WASHINGTON - In the days following the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, Lyndon B. Johnson was left to pursue his predecessor's unfinished legislative agenda. White House insiders considered the task nearly impossible. The civil rights bill was bottled up in the House Rules Committee, where its chairman was intent on running out the clock until the election the next year. A critical tax cut, meanwhile, was bogged down in the Senate, where the Finance Committee chairman was holding it hostage.
Johnson surveyed the legislative landscape and knew he had to shake things up.
Rather than negotiate with Congress, Johnson turned the goodwill of the nation into a force with which to bludgeon the GOP and expand what was politically possible. He took his case to the American people, reminding them that the GOP was the "Party of Lincoln," and flooded Washington with religious leaders who lobbied Congress.
The result was a tax cut that is largely credited with ushering in an era of high growth and, of course, the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Had Johnson stuck to inside baseball, he would have struck out twice.
Barack Obama could have learned something from LBJ. As a candidate Obama promised to change the way Washington works and he rode a wave of global support into the White House. His first two years in office have repeatedly been compared to the New Deal under Franklin Roosevelt and the Great Society under Johnson, with historic achievements on health care, Wall Street reform, and other domestic priorities.
But Obama's first term has also left many of his supporters wondering whether those accomplishments could have been bigger in size, scope, and impact.
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