Too Many Arms To Twist

If you don’t buy my mockery of the idea that Barack Obama could get a lot done if he just got in touch with his inner LBJ, how about the opinion of Elizabeth Drew, who actually covered the Johnson administration as a reporter?

At the New York Review of Books blog, Drew said this about the LBJ analogy the other day:

[T]he suggestion that Obama should be like LBJ is ridiculous. After his 1964 landslide Johnson had seventy-seven Democrats in the Senate, and a super-majority in the House as well. There was also available to him the cooperation of numerous moderate Republicans—now a nearly extinct species. (Even Bill Clinton had at least ten moderate Senate Republicans he could deal with.) In fact, because members of Congress have become all the more adept at raising their own money and able to commute to and connect with their districts or states with more ease, Johnson would be laughed away if he tried to govern now the way he did then.

LBJ was a brilliant legislative strategist, and entirely amoral when it came to doing what was necessary to achieve his (sometimes moral, sometimes not so much) objectives. But he also had the advantages of an agenda based on that of a recently martyred and much mourned predecessor and one of the great landslides in U.S. electoral history, not to mention across-the-aisle support on the issues where southern defections made Democratic unity impossible. His legislative accomplishments were a matter of a leader finding the perfect moment to display his strengths, and once the moment passed, LBJ’s strength of will began to become a handicap as much as an asset.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.