Tuesday, July 3, 2012

From Jonathan Miller: LBJ & BHO

Jonathan Miller wrote the following comments after reading the Introduction to Robert Caro's The Passage to Power (a book I am also "reading" on cd):

I am reading Robert Caro's biography of Johnson, The Passage of Power. The fourth in his monumental series. The book is about political power. How Johnson got it, maintained it, lost it as vice president, and then triumphantly regained and used it in 1964 and 65. Reading the introduction, it is as though Caro is talking directly to President Obama. Urging him to learn the lessons of those seven weeks of transition, from the assassination of Kennedy to Johnson's first state of the Union speech. 

When he became Leader of the Senate Johnson found a body that many thought was a useless relic of a bygone era and bent it to his will. When he became President he faced a Congress in which Kennedy's legislative agenda was utterly stalled. In those two years of 64-5, Johnson used his legislative genius and his masterful grasp of how to use political power and passed perhaps the most important series of legislative acts in 20th Century American history; the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965,  Medicaid, Medicare, and the myriad bills that enacted the War on Poverty.
It is as though Caro is saying to Obama, yes you face a Congress stymied by money and ideological division, but look it can be done. Learn from the master. America in the second decade of the 21st Century is a very different place than it was in the 1960's, in part because of the very laws Johnson managed to get enacted, but the exercise of political power does not change, just the will and expertise to use it.