Richard Cohen Yearns for Obama to Be Like LBJ

Imagine President Barack Obama leaning hard into Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, pressing him to support a piece of legislation or, say, introduce a budget bill that has been MIA for the past three years. Obama is a real go getter and has been burning up the phone lines until late at night to convince legislators to support him. He even invites a number of people from Capitol Hill to join him for rounds of golf where he continues the art of persuasion.

Hard to believe that fantasy? Well, that is what the Washington Post opinion writer Richard Cohen is fervently wishing for. Cohen's magic genie wish, inspired by the newly published Robert Caro book, The Passage of Power, is that Obama will do a complete U-turn on his introverted, hands-off personality and become like Lyndon B. Johnson. Here is Cohen going into flights of fantasy on this topic in his latest column with the somewhat less than ringing endorsement title, What Obama doesn’t know about being president:

Where Johnson was strong and unparalleled — personal relationships with much of Washington — Obama is frighteningly weak. Last week I asked a member of the Senate if he knows of anyone who really knows Obama. He said he does not.

Washington is thick with stories about Obama’s insularity and distance. We hear how he does not listen to criticism — he sometimes just walks out of the room — and how he sticks to a tight circle of friends. His usual weekly golf game is mostly limited to the same people — and when he played a round with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), it was treated as an exceptional event.

And after telling us how terrible the unvetted Obama has been as president, Cohen sings the praises of his beloved LBJ:

Lyndon Johnson, in contrast, would not think of wasting a golf game on the game itself. ...Caro agrees with a prominent Johnson backer who called his man “the greatest salesman one on one.” It was this ability that enabled him to win passage of both his civil rights and anti-poverty agendas. Both were historic pieces of legislation, secured by an unelected president (Johnson had been John F. Kennedy’s vice president) and in a Congress controlled by Southern conservatives. He had no electoral mandate. It was a political tour de force.

Southern conservatives? Please, Richard. Is it that hard to write "Southern Democrats?" Anyway, Cohen continues his paean to LBJ while bemoaning the unengaged Obama:

Johnson, of course, was a creature of Congress. He knew the key players and, if he didn’t, he made it his business to remedy that. Johnson passed his program one vote at a time. He was not much of a public speaker — awkward and stilted — while Obama is an accomplished orator. The trouble is that when the last echoes of an Obama speech have faded, so has the audience. The masses who cheered for change went home. The politicians then took over. It takes more than a speech for them to embrace change.

Another caveat here: Obama is only as accomplished an orator as his teleprompter allows him to be. Okay, back to Cohen whining about Obama's lack of political skills which was ignored by the liberal media four years ago:

But Obama cannot or will not indulge in the sort of face-to-face politicking that Johnson so favored. He has not stroked important contributors — one bundler told me he never hears from Obama. As the New York Times put it recently in an article about his fundraising on Wall Street, Obama himself has “a reputation for being cold at small gatherings.” “I just don’t think he likes us,” one fundraiser is quoted as saying.

The best that can be said for Obama is that he treats everyone with about the same degree of distance. One important Democrat used the term “cuckoo-clock events” to refer to White House receptions where Obama robotically appears, says a minimal amount of words and then disappears. He does not mingle — or, if he does, it is as little as possible. Bill Clinton, in contrast, was the host from hell. The party never ended.

Perhaps Cohen can remember when Obama first became prominent on the national scene and many in the mainstream media shouted down any attempt to check into his background. Perhaps if this had been allowed back then, the Democrats wouldn't have been saddled with a president whose main legislative accomplishment was to vote "Present." So complain all you want about Obama, Mr. Cohen, but its a little late for that now.

As for Robert Caro's book, your humble correspondent highly recommends that all serious students of history and politics read it. Although Caro himself is a liberal and praised Obama on Fareed Zakaria GPS (while also comparing his leadership unfavorably with Johnson), his volumes on Lyndon Johnson are notable for their attention to detail and craftsmanship.

p.s. Welcome Instapundit readers!

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