Writing for the New York Review of Books, Elizabeth Drew, who reported on Senator Lyndon Johnson, takes exception to historical accounts of his involvement with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Specifically, she questions the narrative of the Broadway play, All the Way, which implies that LBJ was responsible for the legislation’s passing. That is much too simplistic. LBJ was perhaps necessary for its passage but hardly sufficient. Drew also takes a shot at those who would have Obama behave more like Johnson. She concludes her essay:
All the Way’s portrayal of Johnson almost single-handedly selling the civil rights bill to Congress feeds the canard that if only President Obama would operate as LBJ did he could be so much more effective. There are some fundamental flaws with this theory. For one thing, Johnson’s famous “arm-twisting”—his “treatment”—was far more pertinent to his tenure as Senate leader than his presidency. For another, party discipline has collapsed and even if Obama could promise John Boehner to make his mostly small-town Ohio district into the new Byzantium, Boehner wouldn’t be able to extract one more vote from the Republican caucus. Moreover, “earmarks” have been virtually banned on Capitol Hill, denuding senior members of Congress as well as the president of influence they used to have. Budget restrictions and a more vigilant press have made horse-trading almost a thing of the past—or at least far more risky. There’s strong reason to doubt that even the mythical LBJ could get a civil rights bill through Congress today.