What Obama Can Learn From LBJ

David Frum: Lyndon Johnson knew how to manipulate
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 15, 2012 6:26 PM CDT
What Obama Can Learn From LBJ
US President Lyndon B. Johnson delivers a speech 28 July 1965 in the White House in Washington, DC, about US policy in the Vietnam war, ordering more US troops to Vietnam.   (Getty Images)

David Frum detects "an unspoken critique of Barack Obama' in the fourth volume of Robert Caro's massive LBJ biography, The Passage of Power. Whereas Lyndon Johnson cajoled, wooed, and threatened in order to amass support for major bills—like the Civil Rights Act and Medicare—President Obama recoils "from the Johnson style" and embraces "Kennedyesque rhetorical grandeur instead." An Obama-style presidency produces "great phrases to the quotation books" but not "enduring change to the history books," writes Frum in the Daily Beast.

Frum also praises Caro's "powerful prose" and ability to summon LBJ "to vivid, intimate life." This new volume of The Passage of Power covers three years of John F. Kennedy's presidency—when LBJ was politically sidelined as vice president—and LBJ's legislative wins as president from 1963 to 1966. One similarity between LBJ and Obama: "driving opponents crazy," writes Frum. "But the use of power Caro so vividly describes is not something that comes naturally to our current president." (To put this in perspective, Frum has also defended Andrew Breitbart.)

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