LBJ on the Bully Pulpit

I’m loving Volume 4 of Caro, though I’d hardly say he presents a coherent and rigorous theoretical account of legislative change in the mid-1960s. I thought this part was interesting, however, where even LBJ derides the Great Man theory of how LBJ gets bills passed:

They seemed to feel there were alternatives to giving Byrd what he wanted, he told the six economic advisers; there weren’t, and he gave them a lesson in political realities. You couldn’t get around the Senate, he said, telling them about a President, a President at the very height of his popularity, who had tried it, attempting in 1938 to unseat southern conservative senators by going into their states to campaign against them. “Of course, you could try to take it to the country. FDR tried that, with his tremendous majority, and got licked,” he said. “It wouldn’t work” if they tried it now, either.

The context here is that the economic team wants a $101.5 billion budget and a tax cut bill. Byrd wants a budget that comes in at under $100 billion. Johnson is telling the economic team that if they think the tax bill is more important than the difference between what Byrd wants and $100 billion that they should just cave to Byrd. So the budget gets passed and the tax bill gets passed and now the decks are clear to pass appropriations bills, and now at least everything is off the legislative calendar and it’s possible to talk about a Civil Rights bill without everyone’s earmarks being held hostage.