Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Johnson Treatment

President Obama is a brilliant orator. But the time for big speeches has passed. Health care reform is going to require what political scientists call the The Johnson Treatment.

President Lyndon Johnson gets a bad rap as president, chiefly because of the Vietnam Conflict. But we sometimes forget that it was he, not President Kennedy, who was responsible for getting Civil Right Legislation passed. It was President Johnson who got Medicare and Medicaid through the United States Congress. It is not commonly remembered that before becoming Vice-president and then inheriting the presidency; Johnson had been an iconic legislator. I can say without fear of correction, that Johnson had been one of the most influential and powerful majority leaders in the history of Congress. He was able to use the full force of his own personality to garner support for bills he supported. He convinced people to either join his cause or prepare to get bulldozed.

The most famous aspect of The Johnson Treatment was executed through shear proximity. Johnson got face to face with people. He then used every emotional weapon in his arsenal. He used everything from flattery to cajolery. He used logic and threats, and anything in between. But that was only part of the treatment. Johnson was a master at finding out what people wanted and needed. He told people face to face in private what he needed from them, and what he was willing to do for them in return. One newly elected freshman congressman was ushered aboard a plane and delivered to the Oval Office for a private audience with president who said "Congratulations son I'm going to need your help". The congressman never voted against him.

Its alright for the president to sell the nation on health care reform with stately speeches in grand halls and whistle stop tours. But he needs to get up close and personal with the blue dogs. He needs to apply The Johnson Treatment one them one at a time, and away from their staffs. There is something each one of them needs support for in their districts. Someone needs more aids, someone needs a hospital, someone needs government funds for play grounds. All of them need campaign support contacts. I know it all sounds like pork and the president is against pork barrel spending. But this fight is too important not to pull out all the stops. I assure you that Congress was not rushing to get in line to support Civil Rights Legislation in 1964. It took some arm twisting to get that done.

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