Saturday, July 21, 2007

Harry Reid, the Un-Lyndon Johnson

Before he became President and lost a war, Lyndon Johnson was the most effective Senate majority leader in history. Today’s Democrats, trying to stop another war, could use his skills.

To put it kindly, Harry Reid is no LBJ. In six months as majority leader, he has consistently misspoken and mismanaged Democratic efforts to win over enough Republicans to change policy in Iraq, culminating in this week’s disastrous all-nighter.

It takes a unique set of mismanagement skills to help propel the Democratic-controlled Congress to lower approval ratings than Bush. To be fair, Reid has had to navigate differences about how to end the war in his own party and the ambivalence of Republicans who want to stay loyal to their President but fear for their electoral skins next November. Even so, his performance has been dismal.

In April, David Broder in the Washington Post called Reid “the Democrats’ Gonzales” for his gaffes, and liberal bloggers gang-tackled the venerable columnist. Three months later, Reid, looking more like Bush’s Brownie of FEMA fame, is turning out to be the polar opposite of Lyndon Johnson.

In 1966, Robert Novak of Valerie Plame fame was co-author of a book that described Johnson’s ways as a majority leader who worked with a Republican President, Eisenhower, to pass the first civil rights bill of the century. LBJ, knowing where every Senator stood on every issue and what it would take to win him over, would then go into action:

“The Treatment could last ten minutes or four hours...Its tone could be supplication, accusation, cajolery, exuberance, scorn, tears, complaint and the hint of threat...Interjections from the target were rare. Johnson anticipated them before they could be spoken. He moved in close, his face a scant millimeter from his target, his eyes widening and narrowing, his eyebrows rising and falling. From his pockets poured clippings, memos, statistics. Mimicry, humor, and the genius of analogy made The Treatment an almost hypnotic experience and rendered the target stunned and helpless.”

No one expects Reid to be another LBJ, but some semblance of parliamentary and negotiating skills would go a long way toward building some real legislative pressure to end this miserable war. Then, if Democrats win next year, they will need effective leadership to start undoing the damage Bush has done. They can do better than Harry Reid.

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