President Needs to Exercise Good Old-Fashioned Power

By Bill Johnston

Stephanie Miller is a liberal talk show host. I listen locally on Progressive Talk 1090 in Seattle.

Stephanie Miller has been a Miss Teenage America; a stand-up comic; an actress and is the daughter of the late Bill Miller, the Republican Congressman from upstate New York who was Barry Goldwater’s vice-presidential running mate in 1964.

Miller tells a great story about her father – President Lyndon Johnson and the exercise of presidential power – and how a strong president uses it.

Lyndon Johnson had a civil rights bill he very badly wanted passed. It appeared it would not without some Northern Republican congressmen to vote for it. The president invited the Republican House Leadership (of which Stephanie Miller’s father was one) to the Oval Office for a chat.

Miller’s father said the president made his presentation as to why the Republicans should vote for the bill. Respectfully Congressman Miller explained to President Johnson why the Republicans opposed the bill and could not vote for it in what he believed was a very reasoned manner.

Next, Stephanie Miller said, “My father told me - the president leaned over — with his face very close to my Dad’s, and asked, ‘So Congressman Miller you are saying you do not want to see another federal tax dollar spent in your district as long as I am President of the United States?”

Miller continued — “At that point my father said ‘Suddenly the president’s legislation made perfect sense to me. Soon after the meeting the bill passed the House of Representatives with the needed Republican votes!”

This is a story of a strong president and how a strong political leader gets things done.

That is not who we have in the White House today. If anyone is using this tactic it is the congressional Republicans who have continually forced Obama into surrendering his positions. The result has been Obama’s unpopularity has little or nothing to do with what he has done – but rather what he hasn’t done!

It is dandy to have superb ideas and give a great State of Union speech but if you don’t have the leadership and toughness to carry those ideas out it doesn’t do a hell of lot of good – does it?

Obama needs to follow President Johnson’s example and here is where he should begin ... Kentucky!

The State of Kentucky has sent to the United States Senate two of the most shallow characters who have ever called themselves by the title “Senator.” Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell are reactionary 18th century politicians — throwbacks to the darker days of our republic. Appropriately, McConnell has been picked as the “leader” of the reactionary Republican Party in the Senate. And by using the 18th century parliamentary tactic of “filibuster” McConnell and his party have stopped job creation, Wall Street Reform, and any legislation benefiting any American but the very rich. His number one stated goal is “To make Barrack Obama a one-term president” – nothing else in this time of our nation’s adversity and distress – that’s it!

President Obama needs to call McConnell to the White House and lean close into his face and ask him — “So Senator McConnell you are telling me you do not want one more federal dollar to be sent to the State of Kentucky while I am president?” Then he needs to start balancing the national budget — in Kentucky. Shut down federal offices, military bases, post offices. McConnell and his Republicans have killed billions in infrastructure spending on construction projects – cut all federal construction off from Kentucky – give the funding to … Washington, New York, California, Delaware ... progressive states that will use the money to put their citizens to work. Kentucky isn’t going to vote for Obama anyway, so what does he have to lose? While he is at it he needs to haul the senators from all the Southern states up to the White House and ask them the same question. I bet he would see a newfound cooperation from the Republicans in Congress over night — just as President Lyndon Johnson did years ago.

Maybe Obama is beginning to get it. We can hope! His State of Union Speech was strong but we heard him give that speech during his campaign three years ago and look what it got us — not much! Politics is a game for adults. I vote for a particular person because I want him or her to go to our state capital or Washington, D.C., and do what he told me he was going to do – I am not interested in “bi-partisanship – I don’t want my Congressman socializing with people who want to screw me over.

The Democrats seem to want to “administer” government and the Republicans want to “rule” the country. Obama needs to understand this in the same way President Johnson did if he wants to “govern” effectively at all.

Bill Johnston is a retired staff organizer of United Food and Commercial Workers. He is a member of the National Writers Union (Pacific Northwest Chapter). Email

From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2012

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