Obama Channels LBJ



After a week-long overseas trip, President Barack Obama has returned full force to the issue of health care, dropping phrases like "Inaction is not an option" and "Don't bet against us." And according to The Washington Post, when it comes to using tough rhetoric to push legislation through Congress, Obama is channeling a pioneer in the realm of sweeping domestic agendas: President Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson was renowned for his ability to "persuade" members of Congress to support his policies, including Medicare. Obama is apparently following LBJ's example:

The tough talk in the Rose Garden gave way hours later to behind-the-scenes Lyndon B. Johnson-style lobbying, as Obama pledged in a pair of private meetings with Democratic lawmakers to stake his political capital on this year's top agenda item.
In mapping its strategy, the Obama team chose to take its cues from another Democratic senator-turned-president: following the legislative model employed by Johnson to enact Medicare in 1965. […] Early on, Obama and health czar Nancy-Ann DeParle discussed the parallels with Johnson and creation of the health program that serves 45 million seniors and people with disabilities today. Just as Johnson gave legendary lawmaker Wilbur Mills (D-Ark.) latitude to craft the Medicare bill, Obama has asked Congress to write the health-care revamp legislation.

"There are two qualities these presidents have in common," White House senior adviser David Axelrod gushed to the Post. Obama is like Johnson in that he "had a big vision and drove the country toward it, and second, he had a great appreciation for the legislative process."

What's also clear is that Johnson's health care reform turned out to be a disaster, much like Obama's looks to be. Praising the mastermind behind Medicare—probably not such a smart idea right about now.

As Stephen Hayward and Erik Peterson pointed out in a 1993 Reason article entitled "The Medicare Monster," the staggering cost of Johnson's program alone is a warning sign about the feasability of any health care industry overhaul: 

At its start, in 1966, Medicare cost $3 billion. The House Ways and Means Committee estimated that Medicare would cost only about $ 12 billion by 1990 (a figure that included an allowance for inflation). This was a supposedly "conservative" estimate. But in 1990 Medicare actually cost $107 billion.

 Read Hayward and Peterson's full article here.


NEXT: Who Will Watch the Wearers of the Watchers?

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  1. Johnson was renowned for his ability to “persuade” members of Congress to support his policies, including Mediare. Obama is apparently following LBJ’s example:

    Johnson was also “renowned” for his Great Society programs and the War On Poverty, both of which were failures. There was also a small thing called the Vietnam War. Johnson was one of the worse political disasters to ever occur in this country.

  2. Is it my imagination, or has Mr. Obama utterly disappeared from the radar screen?
    He went to Europe and almost nobody noticed.
    Then he came home, and almost nobody noticed.

  3. I keep liking this Obama fellow less and less.

  4. Hmm – is Johnson really the comparison they want to be making? (Why not just go straight to Carter and skip the escalating preliminaries?)

  5. I wonder if Obama calls his aides into the loo whilst taking a dump.

  6. | July 14, 2009, 6:16pm | #
    Is it my imagination, or has Mr. Obama utterly disappeared from the radar screen?

    Not from the BBC. They had a bunch on his visit to Ghana on the way back from Russia.

  7. Ha! Obama is a kitten compared to LBJ!

    LBJ got things done because he had been speaker of the house and knew where all the bodies were buried. He famously had the black mistress of a white Democratic congressman opponent of the Civil Rights call him up and berate him until he supported the act. LBJ clawed his way up in the dirty politics of the day, paying his dues at each level. He passed dozens of pieces of contentious legislation long before he reached the White House.

    Prior to becoming President Obama had sponsored exactly one successful bill and that one was widely supported and uncontroversial. There is no way that captain empty suit has the kind of insider knowledge and pull that let LBJ commit his colossal blunders.

    Maybe that is a good thing.

  8. Obama Channels LBJ

    So…he’ll get bogged down in a senseless war and be so unpopular in three years he’ll refuse to run for a second term then?

    Cool! Go, LB…I mean, Obama! We already have the war, so no problem! But…um…all that domestic agenda shit: You wanna give it a miss this time? Please?

  9. Why doesn’t Reason put together a little video based on the figures in this article, suitably updated. “When Medicare started, it was projected to cost X. It now costs XXX. Obama says his health care proposal will only cost XXX. Can we afford what it will really cost?”

  10. LBJ got things done because he had been speaker of the house

    His own house, maybe, but not the House of Reps.

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