Fight Club

A biography of Lyndon B. Johnson, (by Robert A. Caro) presents an in-depth look at LBJ’s Senate career. Aptly titled “Master of the Senate,” Caro describes the future president’s considerable ability to push bills he championed through the US Senate.

Using his boundless energy to cajole, intimidate, and hound opponents, Senator Johnson proved remarkably effective. When candidate John F Kennedy selected LBJ to serve as his running mate, Johnson’s reputation as a political wheeler dealer sealed his selection. 

A look at the backgrounds of all 46 American Presidents, only one-third rose from Congress’s upper chamber. From 1900 to today only seven Chief Executives began in the Senate. Perhaps as candidates, these politicians carry controversial voting records, or personal foibles leaving too much baggage for a successful run. In spite of inherent liabilities, most modern Senators-turned-President, bring an effective array of skills to the White House.

For both Truman with his Fair Deal, and John F Kennedy’s New Frontier, legislative wins were scarce. Truman did enjoy a moment with passage of the Marshall Plan to rebuilt war-torn Europe, and Kennedy with the ratification of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963.

Following JFK’s murder Lyndon Johnson seized that tragic moment initiating his Great Society program, and then showed America how to get things done. Public Television, highway beautification, Medicare, Medicaid, and both the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Johnson’s achievements were many, and important. 

Richard Nixon served in the Senate, as well. Once President, Nixon promoted the Environmental Protection Agency, and the passage of Title IX for women in sports. It wasn’t all evil in that White House, the guy had skills.

In 2010, single-term Senator from Illinois, turned President, Barack Obama signed into law The Affordable Care Act. Standing near, watching was Obama’s Vice-President, Joe Biden, himself a 36 year veteran of the Senate. 

The thing is Mitch McConnell lobbed every counterpunch in the rules to stop Obamacare. But he failed in the face of three wily tacticians, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi in the House, and, of course, Joe Biden.

Now Joe has entered the White House in his own right.

The supposition that legislative cunning ensures a successful presidency is only an interesting thought. But Truman did see reelection, while LBJ collapsed under the weight of Vietnam, not his legislative magic. Nixon sabotaged himself, but the Biden presidency appears to be chugging along on a steady course. 

In the Senate since 1973, this 46th President cut his political teeth on Capitol Hill. Senate rules, cloture, floor privileges, and more are some of the lethal weapons in his political arsenal. For example, when Senator Manchin suddenly came on board with the Inflation Reduction Act, Mitch McConnell, another sly dog, staggered, blindsided.

The point remains. There is a lot more to Joe Biden than meets the eye. This is not a President to dismiss for superficial reasons, like his grandpa appearance, and folksy demeanor. If anything, Biden’s Senate career has forged him into a political shark. The Infrastructure package, Covid Relief, and College Debt Forgiveness have largely passed, allowing his opponents no time to breathe.

And Joe’s VP? She’s a former Senator, too.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight.” Both titles are on Kindle. Chumbley has written two historical plays, “Clay” regarding the life of Senator Henry Clay, and “Wolf By The Ears,” an exploration of American racism and slavery.

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