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Obama Needs a Shot of LBJ

It is way past time for The White House to start playing hardball politics with Congress, and I don’t mean the annoying Chris Mathews version.
The LBJ treatment

The LBJ treatment

Lyndon Johnson had many tragic flaws as president, but one thing he knew how to do is get his legislation passed. Members of Congress called it getting “the Johnson treatment” which ranged from flattery, promises of federal money for a pet project back in the district or even rides on Air Force One to bullying and outright threats of White House retribution.

As a result, before Vietnam consumed and then destroyed his presidency, LBJ got a reluctant Congress – controlled almost entirely by conservative, often openly racist, Southern Democrats – to enact Medicare, massive civil rights legislation, expansive voting rights measures, huge anti-poverty programs, generous education funding, financial sector regulation and a raft of other Great Society measures that made life better for tens of millions of Americans of all ages, races and income brackets.

In fact and in no small measure, Barack Obama was able to be elected because of laws LBJ got enacted.

Pres. Obama is said to have read a lot of books about Abraham Lincoln during the campaign and transition; too bad he didn’t read more Doris Kearns Goodwin books about Lyndon Johnson. Right now, he needs a strong shot of LBJ if he hopes to get Congress to enact a health care plan that even faintly resembles “reform” – let alone anything that makes major changes to fix America’s broken, dysfunctional system of doling out medicine.

Barter, Bargain, Beat
Recently, Obama summoned the Blue Dogs – who are just Republicans in blue jackets – to The White House where he tried reasoning with them like an adult. Fine. A good place to start. But as soon as he realised he was getting nowhere and the “ConservaDems” were standing firm, it was time to stop reasoning and start banging heads.

As distasteful as he may find doing so, Obama and his Congressional liaison staff must get in the faces of the recalcitrant members of his own party and barter, bargain or beat them into submission.

It’s all well and good if the president wants to stay above the fray in his era of post-partisan politics. But why isn’t Rahm Emanuel body slamming Blue Dogs against the wall like LBJ and say, "There’s isn’t a Senator on the Hill who doesn’t want something. What do you want? We can drop our opposition to the defense budget rider you’re pushing. Money? We'll give your state billions. Access? How about a weekend at Camp David for you and the family? What about stepping off Air Force One with the president back home?

“But we gotta have your vote. If you don't commit right now to voting with the president on what he wants, the way he wants it, don't ask for any favors while the Obama’s live in this house. Remember, if he goes down, you go down, too."

Big Pharma, medical device manufacturers, physicians and surgeons, the insurance industry and everyone else with a vested interested in killing real health care reform are spending more than one million dollars every day lobbying to try overruling what some 70% of Americans say they want and need: Serious cost control, eliminating coverage denial, killing hidden policy provisions that deny care people thought they were buying, and trimming excessive health industry profits.

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Socialized medicine? Nonsense. These same people same the same thing about Medicare back in the 60s.

For right-wingers, calling reform or a public option government-controlled socialized medicine may play well with the base but what’s being proposed isn’t anything close. Believe me: I'm an American who lives in a country with national health and it works just fine. Sure, anyone can find somebody in Canada – or Britain or Germany or France – with a horror story to put in a commercial. But while people grumble, a new study by a conservative think tank found that 69% of Canadians are very happy with the medical care they receive.


It is way past time for The White House to start playing hardball politics with Congress, and I don’t mean the annoying Chris Mathews version. I mean the sort of hardball politics that will provide universal access to affordable health care – which is what Obama promised during the campaign.

Charley James

The Progressive Curmudgeon

More on this topic here.