Lyndon Johnson on Government Reform



Right of voting gives blacks power to fight for other rights

Johnson had succeeded in persuading his 21 fellow southern senators--the mighty "Southern Caucus"--to allow the passage of the 1st civil rights bill since Reconstruction, 82 years earlier. It was not a strong bill. By the time Johnson had finished fashioning a compromise that the southerners would accept, provisions that would have enforced school desegregation and banned racial segregation in housing, hotels, restaurants and other public places--provisions liberals considered essential--had been removed; only a single civil right, voting, remained, and the provisions for enforcing that lone right proved largely useless. But the mere fact of the bill's passage was of historic significance. Johnson argued--in a contention that would be vindicated by history--that although there was only one right remaining in the bill, that was the right that mattered: that it gave blacks the power to at least begin fighting for other rights.
Source: Passage of Power, by Robert Caro, p. 10 , May 1, 2012

1957: Pushed through first civil rights bill in 82 years

In 1957, his allies in Washington told him bluntly what he already knew: that the crux of the North's animosity to him was its belief that he was opposed to civil rights, and that the only way to dilute that animosity was to pass a civil rights bill.

In 1957, he set out to pass a civil rights bill. And when, after months of effort, that attempt seemed to have failed, he retreated to his ranch, but returned to Washington, and, in a monumental feat of legislative maneuvering, of bullying, of cajoling, threatening, of lightning tactical decisions on the Senate floor, and of parliamentary genius on a grand scale, including a strategic masterstroke that brought into line behind his efforts, in a single transaction, a dozen western senators, had succeeded in persuading his 21 fellow southern senators--the mighty "Southern Caucus"--to allow the passage of the 1st civil rights bill since Reconstruction, 82 years earlier. It was not a strong bill. By the time Johnson had finished fashioning a compromise

Source: Passage of Power, by Robert Caro, p. 9-10 , May 1, 2012

Staff rule: Don't touch money; let finance dept. handle it

President Johnson was very fussy about campaign contributions and particularly who handled them. He told me, not once, but dozens of times, I was never to handle a campaign contribution. "Never, never get involved in contributions," he said. "If anyone comes to you and wants to make a contribution, don't ask him how much or what for or anything. Just send him to the National Committee finance chairperson and let it go at that. Do you understand? And do you also understand that it is a federal crime to accept a contribution in a federal building? Do you? You'll be clean if you don't touch money, don't look at money, don't ask about money. Let the finance chairman handle all that. Do I make myself plain?"

Yes, he made it plain.

Source: A Very Human President, by Jack Valenti, p.108-109 , Dec 1, 1976

Staff rule: Fired for meeting about contract with contractor

Johnson told me, as he told all of those whom he brought to power: "I am going to say this once and never again so you better listen hard. If anyone on my staff even so much as makes a phone call for an appointment for someone to see any official in this government about contracts in any government department, or about lawsuits in the Department of Justice, he automatically has his resignation on my desk. I don't care who ask you, or how much money he contributed to the party or how important he is in this country, there are no exceptions to the rule. Understand?"

I understood. So did every other staff member. How then to explain that rule to a large contributor when he called and asked for me to make an appointment for him? I can't recall how many times my phone rang with an "important person" at the other end of the line. "Can you make an appointment for me to see....?" When I responded that I simply couldn't do that, incredulity and oftentimes anger exploded in my ear.

Source: A Very Human President, by Jack Valenti, p.111-112 , Dec 1, 1976

Stimulate small contributions to parties and candidates

As the process of election becomes more complex and more costly, we must make it possible for those without personal wealth to enter public life without being obligated to a few large contributors. Therefore, I will submit legislation to revise the present unrealistic restriction on contributions--to prohibit the endless proliferation of committees, bringing local and State committees under the act--to attach strong teeth and severe penalties to the requirement of full disclosure of contributions--and to broaden the participation of the people, through added tax incentives, to stimulate small contributions to the party and to the candidate of their choice.
Source: Pres. Johnson's 1966 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 12, 1966

Change House term to 4 years, to avoid constant campaigning

To strengthen the work of Congress I strongly urge an amendment to provide a 4-year term for Members of the House of Representatives-which should not begin before 1972.

The present 2-year term requires most Members of Congress to divert enormous energies to an almost constant process of campaigning--depriving this Nation of the fullest measure of both their skill and their wisdom. Today, too, the work of government is far more complex than in our early years, requiring more time to learn and more time to master the technical tasks of legislating. And a longer term will serve to attract more men of the highest quality to political life. The Nation, the principle of democracy, and, I think, each congressional district, will all be better served by a 4-year term for Members of the House. And I urge your swift action.

Source: Pres. Johnson's 1966 State of the Union message to Congress , Jan 12, 1966

1953: Ended seniority-based Senate committee assignments

Standing squarely between the divergent wings of his party, he started off by demonstrating forcibly that, with all due respect to tradition, [as Senate Leader], he was not afraid to depart from the beaten path in Senate procedure. Important committee assignments customarily were made on the basis of seniority. But Johnson was able, when he made the assignments at the beginning of the session, to persuade some of the Democratic elders to give up their claims to choice committee spots. That left the way open for giving good places to the freshman Senators who had won in 1952 in spite of the party's national defeat.

A few of the elders protested. Every Democratic Senator wound up with at least one desirable committee appointment. With perhaps one or two exceptions, everybody was pleased. Before long, even the old hands who had complained slightly about Johnson's departure from tradition were acclaiming the wisdom of his policy on committee assignments.

Source: The Lyndon Johnson Story, by Booth Mooney, p. 91-92 , Jun 1, 1964

Should be fewer Secret Service than before JFK assassination

[Meeting with James Crowley, the chief of the U.S. Secret Service, Johnson complains about his bodyguards, worried that the press and Congress will castigate him for extravagance]:

LBJ: Jim, I want a report of the number of people assigned to Kennedy the day he died, and the number assigned to me now. And if mine are not less, I want 'em less right quick.

ROWLEY: Yes, sir.

LBJ: And I mean a substantial less. They're about ten to one around here for what we need. I promise you I won't go anywhere. I'll just stay right behind these black gates. But I don't need eight people following me to church. One Secret Service man driving me and one in the car with me and maybe 2 or 3 behind me is all right, but yesterday you had 6 or 7 of them in there.

ROWLEY: We carried [two bodyguards] from your V.P. detail, but otherwise we have the same number of people--the exact number [as JFK had].

LBJ: You just get them down now. I want less when I go into this campaign than you had before the assassination.

Source: Taking Charge, by Michael Beschloss, p.260-261 , Mar 2, 1964

There is always a national answer to each national problem

A great part of my own philosophy is a listing of tenets of my own beliefs, the specific tenets of my own philosophy.
  1. I believe every American has something to say and a right to an audience.
  2. I believe there is always a national answer to each national problem, and, believing this, I do not believe that there are necessarily two sides to every question.
  3. I regard achievement of the full potential of our resources--physical, human, and otherwise--to be the highest purpose of governmental policies next to the protection of those rights we regard as inalienable.
  4. I regard waste as the continuing enemy of our society and the prevention of waste--waste of resources, waste of lives, or waste of opportunity--to be the most dynamic of the responsibilities of our Government.
These tenets, I concede, are simple. They are certainly personal. For these are not tenets I have embraced or adopted but rather, beliefs I have--over 50 years--developed and come to follow from my own experience.
Source: Johnson article in The Johnson Story, by B.Mooney, p. xii , Jun 1, 1958

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Other past presidents on Government Reform: Lyndon Johnson on other issues:
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Barack Obama(D,2009-2017)
George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
Bill Clinton(D,1993-2001)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
Ronald Reagan(R,1981-1989)
Jimmy Carter(D,1977-1981)
Gerald Ford(R,1974-1977)
Richard Nixon(R,1969-1974)
Lyndon Johnson(D,1963-1969)
John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)
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Harry S Truman(D,1945-1953)

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Page last updated: Feb 22, 2022