Monday, January 14, 2008

The LBJ Example

While I think Hillary's statement about MLK is being overly parsed, I tend to side with Steve Benen and Andrew Sullivan as to its implications.

But I think there's even something more too it than this, and which compares more favorably with Obama.

And that is that LBJ accomplished much of what he did, including the signing of the Voting Rights Act, the year after his massive landslide victory, which swept overwhelming Democratic majorities into congress on his coat-tails. And while the death of JFK and the extremist campaign of Barry Goldwater helped contribute to that victory, the fact is that LBJ needed those large majorities in Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act and to pass Medicare and Medicaid, among other notable legislative achievements. Obama is campaigning with the recognition that large electoral change is necessary to accomplish significant political legislative and executive change. Hillary's campaign is based implicitly if not explicitly, on the idea that no such electoral change can or will occur and that political and policy change will happen only through the tough grit of experience.

1 comment:

shoffy22 said...

Very interesting post! The Andrew Sullivan piece that it links to, which criticizes Bill Clinton's presidency in regards to what he did for gay rights, brings up some really important points.

First, Sullivan references Clinton's initial effort to get rid of the ban against gays in the military, where Clinton at first seemed very courageous to propose a much needed change in policy. At the same time his political shrewdness was lacking in that he did it too soon (right after the inauguration i think) instead of waiting a while and consulting with the military more to build consensus, etc. and this created a backlash that forced him to back away and propose 'don't ask don't tell' which indeed seems to suck.

Then the second example points out a case where later in his presidency he had developed a lot of political shrewdness and was able to come out on top of a lot of battles (govt. shutdown in 95, welfare reform in 96). At the same time, however, he sold out too quickly on a lot of things, probably in large part because he still felt burned by his political losses in the first two years of his presidency. And supporting the defense of marriage act has to stand as one of the low points of his presidency.

Taken together, I think these examples point out that a balance of both political courage and political shrewdness needs to be attained for great positive reforms to happen - in bill clinton's case it seems he wasn't able to combine these elements together enough to enact major positive reforms like universal health care, though he did do well in other areas - most especially deficit reduction, but it still seems that if he could have taken the political shrewdness he had gained after the first few years as president and also kept the political courage that he had at the beginning, great things could have been achieved.

Which now gets me thinking about the current election. Good point from Bulworth as well about the large majorities LBJ won in the '64 election and how Obama recognizes the importance of a large majority in his efforts to unite and broaden his appeal. Indeed, I agree that Obama has done an amazing job with this.

And in addition to having the large majority and a lot of popular support to help him - what LBJ achieved in 1964 and 65 is a great example of what can be done when political shrewdness and courage are combined - as LBJ was a tactical master in pushing the civil rights and voting rights and medicare and medicaid bills through, and at the same time for the civil rights and voting rights bills LBJ had to really stick his neck out, since he had come from the south and faced so much opposition from his own party.

And for both Hillary and Obama now, this will be interesting to see how they do in both these areas. Both have shown great political shrewdness for the most part in running excellent campaigns and their ability to let their unique strengths shine, which has resulted in passionate support for both of them.

The next key will be what political courage they can show. For Obama, this is still an unknown since he's so new on the national stage - but he does have some good examples such as i think early opposition to the war in Iraq even when it was still popular.

Hillary I think has more examples and a mixed record on courageous stands- showing lots of guts (and bad shrewdness unfortunatley) in her first attempt to create universal health care, plus i'd say lots of personal guts in dealing with all the personal issues her and bill have gone through. But she's also sold out or been way to moderate on a good number of issues - Iraq and the example Bulworth mentioned about retroactive reduction of crack use penalties point out that too often she follows what is most popular even when the policies have many flaws.

My hope for either Hillary or Obama is that whoever ultimately wins can then win the general election and then in 2009-2010 thru a combination of political courage and shrewdness achieve some of the things that Bill Clinton couldn't achieve - most especially universal health care.

It seems to me that both Hillary and Obama have it in them if they let their best qualities shine - and hopefully their current head to head competition will bring out the best in both of them.

Ahh sorry for the long post, what exciting stuff! Grazie to the good senator for all the thought provoking posts thru the past few weeks of political excitement!