08.22.09

How Lyndon Would Have Passed Health-Care Reform

One of Lyndon B. Johnson's closest aides explains how the whatever-it-takes Texan would have gotten a health-care-reform bill passed through sheer will. 

One of Lyndon B. Johnson's closest aides explains how the whatever-it-takes Texan would have gotten a health-care reform bill passed through sheer will.

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 appointments to federal jobs and commissions.

He would make phone calls 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 express a willingness to horse-trade with every member.

He would keep a list of people who support each member financially. He would make 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, [Texas Congressman] Henry Gonzales calling Hispanics, Henry Ford 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 the 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 reelection

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 Senator Richard Russell and Rep. Carl Vinson because I am a Georgian.

He would call Kay Graham, [CBS president] Frank Stanton, [NBC president] Robert Kintner, and the heads of every network.

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 and Bob Novak.

He would go to pray at six different churches.

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

Xtra Insight: Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin on Obama’s 'Johnson Moment.'

Xtra Insight: The Daily Beast’s Samuel P. Jacobs on whether LBJ can help Obama pass health care.

Tom Johnson was one of Lyndon B. Johnson's closest aides. He also served as president of CNN in the '90s and publisher of the Los Angeles Times before that.