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How did LBJ achieve the genius of striking important domestic deals with Congress ? (NOT foreign policy)


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Initial post: Dec 3, 2012 10:48:54 AM PST
While I strongly disapprove of how LBJ handled the Vietnam war, I think the man was magnificent in how he was able to strike deals with Congress in passing important domestic legislation, especially in comparison to the stalemate atmosphere in government today.

The Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the creation of Medicare and VISTA, student loans, the entire War on Poverty...the list goes on. How the hell did he do it ? It seems as though such things could never be accomplished in Congress today.

Was it because LBJ was owed favors from his days as Senate Majority Leader ? Or did he just have that strong of a will and force of personality that he twisted arms until he got what he wanted ?

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 3, 2012 10:51:31 AM PST
democrat congress
he knew what he wanted
not defer to pelosi or whoever to tell him

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 3, 2012 11:01:49 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 3, 2012 11:03:02 AM PST
Lientje says:
Robert Bykowski: He was there during the Good Old Boys days. They fought each other on the floor and schmoozed outside
the Capitol Building. In that way, it was a much better way than what we have now. Something got done.

He also didn't have to deal with Tea Party members, who are of course superior to everyone else in the US, and with that standard in
mind, can never give an inch.

Posted on Dec 3, 2012 11:03:19 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 3, 2012 11:04:21 AM PST
andthehorseirodeinontoo?,

Even still...a good portion of the Democrats in Congress were southern Democrats who voted just like Republicans, for the most part. Yes, he knew what he wanted but he had to force his will on the entire Congress. How did he do it ?

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 3, 2012 11:07:17 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 3, 2012 11:08:13 AM PST
Lilyokalani says: "He was there during the Good Old Boys days. They fought each other on the floor and schmoozed outside the Capitol Building. In that way, it was a much better way than what we have now. Something got done."

Yep...that's probably it. In that sense, we operated more like British Parliament: yell and bitch at each other like crazy on the floor, then go out for a drink afterwards and hammer out a deal.

That's a MUCH better way to handle things. We should learn that from our history.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 3, 2012 11:09:47 AM PST
he told them

not sit back like yobamamama and see what pelosi gives him

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 3, 2012 11:41:17 AM PST
John M. Lane says:
Johnson was a consummate politician. He was also influential with the Southern Democrats who were blocking progress on Civil Rights and Voting Rights.

He was able to lead Democrats away from Jim Crow (as the system of "separate but equal' was called.) And he had the political leadership needed to maintain GOP support for his landmark civil rights legislation.

I think it's a mistake to blame Johnson's foreign policy for US involvement in Vietnam. He saw himself as a "domestic policy" President, but was confronted with an over-the-border invasion by Communist forces from Hanoi at the height of the Cold War. It posed a lethal threat to the policy of "Containment" articulated by previous administrations.

One of his early biographers, Professor Eric Goldman, described US involvement in Vietnam as a "tragedy" more than anything else. It was a conflict Johnson inherited, not one that he created.

Posted on Dec 3, 2012 11:42:19 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 3, 2012 11:42:45 AM PST
DarthRad says:
Arg. Don't guys know? The first thing LBJ did as president was to tell J. Edgar Hoover that he was going to be FBI Director for life (JFK/RFK had told J. Edgar that he would have to retire). That gave LBJ access to all of Hoover's secret dossiers on the Congressmen whose arms he needed to twist.

LBJ above all else loved power and the exercise of power.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 3, 2012 11:44:49 AM PST
John M. Lane says:
I dion't agree, DarthRad. Hoover had enough on LBJ that Johnson couldn't tell him to do anything.

Johnson was smooth enough to work with Hoover and stay out of his cross hairs. At least that's my recollection of it.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 3, 2012 12:06:17 PM PST
LBJ was a ruthless man who didn't mind making enemies in his own party. You have to remember the baby boomers were all entering the workforce at once. This opened up a huge source of added government revenue. All of his programs and the escalation of the Vietnam war were pretenses to make himself and his Texas buddies richer.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 3, 2012 12:20:13 PM PST
John M. Lane says: "One of his early biographers, Professor Eric Goldman, described US involvement in Vietnam as a "tragedy" more than anything else. It was a conflict Johnson inherited, not one that he created."

I'm certainly aware that LBJ inherited the conflict, but it's pretty clear that he expanded our involvement to ridiculous proportions. The real question remains how JFK would have handled things had he lived. And I sincerely doubt that Eisenhower would have allowed our involvement to reach the point that it did.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 3, 2012 12:20:18 PM PST
John M. Lane says:
I disagree, mr. critic. Professor Eric Goldman, one of Johnson's early biographers, noted that the last thing Johnson wanted was an escalating war in Southeast Asia.

The Communists escalated the war, not LBJ. He responded to their escalations and it wrecked his political career just like he feared it would.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 3, 2012 12:23:53 PM PST
John M. Lane says:
Kennedy already had American troops assisting anti-Communist forces in Vietnam by training and equipping them, Robert Bykowski. Kennedy was impressed by the British SAS and established the American Green Berets as a consequence.

Had he survived, I suspect Kennedy would have used the same "special warfare" strategy the SAS used. Kennedy, however, was not confronted by an over-the-border invasion by conventional Communist forces like Johnson was.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 3, 2012 12:29:04 PM PST
John M. Lane: LBJ and Bush Jr. both got seduced by the vast amounts of money that could be made from even a slightly extended war. Lady Bird owned a lot of stock in Bell Helicopter. Coincidence? LBJ was in the pocket of every Texas millionaire. Briefcases full of hundred dollar bills did not begin with the Kennedy brothers nor did they end with the Kennedy brothers. The total amount of wealth accumulated by the Johnson family may never be known.

Look at the TARP package in October of 2008. Do you doubt many members of congress and their families were going all in to the stock market that day the Dow Jones plummeted to 6,700 before the announcement was made?

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 3, 2012 12:33:10 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 3, 2012 12:34:02 PM PST
John M. Lane says:
I don't subscribe to the "merchants of death" theory, mr. critic. I realize that some individuals do profit from the arms trade, but don't consider that a decisive factor for either Johnson or Bush.

Johnson was confronted by a conventional invasion by Communist forces. Bush was confronted by Saddam's defiance of the Cease Fire terms which had ended the first Gulf War. This included Saddam's on-going efforts to shoot-down Coalition aircraft patrolling the "No-Fly Zone."

Both Johnson and Bush paid heavy political prices for their actions and I think both of them realized the risks.

Posted on Dec 3, 2012 12:39:28 PM PST
vivazappa says:
He cracked skulls...read "Master of the Senate" and see what I mean!

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 3, 2012 12:40:37 PM PST
John M. Lane says:
He was a Democrat, vivazappa. They're allowed to do that.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 3, 2012 1:10:58 PM PST
Well he was a wheeler dealer from way back, plus if I were a conspiracy nut I would say J. Edgar Hoover's files had a little to do with the arm twisting he did.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 3, 2012 1:19:11 PM PST
John M. Lane says:
I agree that Hoover collected dirt on everybody, Richard M. Smith, and that he used it whenever he thought it was useful. I'm not sure how that benefited Johnson, though.

Indeed, I suspect that Johnson's main benefit from Hoover's notorious files was that Hoover didn't slime him publically. Perhaps that's why LBJ left him alone?

Yes, LBJ was a "wheeler dealer" from way back and his "Great Society" and "War on Poverty" stand as examples of the "welfare state" and it "big government." That's where I'm critical of Johnson.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 3, 2012 2:01:09 PM PST
I'm critical of him on those programs, but I really furious with him for expanding the war in Vietnam when according to MacNamera, LBJ had no intention of seeking a military victory. LBJ spent the lives of my brothers in arms in a vain attempt to achieve a stalemate. If you have to fight a war, you fight to win, or you are betraying your troops.

Posted on Dec 3, 2012 2:26:18 PM PST
Richard M. Smith,

Well put. McNamara, however, is equally guilty -- he presented a grand design to LBJ on how and why expanding the war was necessary, in his mind. Objective veterans who fought in WWII and Korea (by objective, I mean those not obsessed with a "my country, right or wrong...love it or leave it" mentality) were furious as to why the war was dragging on and on with no end in sight. The enemy in North Vietnam was tougher than anyone expected -- that I understand. But if we conquered fascism in WWII (with help, I acknowledge), how were we not able to end this conflict ? Better question is why we embroiled ourselves so deeply in the civil war of another country which was really not a threat to us. But that question could be asked endlessly.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 3, 2012 2:38:00 PM PST
John M. Lane says:
That's a good point, Richard M. Smith. I think it might have been because Johnson's real expertise was in politics, where compromise and incrementalism are often successful policies.

Johnson applied strategies that worked well for him in the political arena to a war. I believe the policy of "gradual escalation" in response to what the Communists were doing was one of his policies. That's a mistake no military commander would have made because it surrenders the initiative to the enemy.

Hitting the Communists hard and breaking up their offensive would have ended the war in a few months, in my opinion. Instead, Johnson relied upon an incremental policy so as not to trigger Communist Chinese intervention. I understand that, but it prolonged what should have been a short war into a very long, divisive war in my opinion.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 3, 2012 2:45:37 PM PST
I think we were there out of a combination of altruism and a desire to resist communist agression.

We always had the ability to end the conflict, but Johnson didn't want to. If Nixon was able to force the North Vietnamese and the VC to the conference table, LBJ could have as well. Especially since during LBJs time the North didn't have the defenses it had built up by Nixon's term. Perhaps if LBJ had used the big club like Nixon did the war would not have soured the US political scene and we would have the will to hold the North Vietnamese to the treaty they signed in Paris. In that case there would still be a free South Vietnam, corrupt perhaps, but free and the hundreds of thousands of people murdered by the NVA and the Pathet Lao in the name of communism would still be alive.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 3, 2012 2:51:10 PM PST
John M. Lane says:
I agree, Richard M. Smith. The war was "winnable," but LBJ was too frightened by the possibility of triggering a third world war to apply the force necessary. There's a new book by Sorley that gets into that a bit.

He makes the point that our soldiers were never defeated and that the Communist victory came only after politics in the US curtailed military assistance to the Republic of Vietnam. Indeed, General Giap referred to that in his general orders, a rare tip of the hat to supporters inside the US.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 3, 2012 2:51:13 PM PST
Johnson spent the entire war attempting to "send a message" to the North Vietnamese in order to get them to negotiate. They were unwilling to negotiate as long as they saw the ability to win it all on the battlefield and the court of public opinion in the US. It took Nixon's unrestricted strategic bombing campaigns and the mining of Haiphong Harbor to block the resupply efforts from the PRC and Soviet Union that allowed the NVA to prosecute the war to force the North to the negotiating table. Even at that the North had no intention of living up to the treaty they signed, it was just to get a breathing space to resupply and replace their troop losses, before resuming hostilities.
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Discussion in:  History forum
Participants:  13
Total posts:  76
Initial post:  Dec 3, 2012
Latest post:  Dec 28, 2012

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