[LBJ Library photo #1a-1-wh63_med.jpg by Cecil Stoughton]

Why can’t Barack Obama be more like Lyndon Johnson?

Apr 23, 2013

by Alex Massie
[posted on spectator.co.uk on April 23, 3013]

So is Barack Obama a wimp or just another lame-duck second-term President? Maureen Dowd, in her typically sophomoric fashion, appears to believe that the failure to pass gun control legislation shows that the President has not been paying enough attention to Aaron Sorkin movies. Tim Stanley, who at least knows something of how Washington works, suggests this failure reveals Obama as a lame-duck.

Today’s New York Times piles on with an article asking, essentially, why oh why BHO can’t be more like LBJ. As is so often the case, a presidential setback must be attributed to an absence of Presidential willpower. The Cult of the Presidency is an eternal flame that can never, ever, be extinguished.

Thank heavens Ryan Lizza is on hand to remind us that Presidential power is always limited.

A fundamental fact of modern political life is that the only way to advance a coherent agenda in Washington is through partisan dominance. When Obama had large Democratic majorities in Congress during his first two years in office, he led one of the most successful legislative periods in modern history. After he lost the House, his agenda froze and the current status quo of serial fiscal crises began. Like it or not, for many years, Washington has been most productive when one party controlled both Congress and the White House.

The boring fact of our system is that congressional math is the best predictor of a President’s success. This idea is not nearly as sexy as the notion that great Presidents are great because they twist arms in backrooms and inspire the American people to rise up and force Congress to bend to their will. But even the Presidents who are remembered for their relentless congressional lobbying and socializing were more often than not successful for more mundane reasons—like arithmetic.

Lyndon Johnson’s celebrated legislative achievements were in reality only a function of the congressional election results—not his powers of persuasion. In 1965 and 1966, after the enormous Democratic gains of the 1964 election, Johnson was a towering figure who passed sweeping legislation. read more

Additional press:
LBJ or President Michael Douglas Would Have Passed a Gun Bill [nymag.com posted April 23, 2013]
Can Obama twist arms like LBJ? No way [newsworks.org posted April 24, 2013]
Opinion: LBJ may be good model for Obama [ljworld.com posted April 24, 2013]