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Tom Johnson

What would LBJ do?

Editor's note: As President Barack Obama struggles to win support for health care reform, a former aide to President Lyndon B. Johnson reflects, "What would LBJ do?" Might Obama take a lesson or two from the late Texas Democrat?

• LBJ would have a list of every member of Congress on his desk.

• He would be on the telephone with members (and their key staffers) constantly. "Your president really needs your vote on this bill."

• He would have a list of every special request every member wanted — from White House tours to appointment of federal jobs and commissions.

• He would make a phone call or have an in-person visit with every member individually or in a group. Charts, graphs, coffee. They would get the Johnson Treatment as nobody else could give it.

• He would have a willingness to horse-trade with every member.

• He would keep list of people who support each member financially. A call to each to tell them to get the vote of that representative. (Arthur Krim, Lew Wasserman)

• He would have Billy Graham calling Baptists, Cardinal Cushing calling Catholics, Dr. King calling blacks, Henry Gonzalez calling Hispanics, Henry Ford II and David Rockefeller calling Republicans.

• He would get Jack Valenti to call the pope if it would help.

• He would have speeches written for members for the Congressional Record and hometown newspapers.

• He would use up White House liquor having nightcaps with the leaders and key votes of both parties.

• Each of them would take home cufflinks, watches, signed photos and perhaps even a pledge to come raise money for their next re-election.

• He would send gifts to children and grandchildren of members.

• He would walk around the South Lawn with reporters telling them why this was important to their own families.

• He would send every aide in the White House to see every member of the House and Senate. He would send me to see Sen. Richard Russell and Rep. Carl Vinson because I am a Georgian.

• He would call Kay Graham, Frank Stanton, Robert Kintner and the heads of every network.

• He would go to pray at six different churches.

• He would do newspaper, radio and TV interviews. Especially with Merriman Smith, Hugh Sidey, Sid Davis, Forrest Boyd, Ray Scherer, Helen Thomas, Marianne Means, Walter Cronkite, Phil Potter, Bob Novak.

• He would threaten, cajole, flirt, flatter and hug. And he would get the bill passed.

— Tom Johnson, Special to the Times

Tom Johnson (no relation) served as an aide to President Johnson for eight years, four in the White House and four in Texas (1965-1973). Later, he was publisher of the Los Angeles Times and chief executive officer of CNN.

What would LBJ do? 08/24/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 25, 2009 7:24pm]
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