Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Slate

September 28, 2012

Slate: Why we want presidents like LBJ

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

However, agreements with Democrats may not be what Romney wants in office. "The purpose of negotiation is to get agreement," Reagan said, but the definition of what agreement means is up for grabs for each president. Does it mean accommodating the other side's concerns, or is a president supposed to stand his ground until the other side caves? This is an abstract debate that's hard to have until actual legislation is on the table, but in the current political climate, agreements based on Isaiah's call "come now, let us reason together" seem quaint. A new Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation study shows that the political parties are as polarized and far apart as ever.

The new level of partisanship suggests that LBJ's skills might not be that useful for the modern president. Who would a President Romney or Obama cajole, sweet talk, or strong arm? It's true that Johnson faced a recalcitrant, conservative bloc of Southern Democrats and Midwesterners. But he could run around them by creating his own mix of liberal Democrats and liberal Republicans. Today's presidents can't mix and match their own coalitions so easily.

How much more could Obama have achieved if he had a larger share of Johnson's ability to measure other politicians? Maybe he could have convinced Sen. Joe Lieberman, I, Conn., to support a few more ventures. He might have pushed the three Republican senators to agree to make the Recovery Act larger than $800 billion. He could have convinced Sen. Ben Nelson to vote for health care by giving Nebraska 100 percent federal funding of the Medicaid expansion indefinitely into the future. Oh wait, he did that. Very LBJ of him, but it created such a political stink he had to withdraw the offer. Howls emerged from those who said Obama was acting like a greasy politician, not the change agent he promised to be. Another president might have been able pull it off, but not Obama. The argument he presented for why he should be president foreclosed some of the deals he could cut as president.

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