A great blogpost by the astute journalists at “The Atlantic” on the ups and downs of comparing Lyndon Johnson’s and Barack Obama’s handling of Congress to get things done - and one which I reblog particularly because I do not concur with it.
True, partisanship in the Capitol Hill of today is way stronger than back in the 1960s; and while LBJ could count on the support of at least some members of the opposition, Obama can count on none. But in my view this confuses hen and egg. The real key point here is this: What is the reason behind the vociferous opposition by Republicans against each and every idea from the White House? And the reason is all too clear, too: Because President Obama affronted the GOP time and again until the last morsels of good will have had evaporated.
In stark contrast to LBJ and even Ronald Reagan - and in remarkable variance to his claims in the run up to his first inauguration, too - President Obama nipped any chance of bipartisanship in the bud by ironing over Republicans in Congress in almost each and every bit of legislation. Thus, he’s got only himself to blame for the deadlock which blocks his administration today, and yes: The stratagems and manoeuvres of LBJ would at least provide for some chance to get things done.
The LBJ Library recently held a multiday program to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, and by all accounts, the program was stirring and stimulating, up to and including President Obama’s speech.
But there was one downside: the reactivation of one of the most enduring memes and myths about the presidency, and especially the Obama presidency. Like Rasputin (or Whac-A-Mole,) it keeps coming back even after it has been bludgeoned and obliterated by facts and logic. I feel compelled to whack this mole once more.
The meme is what Matthew Yglesias, writing in 2006, referred to as "the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics," and has been refined by Greg Sargent and Brendan Nyhan into the Green Lantern Theory of the presidency. In a nutshell, it attributes heroic powers to a president—if only he would use them. And the holders of this theory have turned it into the meme that if only Obama used his power of persuasion, he could have the kind of success that LBJ enjoyed with the Great Society, that Bill Clinton enjoyed in his alliance with Newt Gingrich that gave us welfare reform and fiscal success, that Ronald Reagan had with Dan Rostenkowski and Bill Bradley to get tax reform, and so on.
If only Obama had dealt with Congress the way LBJ did—persuading, cajoling, threatening, and sweet-talking members to attain his goals—his presidency would not be on the ropes and he would be a hero. If only Obama would schmooze with lawmakers the way Bill Clinton did, he would have much greater success. If only Obama would work with Republicans and not try to steamroll them, he could be a hero and have a fiscal deal that would solve the long-term debt problem.
If only the proponents of this theory would step back and look at the realities of all these presidencies (or would read or reread the Richard Neustadt classic, Presidential Power.)
Read more. [Image: JD Hancock/Flickr]