A Health Care Tutorial by Lyndon Johnson
6 Rules to Win
“Don’t ever argue with me [about health]. I’ll go a hundred million or a billion on health or education. I don’t argue about that any more than I argue with Lady Bird buying flour. You got to have to have flour and coffee in your house. Education and health. I’ll spend the goddamn money, I may cut back some tanks. But not on health.”
— President Lyndon Johnson as told to vice president Hubert Humphrey.
IT’S BEEN noted in the press and by president Obama that over the last 60-plus years, several past presidents have pushed for health care reform. Franklin Roosevelt went several steps further with his “Second Bill of Rights” that, along with guaranteed health care, envisioned guaranteed work and a fair wage and decent housing too.
We’ll never know how he intended on achieving this as he died a year after first proposing it, and his successor, Harry Truman, did not pick up the gauntlet — he had enough on his hands wining World War Two, although afterward he did champion health care reform.
Turns out, Lyndon Johnson directed his considerable arm-twisting talents toward this cause as well. He’s featured in a new book, The Heart of Power: Health and Politics in the Oval Office, by David Blumenthal and James Monroe of, respectively, Harvard and Brown University.
As recounted in a review of the book’s examination of president Johnson’s health care efforts, there were certain rules the president exercised to prevail in what was even then a tumultuous battle. You must avail yourself the pleasure of reading Johnson’s own colorful commentary on the rules I here summarize:
1. Speed — You’re never more popular than when first elected.
2. Keep the Economists Quiet — Don’t scare everyone with the big numbers.
3. Master the Congressional Process — Quid pro quo rules the day.
4. Give Congress Credit — Yeah, you really did do it, but…
5. Go Public and Build Momentum — Referring to president Kennedy who preceded him, “… take the dead man’s program and turn in into a martyr’s cause.”
6. Passion — Only one with deep commitment and willing to risk his political fortunes can prevail.
Despite being well armed with these formidable rules, president Johnson did not prevail. It’s suggested that president Obama has adopted some of these; hopefully, he’s added a few of his own that will conceive a different outcome.