Tag Archives: LBJ

It’s now Biden the Legislator

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

I am going to stand firmly and stand tall (to the extent that I can do that) behind my belief that President Biden’s lengthy history as a legislator will serve him well as he seeks to advance his policy agenda.

Joe Biden spent 36 years in the U.S. Senate before being selected to run as vice president with Barack Obama in 2008. The Obama-Biden ticket, of course, won that election and served two successful terms leading the executive branch of government.

Joe Biden, though, was a man of the Senate. He built friendships and alliances across the aisle. He worked well with Republicans as well as with his fellow Democrats.

Now that he is president, he brings that extensive knowledge of (a) the leaders of the legislative branch of government, (b) of how the legislative system works and (c) the language that members of both congressional chambers speak to each other.

That’s not important? Of course it is!

President Biden is the most legislatively accomplished president since, oh, Lyndon Baines Johnson.

This is worth mentioning once again as Joe Biden begins crafting a strategy to enact a massive — and I mean gigantic — infrastructure bill.

To be sure, he will deal with a Republican minority in the House and Senate that is still chapped at having lost their majority and at Biden whipping Donald Trump’s keister in the 2020 election. I am going to retain my faith that President Biden’s legislative experience will hold him in good stead as he moves his agenda forward.

I do like Joe Biden’s style of leadership. He seeks to remind us of the good work that government can do for us. We need help fighting the pandemic. Our economy needs a big push. The federal government is a monstrous, often cumbersome machine. It needs a president who knows which levers to pull, which buttons to push.

We have one on the watch now.

Let’s go big, Mr. POTUS

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

President Biden wants to go big on infrastructure repair, renovation and revitalization.

I’m all in.

This gives me a bit of the willies to say this, given the immense amount of money that Biden wants to spend. I realize our debt is mounting. We’re going to run a huge deficit again this fiscal year; given that I am a deficit hawk, that prospect alone gives me the cold sweats.

Here’s the thing: If any president in the past 50-plus years — probably since President Lyndon Baines Johnson left the White House in 1969 — can shepherd legislation through Congress, it is Joseph Robinette Biden Jr.

What might happen? Well, he wants to spend, reportedly, $3 trillion to repair roads, highways, bridges, rail lines, ship channels, airports … all of it. Whereas his predecessor, Donald Trump, talked a good game about infrastructure repair, he was, as NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd noted, more interested in “frittering away his days hitting the links and tweet-trashing Bette Midler.”

Opinion | Joe Biden Should Just Give It a Go – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

Trump couldn’t legislate his way out of a wet paper bag. President Biden stepped out of the legislative mold into the executive branch of government in 2009 when he became vice president in the Obama administration. Now he is The Man, the chief exec, head of state, head of government, commander in chief. However, he hasn’t forgotten the legislative skills he learned in 36 years serving in the U.S. Senate.

What else might happen? There will be jobs handed out to hundreds of thousands of Americans who have seen their livelihoods vanish in this COVID era. I cannot, and I damn sure won’t try to, predict that all those jobs will generate enough of a tax boost to reduce the deficit and carve into the debt, but we’ve traipsed down this road before.

In 2009, Barack Obama inherited an economy in collapse. He and Vice President Biden managed to persuade Congress to enact an economic relief package that jump-started the economy. They did so over the objection of damn near every Republican this side of Ronald Reagan’s grave. The package worked. It got the job done. The economy revived. Oh, and the deficit whittled its way down to about two-thirds of what it was when Obama and Biden took office.

Can history repeat itself? Maybe it can. My hunch is that President Biden is willing to go big on infrastructure reform.

Go for it, Mr. President.

Not so strange after all

Media pundits continue to make something of a ruckus over the recent political history involving Joseph R. Biden and Kamala Harris, that Harris roughed up Biden in a couple of debates before she dropped out of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary contest.

They’re now on the same Democratic ticket. So I am left to wonder: Why the fascination? It’s hardly the first time political rivals have hooked up, buried the hatchet and locked arms in the fight against a common opponent.

In 1960, Sens. Lyndon Johnson and John F. Kennedy fought for the Democratic nomination. They spoke harshly of each other. LBJ pulled out at the end of that primary fight. JFK was looking for someone to help strengthen him in the South. So he turned to Sen. Johnson. They won that race. Fate, though, tragically intervened when JFK died from an assassin’s bullet in November 1963.

In 1980, former Gov. Ronald Reagan and former CIA director/U.N. ambassador/former congressman/former special envoy to China George H.W. Bush butted heads for the Republican nomination. Bush chided Reagan’s fiscal policy as “voodoo economics.” Reagan survived and then selected Bush to be his VP. The two of them served together through two successful terms.

In 2008, for heaven’s sake, Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden fought for their party’s nomination. Biden didn’t last long. He took his shots at Obama, who fired back at his foe. Obama got nominated and had Biden at his side for two terms.

So now it’s Sen. Harris who’s being examined. Is she loyal enough? Does the presumptive nominee trust her to be a team player?

Biden has been through the VP vetting process. He knows what to ask, where to look.

Harris’s selection is historic. Many have made much of that fact, given her racial and ethnic background. Biden’s decision to select her, though, doesn’t look like much of a gamble. LBJ, George H.W. Bush and Biden himself already have blazed recent trails that led them all to the vice presidency.

Let’s worry less about the recent past between these two politicians and concern ourselves more with the policy positions they share and will take to the fight against Donald Trump and Mike Pence.

It’s game on, man!

This question is vital

David Gergen has hobnobbed at the center of power for decades, going back all the way during the Ford administration.

He has served Republican and Democratic presidents. The CNN political analyst has crystallized the Big Question that Joe Biden must be able to answer as he ponders who he wants to run with him on the Democratic ticket against Donald Trump. According to CNN.com, it goes like this:

But the Biden campaign should be paying the most attention to this question: If history calls, will his vice president have the capacity and talent to become a first-class president?

There you have it. Compatibility with the presidential nominee is important; so is personal chemistry; same for whether she will be a political asset.

The threshold question must be whether the VP is ready from Day One to step into the big job.

Look, let’s be candid. Joe Biden will be 78 years of age were he to take the oath of office next January. He will be the oldest president by a good bit ever to assume the office. That does not mean that the vice presidential nominee should start preparing for the job.

Lyndon Johnson was selected by John Kennedy to run for VP in 1960. Kennedy was 43 years old, the youngest man ever elected president. Fate intervened on Nov. 22, 1963. JFK chose well, as it turned out.

Joe Biden will have to choose equally well as he selects the person to run with him in what figures to be the nastiest, filthiest campaign in modern history … maybe of all time!

The other stuff is window dressing. The first and last criterion must be presidential readiness.

Read Gergen’s essay here.

The man knows his stuff. Pay attention to the advice this guy offers, Mr. Biden.

Memories of JFK’s death came pouring forth

DALLAS — Exhibits such as the one my brother-in-law saw today have this way of triggering so many memories.

We ventured to the Sixth Floor Museum, the one overlooking Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas, where the 35th president of the United States, John F. Kennedy, was murdered in front of the world.

The exhibit has been improved greatly since first time my wife and I visited it in the mid-1980s. It contains many more pictorial displays, more text, a wonderful audio tour, film and, of course, the window where the gunman fired on the president and Texas Gov. John Connally.

I was struck by the amount of attention paid at this museum to the slew of conspiracy theories that have kicked around since the Warren Commission filed its report in 1964. The new president, Lyndon Johnson, appointed Chief Justice Earl Warren to lead the panel to examine every detail it could about the assassination.

It returned with what I believe is the soundest plausible explanation: Lee Harvey Oswald, the disgruntled Marxist, sat in the window on the sixth floor of the Book Depository Building and fired three rounds from a bolt-action rifle, killing the president and wounding the Texas governor.

I was not quite 14 years of age when the world got the news.

My own theory in the moment was cut and dried: The Russians killed the president and were going to attack and invade the United States at any moment. That was how a 13-year-old mind worked in real time way back then. I guess I forgot that we would have a new president within minutes of the 35th president’s declaration of death. That’s what happened aboard Air Force One, when U.S. District Judge Sarah Hughes swore in President Johnson, who then asked for strength and prayers from the nation he was about to lead through this horrific tragedy.

I never have paid attentin to the idiotic conspiracy theories. I don’t believe any of them. I have retained faith in the commission headed by the nation’s chief justice.

Still, I was impressed to realize that the museum organizers saw fit at least to give many of those conspiracies a sufficient airing to at least present the many “other sides” of this most intriguing tragedy.

I remain convinced today, though, that Lee Harvey Oswald pulled the trigger … and that he did it all by himself.

Recalling one tough ‘S.O.B.’ and how he would react to Trump

I have been thinking a good bit in recent days of my former congressman, arguably the meanest, most irascible, most ferocious partisan ever to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The late Jack Brooks was that man. He called himself Sweet Old Brooks. You get how the initials spell out and how they likely refer to their more, um, colloquial meaning.

Brooks — who represented the Golden Triangle of Texas from 1953 until 1995 — was one mean dude. It is no stretch to say that he hated Republicans. He served on the House Judiciary Committee that approved articles of impeachment against President Nixon in 1974. I read a fascinating Politico piece recently that told how Brooks actually authored the articles to ensure they were written with unassailable precision.

How would Sweet Old Brooks react to what we’re debating today?

I truly believe in my gut that he would be calling for Trump’s head on the proverbial platter, or perhaps even some pertinent body parts as well, if you know what I mean.

Jack Brooks was one of many Texas proteges of the great House Speaker Sam Rayburn, who took other political fledglings under his wing. Men such as Lyndon Johnson and Jim Wright (another U.S. House speaker) owed their political success to the mentorship provided by Mr. Sam.

However, Brooks was wired differently than LBJ or Speaker Wright. President Johnson learned to work with Republicans, who helped him enact the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts. He needed those Republicans to counter the opposition he was getting from southern Democrats who remained faithful to their segregationist past.

To be clear, Jack Brooks was not among those southern Democrats who resisted LBJ. He supported the president’s efforts in the House. A large part of his Southeast Texas constituency comprised African-Americans in Beaumont and Port Arthur.

Brooks, though, was among the toughest, meanest politicians I ever met. I do not recall in all the discussions I had with him that Brooks would offer unsolicited praise for Republican politicians. He considered President Reagan to be a dunce and a dolt.

How would he react to the conduct of the current Republican president? He would find a way to send Donald Trump packing. Of that I am absolutely certain.

He surely was an SOB, but he was our SOB.

‘AOC’ now becomes a political brand? Who knew?

I never really saw this one coming. I still find it strange.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become known the way JFK, LBJ, RFK, MLK have become known. Yep, she’s now referred to by her initials.

Here’s what I do not quite get: She is a freshman member of the U.S. House of Representatives, coming from New York City. She knocked off a long-time member of the House, Joseph Crowley, to become the Democratic Party nominee in 2018; given the district’s strong Democratic leanings, her election was a shoo-in later that year.

She has become a ubiquitous presence throughout the media. Newspapers give her plenty of space on their pages; cable and broadcast TV news outlets rush to get her to appear on their programs; I guess Fox News is the exception, given that the network doesn’t much cotton to her political leaning, nor does she to Fox’s leaning.

I’ll acknowledge, too, that this blog now refers to Rep. Ocasio-Cortez occasionally as “AOC.” Why? It’s easier for my rickety old fingers to type her initials than her entire name.

Man, the political calculus has changed. There once was a time when politicians needed years worth of seasoning to attain this kind of star status. By that I refer to the use of initials to ID them.

I get that there’s a certain form of musicality to the sound of some initials as you say them. The examples I cited at the top of this blog post symbolize to what I am referring. I suppose “AOC” does as well.

It’s not that necessarily believe Ocasio-Cortez is always wrong when she makes her public pronouncements. I just want her to grow a little bit more into the job she won before she becomes such a media force of nature.

Call me old-school. Or fuddy-duddy. Maybe even a grumpy old man.

I don’t care. I just prefer politicians to earn their way into this form of colloquial status.

Sanders’s WH legacy? The destruction of the press office

Sarah Huckabee Sanders is leaving the White House with a remarkably dubious legacy. She has played a major role in destroying the office she is about to vacate: the office of White House press secretary.

Sanders has quit conducting press briefings. She no longer stands before the press corps and answers questions. No doubt some of those questions are aggressive, even hostile. The media have been declared “the enemy of the people” by Sanders’s boss, Donald Trump.

Sanders’s then had to face that group and attempt to convey presidential policy. She did a lousy job of lying on behalf of the president. For that matter, Sanders can be “credited” with being “transparent,” if you want to call it that. She lied quite openly, even in the face of evidence that contradicted her directly.

Sure, she got beat up. Then again, so did a lot of press secretaries over many previous administrations. I wrote a blog post earlier today about one of her predecessors, George E. Christian, who served as press secretary during President Johnson’s second term. The press savaged Christian, too, over the conduct of the Vietnam War. Did that man shirk his duty? Did he ever stop delivering regular press briefings? No. He answered the call.

Sanders chickened out.

Now she’s about to be gone. Who will the president appoint to succeed this individual? My hope would be someone who would have the fortitude and the character to do his or her job, which is report the truth to the media, which then would report it all the public.

I have little faith that Donald Trump will do the right thing.

Time of My Life, Part 36: Recalling a long-distance relationship

A Father’s Day Facebook post reminded me today of someone with whom I was acquainted while I worked as a journalist, but he was someone whose hand I never shook. Indeed, our paths never crossed.

Still, I considered him a valuable source.

He was the late George E. Christian Jr., who in the late 1960s became noted as White House press secretary during the tenure of President Lyndon Johnson.

Christian’s son, Brian, posted a Father’s Day greeting to his late dad today and it brought back a memory I had about my own long-distance relationship with George Christian.

I’ll be candid about one matter: I do not recall how Christian’s name and phone number ended up in my Rolodex. My file did have that information. There were occasions during my years in Beaumont and later in Amarillo — when I was editing opinion pages at newspapers in both communities — when I needed some “deep background” information political matters in Austin.

George Christian retired from the White House grind in 1969 after serving as press secretary since 1966. The end of LBJ’s presidency was plagued with lots of bad news emanating from the Vietnam War. Christian suffered plenty of wounds himself battling a skeptical White House press corps.

However, after leaving public life, he did not lose his affinity for reporters and editors. He ran a public relations firm in Austin that often put him in contact with some of his old nemeses. I wasn’t one of them. I was just an opinion journalist who at times needed some “expert” advice on what was happening in Austin.

There were times — I lost count of the number of them — when I would call George Christian. We would chat about this or that. I would ask him about the flow of laws being written in the Legislature. I would inquire about how he envisioned the progress of legislative initiatives.

George Christian always was willing to tell me his thoughts, or to refer me to someone who had more detailed answers to the questions I would ask. Most amazingly, he never seemed to tire of talking on the phone with someone he had never met face to face.

He was courteous, kind, professional and as near as I can tell, always truthful.

I don’t have many regrets about the career that ended in August 2012. One of them stands out. I regret never shaking George Christian’s hand and telling him how much I appreciated the knowledge he was willing to share with me.

Is this alliance all that rare … really?

I continue to be struck by the surprise alliance reportedly formed with conservative Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and liberal Democratic U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

They supposedly are preparing to team up on legislation aimed at restricting, possibly eliminating, lawmakers who become corporate lobbyists. The budding Cruz-AOC Alliance has tongues a-wagging in Washington. Why, some folks just cannot believe that these two ferocious partisans could find common ground on anything.

But I guess they have. At least that’s my hope.

It’s not unprecedented by any stretch. Two former senators, liberal Democrat Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and the late conservative Republican John McCain of Arizona, teamed up on campaign finance reform measures that sought to put caps on the money raised in political campaigns.

Countless other alliances have been formed since the beginning of the republic. Indeed, Democratic President Lyndon Johnson needed Republican senators to help him enact voting rights and civil rights legislation in the 1960s, given the resistance he was getting from southern Democrats in the U.S. Senate. LBJ was able to parlay his bipartisan friendships into landmark legislation.

I get that there appears to be plenty of skeptics about the Cruz-AOC team. Righties doubt that Ocasio-Cortez will be actually reach out to Cruz and other Republicans; lefties are inherently suspicious of Cruz’s statements expressing support for any idea put forth by a progressive colleague.

What began as a Twitter conversation between these two highly partisan lawmakers well might bear fruit. Or … it could wither and die.

I’m going to hold out hope that Sen. Cruz and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez carry through on their pledge to begin draining the proverbial swamp.