Global Economics

The Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Charm


President Lyndon Baines Johnson as he attends an unspecified conference, 1960s

Photograph by The Abbott Sengstacke Family Papers/Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty Images

President Lyndon Baines Johnson as he attends an unspecified conference, 1960s

LBJ told one adviser: “I’ve watched the Congress from either the inside or the outside … for more than 40 years, and I’ve never seen a Congress that didn’t eventually take the measure of the president it was dealing with.”

To fend off the day when the Congress would resist his requests, Johnson launched a campaign of carrots and sticks that won majorities for his reforms. He directed aides to treat every member of Congress as if he or she was the center of the political universe. They were instructed to return a representative’s or senator’s call in “10 minutes or else.” Johnson himself devoted countless hours talking to them on the telephone.

Conservative Democrats and Republicans were not neglected. When Representative Silvio Conte, a Republican from Massachusetts, cast a vote for a Johnson initiative, the president called to thank him “on behalf of the nation for your vote.”

—Robert Dallek, “Can Obama Be a Majority of One?” New York Times, March 31, 2009.

Juliana Goldman interviewed the president today. His voice changed on the question of the miserable task it is to run the congressional confirmation gauntlet to serve the nation.

Other than that, well, it wasn’t “American Legal History, 1607-1870″ at the law school of the University of Chicago. His tone was in the vicinity of that professor you had in that forgettable sophomore-year course on “Manchuria-Manchukuo China-Japan, a revision.”

He mailed it in. Ms. Goldman did not.

But then, people more knowledgeable than me in both parties suggest the observed is the present method of state. I am unqualified to pontificate, but more than a few end up quoting Robert Caro.

I would suggest something must give, and the thunderous consensus is President Obama is still early on the Curve of Legislative Success.

Mr. President, engage.

Forget the hoity-toity 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. address. Pick up the phone.

Or, better yet, look on the inside cover of a matchbook. Sign up for the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Charm. Discuss.

Keene hosts Bloomberg Surveillance 7-10 a.m. ET on 1130 AM in the New York metro area and nationally on SiriusXM 113.

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