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Barack Obama Is No Lyndon Johnson

On “Fox and Friends” this morning at 7 a.m. came the news that President Obama and Speaker Boehner had had a phone call last evening, content not disclosed.

That shouldn’t have been news—these are the leaders of each party trying to avoid a governmental disaster that could come in less than a month, and should be talking 10 times a day. But it was news, and that’s troubling to say the least.

As Daniel Henninger makes clear in today’s Wall Street Journal, “Where in his career did Barack Obama ever learn the art of the political deal? Nowhere.” He writes:

Recall the famous Blair House summit he called early in 2010 amid the legislating over Obamacare. Lamar Alexander, Tom Coburn, Paul Ryan and other Republicans talked about wonkish compromises. All of it, every single idea, blew right by the president. Naturally the legislation got zero GOP votes. A kid running for high-school president could have gotten more opposition votes than that.

Obama negotiates with Congressional Republicans the way General MacArthur negotiated with the Japanese on the deck of the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945: Here’s a pen, sign your surrender. But the Japanese were powerless at that point; the Republicans are not today–they hold the House.

Compare that with how Lyndon Johnson got Medicare through Congress in 1965. Johnson was vastly more politically potent in 1965 than is Obama today. Johnson had just carried all but six states in the presidential election and with a higher percentage of the popular vote than FDR achieved in 1936. The Senate was 68-32 Democratic (as compared with 53-47 right now), the House was 295-140 Democratic (as compared with 241-191 Republican).

But Johnson treated Congress as a part of the process, not an annoying obstruction to his will. “I am not for denouncing Congress all the time,” he told a historian that year. “I am not like . . . writers who think of congressmen as archaic buffoons with tobacco drool running down their shirts. . . . I got up at seven this morning to have breakfast with them. I don’t have contempt for them.”

As James T. Patterson explains in a new book, “LBJ spent hours on the phone with congressmen and senators, held frequent one-on-one meetings with leaders, and hosted regular Tuesday morning breakfast gatherings at the White House.” No wonder he got 13 Republican votes in the Senate and fully half the Republicans in the House to vote for Medicare. In contrast, the first time Barack Obama bothered to meet with Mitch McConnell, the minority leader in the Senate, for a one-on-one chat was in July 2010, sixteen full months into his presidency. He’d had time for dozens of rounds of golf by then.

Obama’s utter disdain for any ideas but his own is going to be the ruin of this president and that ruin might not be that long in coming. Too bad it is the country, along with his place in history, that has to suffer for his hubris.