Monday, August 24, 2009

LBJ's epochal moment and Obama's lowpoint

Seeing her supposed coronation vanish into thin air courtesy a freshman Senator with more supposedly silver tongue, Hillary railed "you campaign in poetry but you govern in prose". She then cited LBJ's achievement of enacting the Civil Rights bill in '64 and voting rights bill in'65. LBJ succeeded the uber-charismatic JFK under a very tragic circumstance. The country was a sheer cauldron of seething emotions tearing at the seams. A peaceful march was torn asunder by police dogs and water cannon as a nation watched in horror on live national TV. A president was killed. The country which won two world wars was being challenged by bicycle-riders in a hitherto unknown patch of land. LBJ was very unlike JFK, no charisma, avuncular looks, no soaring oratory, no Pulitzer prize. What did LBJ bring to the table other than the fact that he could deliver the 'south' in the election? [Many think Bush V Gore was a nail biter, check out JFK V Nixon and the allegations of rigging that swirl even today].

LBJ, as his biographer Robert Caro brings out in 3 volumes, brought to the table invaluable expertise in negotiating with the Congress. One volume of Caro's biography is aptly titled "Master of the Senate". The long years of forging relationships in the US Senate helped LBJ hone his negotiating skills. Harvard Business Review (HBR) once interviewed Caro to glean management techniques of LBJ that could be applied to corporate world.

The shock and trauma of Kennedy's death, the crescendo of Civil Rights movement both did provide an invaluable impetus in shepherding the landmark Civil Rights bills. However one should appreciate how an almost entirely White congress voted to overcome one of humanity's worst prejudices, that too ingrained over centuries of bias. Signing the bill LBJ is supposed to have said "we have signed away the south for a generation". That signing marked the end of democratic party's hold on southern states. LBJ was a democrat, he moved a bill that virtually killed his and his party chances in the South for generations to come.

When Hillary cited the above the Kennedy clan was peeved. They excoriated her for not mentioning JFK, whose brother RFK had MLK Jr taped by the FBI. Carrying their petulance forward they endorsed Obama in a much publicised event. For her share Maria Shriver Kennedy came straight from her 'daughters horse riding class' to ask the common Californian to vote for 'change' and for 'Barack Obama'. Hillary trounced Obama in the MA and CA primaries.

When Obama got elected duly, his enablers in the press (masquerading as journalists) predicted a new era of bipartisanship unlike the days of Bill Clinton and George Bush. Obama had ripped apart Hillary and Bill (by then they were pejoratively called 'Billary') as having failed to deliver health care reform because of their secretive ways and of course their having 'created' enemies. Bill Clinton retorted "yes we made enemies because we fought the fights that had to be fought like health care, Children's health insurance, FMLA etc". A populace swooning under Utopian ideas floated as virtues bought into Obama and he sailed into the presidency.

Obama came into office with unprecedented love and admiration. Clinton came into office despite 'bimbo eruptions', Bush came into office under a cloud, to put it mildly. Obama came into office riding on the cusp of history, a 'dream' come true, America's moment of redemption, America's repent for its original sin. His approval rating was in the stratosphere.

Then came reality. Unlike Bill Clinton in 92, all Presidential candidates in 2008 campaigned on the promise of reforming health care, cut health care costs, provide insurance for all etc. In 2008 America pleaded for health care to be tackled unlike in 1992. This was his moment to lose. Obama looks all ready to lose this. His legion of internet worshippers are nowhere to be seen. Opinionators predicted Obama redefining the Presidency with his netroots, they thought his legion would be his army of volunteers compelling every congressman to oblige the President for his bills. All of this came crashing down. The biggest let down was seeing the supposedly eloquent candidate hold prime time news conferences on health care only to confuse the viewer further.

All those who shrieked that Hillary will bring back old style politics, too many recriminations, too much politicking are now aghast at seeing Obama being hijacked by his own party. The man who was, conveniently, everything to everybody on the stump, now has his reckoning. He cannot satisfy the fiscal conservative because the reforms he supports are wrecking US deficit (projected at 9 trillion dollars), his liberal supporters are livid at the compromises made.

What is worse, for a candidate whose organizational skills, fund raising abilities, on-message discipline, ad-war abilities, none of that was in display as the health care debate unravelled. Scaremongers had a field day with rumors of 'death panels', 'rationed care' etc. The vaunted Obama operation team just watched. My guess is they were simply shocked that the sheen came off of "the One". I suspect that the shock of seeing their idol questioned put them in a comatose state.

Obama's approval rating continues to plummet and is now on par with G.W.Bush at this point in Bush's presidency. What a fall my countrymen.

If only we had had an LBJ...oops Hillary.

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