Obama And LBJ

Posted by | June 6, 2012 14:33 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

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.

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Copyright 2012 Liberaland
By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.

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