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.


  1. Mad Dog,
    I'm trying to imagine what it must have been like knowing your father was going to meet with the President of the United States--yikes! Very cool--did your father like Johnson? I agree that eventually the Presidents must get caught up in the events of the moment and forget they are being taped--then you can at least get a glimpse of what they were really like,how they related to people.. how many years do they have to be out of office before they release their tapes? Will we still be alive to listen to Obama? If it's 50 years I think you and I are out of luck..
    Speaking of talking heads making things up as they go, did you happen to catch Jon Stewart's take last night on CNN's coverage of Monday's shootings--he nailed it...


  2. Maud,

    Arghhh! I missed Jon Stewart. I'll youtube it.

    I did not know my father had ever briefed or even met Johnson at the time. In fact, it only came up years later. My father was in his late 70's, maybe 80, when I was telling him about listening to the LBJ tapes and I said I had always thought Johnson was moron, but he sounded pretty sharp on the tapes, in a good ol' boy sort of way.
    And my father said, oh, no, Johnson was very bright and he told that story.
    I do remember my father coming home after work one summer day in 1963, after my sophomore year in high school, and he mentioned he had walked out of his office and over the Mall where there was some sort of demonstration, and he said he heard somebody speak and he said he hadn't heard such oratory since FDR, really a very good speaker--and that night, on Walter Cronkite, we see a clip of Martin Luther King giving his speech on TV and Pop points to the screen and says, "There! That's him! The man can speak."
    Pop had wandered into the I Have A Dream Speech, just ambling out of his office.
    The original Forrest Gump.

    Mad Dog