Saturday, September 14, 2013
Prestige, respect, influence and other meaningless words
Whenever Mad Dog hears pundits use the word "prestige" in the same sentence as "president" the needle on his hooey detector goes off into the red zone. This is a sure indicator the speaker has no idea what he is talking about. He is expressing his own anger/ fear/ desire about something he thinks the president is about to do or not do.
Listening to the Lyndon Johnson tapes is a thrilling, profoundly educational and revealing experience. You can go online to the Lyndon Johnson library or just google it and you can listen to Johnson speaking on the phone with senators, aides, cabinet members and you learn immediately all that claptrap about his arm twisting, boorishness is filtered history by ignorant historians spinning their own impressions and stories to suit themselves.
Johnson talks to a number of fellow Democrats, Dixiecrats about the Voting Rights Act and nary a one of them will vote for it, and far from arm twisting, he is meek and understanding. All he can expect from them is that they not rail and storm against it too vociferously.
When he is speaking with someone he genuinely likes, like Richard Russell of Georgia, he pleads with that senator to join him out at Camp David for a good ol' time and he's rebuffed. When he asks Russell what he ought to do about Vietnam, he gets good advice, not quite the clarity he needed, but he gets the message that Vietnam is a quagmire. He gets the message that the enemy knows America is not a colonial power and just wants to get out, and all they have to do is wait us out.
What these tapes reveal, if you remember that era and all the pundits and what was said about presidential prestige and image and power was said by pundits who really did not know anything more than the guy sitting in front of his TV in Peoria.
The judgment of most people Mad Dog knew in those days was that Johnson was clueless when it came to Vietnam, couldn't see the obvious. And that comes through loud and clear on the tapes.
When it came to areas Johnson knew well--a very different story. Listen to Johnson talking with some callow aide about a farm bill. "Those farmers, " the aide said, "Are giving us all kind of hell about 3 cents a pound on cows. I just cannot understand how they would sink this bill for 3 cents a pound." Johnson says, "Well, when you're talking about a 3,000 pound head, that's $90 a head and if you got 10,000 head, that's $900,000. That's no small change to a rancher."
Mad Dog's father once briefed Johnson about a bill concerning a program for the Medicare crowd. Johnson just listened, took no notes, just nodded. Mad Dog's father thought, "Oh, this guy is just nodding through this. Why did he go through the trouble of asking me to come all the way over here, through all the tunnels and security under the White House, just to ignore me?"
Johnson turned, walked through the door to the press conference, where, eventually, somewhere 20 minutes into the conference, somebody asked him about the Medicare program and, to Mad Dog's father's astonishment, Johnson rolls out all the numbers and the main points Mad Dog's father had laid out for him. He remembered every detail.
Listen to David Brooks, or Mark Shields, or Henry Kissinger or just about anyone on Fox, the Morning Joe, or any program and they will tell you what the president is thinking, what he knows, how a decision about the Canadian oil pipeline or the attack on Syria or some other decision will affect the "perception" of the presidency, or the prestige of the president and you know they are just spinning a picture they personally want to believe in.
None of these pundits knows a thing. They are just talking heads the TV program needs to keep viewers watching.
Someday, we'll be able to listen to Mr. Obama's tapes. We'll know, like Johnson, he knows his telephone conversations are being taped, but sometimes, he'll forget that for a moment, in the heat of an exchange, and we'll get a real insight into his thinking.
But for now, all we've got is people making it up.
Posted by the phantom speaks at 9:58 PM