Commentary Magazine


The Un-Lyndon Johnson

It finally seems to be dawning on much of the Washington press corps that President Obama doesn’t much like the way governance works in a democracy and so he just doesn’t do what presidents are paid to do: get things done.

It seems that his press conference yesterday, marking the hundredth day of his second term, was more or less of a disaster. He whined that his failure on gun control, cybersecurity, and removal of the sequester was all  the fault of Congress, and especially congressional Republicans. Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post slices and dices that one most effectively. But Jen, of course, is a conservative. More surprising, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, also beats him up big time.

When Jonathan Karl of ABC, asked the president if he still had the “juice” to pass his agenda, Dowd reported Obama’s response:

Then he put on his best professorial mien to give his high-minded philosophy of governance: Reason together and do what’s right.

“But, Jonathan,” he lectured Karl, “you seem to suggest that somehow, these folks over there have no responsibilities and that my job is to somehow get them to behave. That’s their job. They are elected, members of Congress are elected in order to do what’s right for their constituencies and for the American people.”

Actually, it is his job to get them to behave. The job of the former community organizer and self-styled uniter is to somehow get this dunderheaded Congress, which is mind-bendingly awful, to do the stuff he wants them to do. It’s called leadership.

Obama, in other words, is the un-Lyndon Johnson. Johnson buttered up members of Congress with abandon, threatened them, and made deals as necessary to get his agenda through Congress. As a result, he had the most successful record of any president of the post-war era in bending Congress to his will.

But Obama, it seems, can hardly stand to shake hands with a member of Congress. Instead, as Dowd, says, he treats them the way professors treat not-overbright students. He explains what is the right thing to do and then expects them to do it, no questions asked, let alone self-interests pursued.

As his lame duck status intensifies, his chilly personality, utter disdain for any opinion but his own, and professorial ways will make him ever less effective, although it seems he is already about as ineffective as a president can be. He might want to read up on how Woodrow Wilson, another professor with a chilly personality, fared in the waning days of his term. It wasn’t pretty.

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