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I love Rachel Maddow. But...

On her show yesterday, she spoke about the late great Lyndon Johnson, AKA LBJ. She talked about how effective he was in getting legislation passed - and indeed, he was quite effective.

With the implicit question being: when is Barack Obama going to roll up his sleeves, get in the trenches, and make things happen in Congress for the health care bill?

Well, if I hear another reference to how great LBJ was getting legislation passed... I'll choke.

Barack Obama is no LBJ. And that's not to slight Obama in any way.

But LBJ's situation was unique in several ways:

  1. LBJ had a long career in Congress. He was a leader in Congress. He had long, established relationships with members of Congress. This gave him powers of persuasion that Obama doesn't have and will never have. (Part of that appeal was that he had a good relationship with Southern Democrats, and the benefits of that can't be overstated.)
  1. LBJ had the "benefit" (sorry to use that word in this context) of following a slain president. He was able to tap into the emotion regarding the late JFK to push his agenda.
  1. The political climate is much different now. It is universally agreed that the Congress is much more polarized now than it was in LBJ's day. This means that the loyal opposition is much more hardened and less likely to be receptive to entreaties from the Dems in power.

In general, I think it's unfortunate that so much of the health care debate has focused on Obama. The fact is, Obama doesn't have a vote in Congress. He's not in the Committee or Subcommittee meetings. He's not the one dealing with Congressional lobbyists.

The real story of the health care debate is the different factions in the Democratic Caucus. Some are for health care reform, some are not.  Some are for the public option, some are not. But the story of those factions is a key one. Daily Kos readers are familiar with this, but the vast majority of America is not.

When it come to making a decision about how to vote, here is what a Washington politician will: - Do what's needed to get re-elected - Do what's good for "main constituents" (which can include lobbyists or key voting blacks) - Do what's good for their district - Do what's good for the Party (and different people have different definitions of what's good for the Party) - Do what's good for the country

Notice that doing what the President wants is not on the list.

Now wait! This is not to deny that Obama, as president, has no power, due to his office, due to his being the implicit head of the Democratic Party, etc, etc.

But the bottom line is, Obama is no LBJ, and he won't be, because he can't be.

There's no problem with wishing for the good old days of LBJ. But it creates an expectation gap that unfairly implies that Obama should or could do things which, in today's environment, he cannot.

The good old days are gone, and we need to base our expectations on the challenges and obstacles we face today.

Originally posted to EarthTone on Thu Sep 10, 2009 at 05:22 AM PDT.

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