Obama And LBJ
One of the many memorable moments of the 2008 campaign was when Hillary Clinton talked about how President Johnson was as essential to the civil rights victories as Martin Luther King (and got vilified for the comment). Since then, dissatisfied Democrats have taken to criticizing President Obama for not cajoling Congress like LBJ did. Kevin Drum goes through LBJ’s techniques for dealing with Congress and concludes:
None of this is to say that Obama has used every bit of clout he has, or that a little more hardnosed bargaining might not have done him some good here and there. Nor is to deny that LBJ had a natural instinct for finding pressure points he could exploit. But for the most part, the tools that LBJ used just flatly aren’t available to Obama. And of the ones that are, he’s used them.
So can we stop hearing about how much more Obama could have gotten done if only he’d been more willing to really use the power of the presidency, like LBJ did? There’s no more than the tiniest grain of truth to it. Washington DC is a far different place today than it was in 1964, and Obama has to deal with his Washington, not LBJ’s.
While the president has gained power in foreign policy and in the regulatory arena over the past few decades, his ability to influence Congress has decreased. Witness President Clinton’s failure over health care reform and President Bush’s on Social Security privatization when their parties controlled Congress. In fact you can argue that President Obama did better with a Congress controlled by his own party than anyone since LBJ. And no president has had to deal with an opposition Congress like the one currently controlling the House.