“When he lost that historic majority, and the glow of that landslide victory faded, he had the same problems with Congress that most Presidents at one point or another have.... I say that not to suggest that I’m a master wheeler-dealer but, rather, to suggest that there are some structural institutional realities to our political system that don’t have much to do with schmoozing.”
The historian Robert Dallek told Remnick that Obama tries to get by on "sweet reason," but "Johnson could sit with Everett Dirksen, the Republican leader, kneecap to kneecap, drinking bourbon and branch water, and Dirksen would mention that there was a fine young man in his state who would be a fine judge, and the deal would be cut. Nowadays, the media would know in an instant and rightly yell 'Corruption!'"

Let's review. Caro says LBJ was a unique genius, Dallek says times have changed and a President can't make the kind of deals that used to be made, and Obama says LBJ wasn't really all that special.

67 comments:

Fen said...

Obama needs to pull graeat men down so that he may rise.

AJ Lynch said...

Do you truly believe the admittedly lazy Obama even knows enough about history to make an informed judgment on LBJ?

Scott said...

LBJ, through the Great Society, did what no other Democrat had been able to do -- secure the Black vote.

Sam Hall said...

When JFK was warned not to go to Texas, he was told by a Texan that no Texan would shoot him because they knew who would be president then.
LBJ was not liked, or trusted, in Texas.

tim maguire said...

I think that kind of deal gets cut all the time. As usual, Obama isn't the only person making excuses for Obama's failures.

Bill, Republic of Texas said...

The Cornhusker Kickback. The Louisiana Purchase. The bailout to get the medical insurers inline.

Poor little put upon Barry. Its really nit his fault.

ddh said...

I have a hard time imagining Obama ever nominating a Republican to a district court. He might make a friend if he did things like that.

john said...

After all these years I finally looked up the definition of "branch water": plain water, that the distillery will often bottle and sell, as it comes from the same source as used in their whiskey making process.

"Branch water is particular for its lack of character..." Hee hee, that fits.

The Godfather said...

Well Obama's right about one thing: after the 1964 election, Johnson had a huge majority in Congress and he used it to secure important legislation.

Just think what Obama could have accomplished if he'd had a big majority in Congress in 2009-10.

SteveR said...

Obama says LBJ wasn't really all that special.

Speaking of which...

surfed said...

I liked LBJ better than the Kennedy's...but then I am from the South.

CWJ said...

"When he lost that historic majority, and the glow of that landslide victory faded, he had the same problems with Congress that most Presidents at one point or another have.... I say that not to suggest that I’m a master wheeler-dealer but, rather, to suggest that there are some structural institutional realities to our political system that don’t have much to do with schmoozing."

If that is an accurate quote, I'm simply gobsmacked. I copied the whole thing only because every single line contains something that's simply wrong, oblivious to actual events, breathtaking in its presumption, meaningless, or a blinding glimpse of the obvious. And yet when you read it, it sounds like Obama thinks he's being insightful and profound.

Sophomoric is the perfect descriptor.

It simply begs for follow up from Remnick. Did he?

Chris Lopes said...

Dealing requires treating other people as equals. That's not something The Won is very good at.

Big Mike said...

I agree with tim maguire.

Michael K said...

"The Cornhusker Kickback. The Louisiana Purchase. The bailout to get the medical insurers inline.

Poor little put upon Barry. Its really nit his fault. "

Those compromises and bribes were arranged by the adults who did not go to Harvard.

Wendy Davis is more the Harvard Law School type these days.

Hagar said...

Robert Caro says that what got him started on Lyndon Johnson, was that, like Robert Moses, Johnson had an uncanny ability to see where power might lay, and then grab it and make use of it.
As for that "historic majority," Obama may want to take another look at what that majority consisted of and ponder what he might have been able to do with it - without the benefit of knowing what LBJ did, of course.

LBJ went down over Viet Nam, for that he was not equipped to deal with, but for a person with Obama's record to disparage Johnson's political skills with a recalcitrant Congress just shows great ignorance or chutzpah, or both.

The Drill SGT said...

LBJ may have been an evil genius but he was damn good and twisting arms, cutting deals and counting votes...

Anybody in the O'bama WH able to do any of those consistently?

Hagar said...

Johnson was a man with great flaws, but he was not evil.

The Drill SGT said...

"LBJ went down over Viet Nam, for that he was not equipped to deal with,"

Johnson's downfall was thinking Uncle Ho could understand LBJ's arm twisting and deal signaling.

Uncle Ho was standing on the crads he was dealt...

Hagar said...

LBJ lost the Viet Nam war here at home, not in Viet Nam.

PB Reader said...

Obama's special, alrightee.

He's been told that his whole life. He believes it and feels it's his excuse for everything.

We just need Church Lady around to say, "Isn't that special."

pm317 said...

I say that not to suggest that I’m a master wheeler-dealer but, rather, to suggest that there are some structural institutional realities to our political system that don’t have much to do with schmoozing.

Says the guy who took a VOW not make any new friends.

Mark O said...

Obama's lack of education shows in nearly every interview. His knowledge of history is nil. He has no understanding of economics. He frequently has trouble with nominative and objective cases.

Those who consider him brilliant or even smart have not looked closely.

jr565 said...

Hey Hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?

gk1 said...

Obama looks like a pygmy compared to LBJ's accomplishments, no wonder he is so pissy. I am sure the New Yorker had to submit the article to the white house for approval before publishing.

etbass said...

In my 20's I remember the contrast between LBJ and JFK was profound in getting legislation through Congress. Johnson knew how to work the congress, called in chits and did what was necessary to be totally effective while Kennedy was relatively unsuccessful with congress. Both were former senators.

David said...

"Obama says LBJ wasn't really all that special."

A judgment he's well qualified to make, for sure.

Ambrose said...

I always thought the legislative genius LBJ was overrated. He had a big sympathy factor after '63 and bigger majorities after '64, so yes, he got some things passed (including the Gulf of Tonkin reso). And he was pretty much chased out of the White House in 68. Obama and Clinton with their two terms were much more successful Democratic Presidents.

Michael K said...

"Obama's lack of education shows in nearly every interview. His knowledge of history is nil. He has no understanding of economics. He frequently has trouble with nominative and objective cases.

Those who consider him brilliant or even smart have not looked closely. "

Totally agree. If you want to see an Obama example, look at Wendy Davis. All hat and no cattle.

Johnson wrecked the Vietnam experience in much the same way Obama is putting this country at risk. He is inviting a middle east war while trying to block our own energy development.

Johnson subjected Vietnam to domestic politics but Obama is subjecting our future safety to some agenda that isn't clear yet. Maybe the Palestinians are behind his time at Columbia and Harvard. It sounds ridiculous but so is his foreign policy.

David said...

Ambrose said...
I always thought the legislative genius LBJ was overrated.

He was pretty amazing in the Senate. As President he had the desire to come together after Kennedy's death to work with, and then a huge electoral win. But we forget that he was trying to get around the southern democrats on civil rights votes. That electoral majority did not help him on that issue at all.

Then he mishandled Vietnam. There are a lo of different views on what the mishandling was. But it wasn't that he lost Congress. He handled Congress ok on Vietnam, but lost the people.

It was really an awful time.

David said...

Scott said...
LBJ, through the Great Society, did what no other Democrat had been able to do -- secure the Black vote.

You don't think the civil rights bills had something to do with?

Anonymous said...

As was said here in Texas, "He may be an SOB, but he's our SOB."

Mark said...

"I say that not to suggest that I’m a master wheeler-dealer but,..."

LBJ, blah blah blah, Great Society, blah blah blah, let's talk about me.

William said...

There was overwhelming popular support for Medicare. There was some difficulty finagling it around Wilbur Mills, but it was a bill that people wanted and that Johnson didn't have to sell. Same with civil rights. There were some recalcitrant southerners, but the majority of the country was in favor of the Civil Rights bills that went through during his Presidency..........Whatever his legislative skills, he wasn't much of a salesman. I think JFK would probably have gotten us as deeply involved in Vietnam as LBJ, but JFK might have done a better job of selling it.

William said...

Obama has done a fine job of selling himself. He's won two terms, but I can't think of a single program or initiative that is more popular because of his support.

John said...

I've read all 5 volums of Caro's LBJ bio and it is terrific. (As is Caro's bio of Robert Moses. The guy can really write.)

The bit about twisting an arm off is only a slight exaggeration.

Caro tells the story of how, in the Senate cloak room LBJ sent Hubert Humphry to get someone or do something. When Hubert didn't move fast enough, he kicked him hard enough in the leg to make a bruise. Hubert, toady that he was, was proud of the bruise and went around showing it off.

In Master of the Senate Caro has a picture of LBJ "reasoning" with a fellow Senator. Johnson has one arm around his shoulder, his face about 3 inches away and is pulling the guy up on tiptoe by his lapel.

LBJ was a huge, physically intimidating guy. He was not afraid to use physical intimidation to get what he wanted.

Johnson was a rotten rep, a slimy senator and a poor president.

Not poor economically. He lived very well on his public service.

Thank God he is dead.

John Henry

John said...

It is hard to imagine anyone being physically intimidated by Prsident Obie.

John Henry

John said...

Surfed,

I agree, I liked LBJ better than any of the Kennedys.

Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I liked the Kennedys even less than LBJ.

At least with LBJ there was only one.

With the Kennedys it's like whackamole. They just keep breeding and embarrasing the country.

John Henry

John said...

Re LBJ's legislative accomplishments, Read Caro's book Master of the Senate.

Before LBJ the Senate Majority Leader (a party position) was like a booby prize. It was the kind of post you got elected to when you left the conference room to take a leak.

LBJ took a job that had now powers at all and turned it into a position perhaps more powerful than the president.

Read also about how LBJ got the civil rights bill through Congress. In Vol 5 of Caro's bio there is perhaps 100 pages about it. It was not just a few recalcitrant senators.

John Henry

SteveR said...

There were some recalcitrant southerners

and Robert Byrd

William said...

I read one of the Caro books and I'm part way through the Dallek one. In Caro, LBJ has found the biographer he deserves. Caro is relentless in his dislike of Johnson and doesn't just document where the bodies are buried but does a thorough autopsy on each cadaver...... I picked up the Dallek book, because I was suspicious of Caro's narrative. He tells of how badly Johnson treated his subordinates, but these were capable men and yet they stuck with Johnson for years. I think there was a quality to Johnson that doesn't shine through in Caro's bio. Dallek is somewhat gentler and allows Johnson some shrewd, funny lines. Still Johnson comes off as a dick in the Dallek book also.

William said...

I did read Master of the Senate. I wasn't referring to the 57 bill, but the ones that were passed during his Presidency.

William said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said...

William,

I was referring to the latest Caro volume about LBJ's vice presidency up to about the time of the Civil rights act of 64.

It was a massively sophisticated legislative struggle. Johnson orchestrated it like a Toscanini but it did need orchestrating.

John Henry

Terry said...

I do not think enough attention has been paid to the interviewer, David Remnick. He wrote a glowing bio of Obama titled "The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama". The words in the title, "The Bridge", refer to an incident the civil rights battles in the 1960s. Remnick thus misses the entire point of Obama. He is half-white, he is not a descendant of American slaves, he did not grow up in America, and he is a product of Harvard, not the ghetto.
I heard Remnick interviewed on NPR re his interview with Obama. Remnick is really pushing the idea that Obama needs to be a more aggressive arm-twister than he is. To a conservative, this is like an interviewer saying that Nixon has to be more sneaky and underhanded.
My God, Obama's overreach has already cost him the House, and may cost him the Senate later this year. Does Remnick want him impeached? Exactly where in the Chicago playbook does it tell you how to play politicians who get re-elected because they oppose you?

Revenant said...

LBJ gets a too much credit for genius where the CRA was concerned. The southern Democrats had been barely holding on to Jim Crow for the decade prior, and a solid majority of the country wanted racial equality.

It must have seemed amazing at the time, but with the benefit of hindsight it was inevitable.

John Lynch said...

LBJ would take any set of rules and norms and corrupt them to serve his purpose. Some of his purposes were actually good things, and if you believe that the ends justify the means then Johnson was an amazing President.

Anyone who thinks the modern legislative process is less corrupt than it was 50 years ago is fooling themselves. Obama has an equally corrupt system to work with and cannot do half of what LBJ accomplished. He can't even match Reagan.

mccullough said...

Ike sending troops into Little Rock and the 1957 civil rights and all the various state civil rights acts show Rev is right. Johnson was a southern Dem who stood up to other southern Dems, but the civil rights act and voting rights act were inevitable. He gets far too much credit and Ike gets far too little.

John Lynch said...

Nothing is inevitable until someone does it. It's like saying the moon landings were inevitable. Just because something is possible doesn't mean that it will happen.

It was possible to desegregate the South for over 100 years if the political will had been there. The really nasty Jim Crow laws didn't appear for decades after the Civil War, and they weren't blocked at the federal level even though they were clearly unconstitutional and illegal. It was just a failure of leadership in pursuit of southern votes.

LBJ gave up the southern vote to pass the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. And he did lose the South for the Democratic Party, to this day. He did it anyway, and any previous Democratic President could have done the same- they just lacked the courage.

There was nothing inevitable about the Civil Rights struggle. There was amazing leadership from the grassroots to the Presidency. It did not need to work out the way it did. Different people would have led to a different result.

NotquiteunBuckley said...

Who cared what Buckley wrote.

Why that sunbitch ought to have just wrote a masterpiece and be done with it.

Why, since Buckley chose not to write one all encompassing piece, given his lifestyle and the age he left, should any attention be paid to the blogging style before it was blogging style?

It's not like Buckley is Picasso.

Eric said...

The difference is really that LBJ worked for it, but Obama just expects it to happen for him.

sdharms said...

one way LBJ and BHO are similar -- they both lack character. When stripped of power and returned to Texas to his ranch, he drank himself to death in 4 short years. He would call "cabinet meetings" with the ranch hands trying to simulate that power again. He was pathetic . We can hope for BHOs similar demise.

Gary Rosen said...

Johnson's career as Senator was totally absorbed with domestic politics. He did not have much feel or background for foreign policy so on Vietnam he trusted the advisors he inherited from Kennedy until it was too late. The only way Kennedy would have done better in Vietnam depends on arguing he would have been less in awe of his "best and brightest" advisors - Bundy, McNamara etc.

Larry J said...

Hagar said...
Johnson was a man with great flaws, but he was not evil.


I knew some people who said otherwise. Lady Bird Johnson was a major stockholder (at little to no cost to her) in the company that was given all the major construction contracts in SE Asia. The company was Raymond Morrison Knuteson Brown &Root (today known as Haliburton). Why did the Vietnam War last so long? Because too many people, including Johnson, were making so much money off of it.

Larry J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rusty said...

Scott said...
LBJ, through the Great Society, did what no other Democrat had been able to do -- secure the Black vote.

And ruin a vibrant and healthy black middle class.

Hagar said...

LBJ was a contemporary of Stalin, Mao, and Hitler.
And you want to use LBJ as an exemplar of evil of that world?

John said...

Hagar,

I was going to mention that both Stalin and LBJ came to power in a similar fashion.

Both took a nothing party position that nobody else wanted (Party secretary/Senate Majority Leader) and used it to accrete great power to themselves.

But to answer your question, LBJ was evil but not in the same way that Stalin (or Hitler or Mao) was.

John Henry

Left Bank of the Charles said...

LBJ isn't so great once you understand that Great Society created welfare slavery and Medicare forced people without health insurance to pay the health bills of people who could afford to pay their own bills while putting universal coverage into the wilderness for over 40 years.

But the real lesson of LBJ, reaffirmed by GWB, is this: Don't vote for the Texan.

Anonymous said...

" The historian Robert Dallek told Remnick that Obama tries to get by on "sweet reason," but "Johnson could sit with Everett Dirksen, the Republican leader, kneecap to kneecap, drinking bourbon and branch water, and Dirksen would mention that there was a fine young man in his state who would be a fine judge, and the deal would be cut. Nowadays, the media would know in an instant and rightly yell 'Corruption!'""

Oh, bullshit. Those deals still happen today, it's call compromising and working together.

The problem isn't that you can't do that, the "problem" is that Obama is so puffed up with his own self-righteousness that he won't do that.

Which is fine by me, since I'm happy to see Obama fail to accomplish anything. But let me be clear, that failure is entirely Obama's fault.

The Ghost said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Ghost said...

What a load. The GOP was cowed by Obama in 2009 and would have signed off on his boondoggles if he hat cut them a bribe. Remember the media crowing about how the GOP didn't vote for the triumphant Pork Stimulus and how that meant it had become a "rump" "party of No" "of the South?"

Republicans like to pretend (understandably) that the entire GOP unanimously opposed the President on principle, but the fact is he was too full of himself to offer them kickbacks for their districts and wanted to rub their noses in his awesomeness, thinking it would cost them, not him. What a naif.

Then, since, and now, there are plenty of issues where Obama could peel 40-50 GOP votes if he was willing to acknowledge that he, Barack H. Obama, is not better than the grubby Republican congressman at anything except getting elected president, and is a supplicant to that congressman's power. Clinton and Bush did it with people who were wholly devoted to dehumanizing and destroying them. Fortunately for all of us, BHO is incapable of that.

gt said...

While I wait for the next volume of Caro, what is the best book on LBJ's presidency? The Dalleck was OK,
but I'm looking for something more Caro-like.

Nate Whilk said...

Obama said, "I say that not to suggest that I’m a master wheeler-dealer but, rather, to suggest that there are some structural institutional realities to our political system that don’t have much to do with schmoozing.”

Politics in a democracy is HAAAAARD! WAAAAAAAAAAAH! Of course, regarding the Constitution, er, I mean those "structural institutional realities", if you let me do something about it, er, I mean them (wink, wink)...

Andy Freeman said...

> LBJ, through the Great Society, did what no other Democrat had been able to do -- secure the Black vote.

Nope. FDR actually did that.

Repubs made their vote meaningful (via the various CRAs).

LBJ kept them by destroying the black middle class.

Mitch H. said...

It must have seemed amazing at the time, but with the benefit of hindsight it was inevitable.

The prime evil of hindsight is that it makes the contingent appear inevitable. Reading Caro, I'm not sure if LBJ was the snake in the garden of the midcentury bipartisan consensus, or if corruption is omnipresent, and we only know about it with those so personally toxic that a hater like Caro is unleashed upon them for their sins.

Caro's other book on Moses suggests the latter, but then, maybe Caro is just good at sniffing out the maggots in the meat. I take it everyone thinks I should be reading this Dallek book?

John said...

Mitch,

I like the Caro books and have read them all more than once.

I had seen the Dallek books but never paid much attention to them. Last night, based on discussions here, I downloaded the sample of the second Dallek book covering the presidency to my Kindle.

It has the prefaces, intro and perhaps half the first chapter. I am impressed. Very good.

I plan to buy the book through Ann's portal and read it as soon as I finish the book I am currently reading (Pogue's War)

John Henry