How To Measure for a President

Sep 27, 2012

By John Dickerson

[Originally posted in Slate on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012]

As a young politician, Johnson would literally sit at the knee of those he sought to ingratiate himself to. Once in power, he still buttered up those he needed. Once when walking out of the Oval Office with an executive from a steel company, Johnson told him, “It takes a powerful man to convince the President of the United States.” He used that same trick with Sen. Harry Byrd. “Now you can tell your friends that you forced the president of the United States to reduce the budget before you let him have his tax cut,” he told the powerful senator from Virginia. In a conversation with Sen. Albert Gore, he cooed: "There's not anybody I'm more interested in than myself and you. … Any little thing that we can do here to add to your stature, we sure want to do it." Presidential historian Fred Greenstein writes that Johnson “had an unerring sense of the preoccupations of his colleagues and a genius for linking the provisions of proposed laws to the interests of sufficient numbers of legislators to enact them.”  read more

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. He can be reached at slatepolitics@gmail.com.