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    Wednesday, November 20, 2019-8:04:04P.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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Variations | Heartwarming politics

FOR some of us, democratic politics and governance should be like joining a religious order. It must involve self-denial, objectivity and reflection. We want voters and politicians alike to ceaselessly ponder on — to quote Imelda Marcos — “the good, the true and the beautiful.”

Meanwhile, in the real world, in Uxbridge, England to be exact, whenever Deborah King “spots a problem in this middle-class West London suburb, she fires off an email to her local lawmaker.” The Wall Street Journal reported that the problem could be a water pipe burst in a road nearby or a senior citizen “inconvenienced by people vaping on the bus.” Her lawmaker is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, a.k.a. Boris, who is also the U.K.’s prime minister.

On Dec. 12, 2019, the United Kingdom’s voters will “head to the polls,” and so, not surprisingly, the leader of one of the planet’s greatest nations which is now on the verge of a momentous election that will decide the future direction of Europe if not the world itself — someone who was educated at Eton College and Oxford University — can be “spotted standing at a stall outside a supermarket near Uxbridge handing out crime-prevention leaflets.” The Wall Street Journal said Boris, as he prefers to be known, “has [also] taken time to inspect damaged trees and endorse a campaign to get the postal service to recognize an area in his district called ‘Yiewsley.’ ” One of his constituents, Michelle Bradley, said Boris was “at the opening of her café, The Protein Shack…where he helped hand out food samples and drew a crowd. ‘He went beyond what he had to do,’ ” she told the Wall Street Journal. Boris has also “looked into” concerns regarding traffic during school drop-off and pick-up times; the installation of a crosswalk outside a supermarket; the re-opening of public restrooms in the railway station; and the construction of a high-speed railway. “Recently, Ms. Bradley was surprised when the prime minister’s office told her to reach out anytime. She isn’t sure she will. ‘I’ll leave him alone for now because he’s obviously got a lot on his plate,’ she said.”

This charming episode is not an unusual story for people around the world who are into politics which is, after all, humanity’s second oldest profession.

One of its finest practitioners in my book was Lyndon Baines Johnson, America’s 36th president. JFK was effortlessly charming and RN was genuinely cerebral, but LBJ, like FDR and the Gipper, was a political artist of the highest order. He also tape-recorded his phone conversations as president from Nov. 1963 to Jan. 1969. From the transcripts of those conservations, he told a young political scientist that one “could learn more about the way government really works than from a hundred political science textbooks.” (See Michael Beschloss’ “Taking Charge” and “Reaching for Glory.”)

Two weeks after his landslide victory in the 1964 elections, LBJ received a phone call from one his closest allies and supporters who also happened to be a very important U.S. senator, Russell Long of Louisiana. He had heard that Fort Polk, Louisiana could be on the list of military installations that would be shut down. He begged LBJ to “save” Fort Polk.

LONG: If that base closes down…people are going to say, “Russell Long is a no-account faker.” … Don’t close that one…I’m begging!

LBJ: Russell…I couldn’t change it because I would have a national scandal on my hands. [Defense Secretary Robert] McNamara…doesn’t ask me to approve [the list]…. He’d resign before he’d do it…. I will talk to him…. I just hope and pray it’s not on that [list]. But if it’s on there, ain’t all hell can change it…. If my wife’s life depended on it, I couldn’t….

LONG: If I could tell those people [at Fort Polk], “It don’t mean you,” it’ll sound like Russell Long and Lyndon Johnson are the most wonderful, finest men God ever invented.

LBJ: [exasperated] If it’s on there, ain’t all the king’s horses can change it because it will just blow right up in my face….

LONG: Mr. President, when I had that vote to kill Medicare [one of LBJ’s signature programs]…that’s not the attitude I took on you! It’s all right with me if you want to take the attitude on me, but I’ll be your friend forever, and God bless you…

LBJ: [almost shouting] Russell, you know, if we handle our bases on that basis, sweetheart, there wouldn’t be any of them closed. Not a one…. Have mercy on me! Don’t be cruel and let’s keep our friendship. Let’s don’t destroy it!

LONG: I’ll love you forever, but as much as I —

LBJ: I’ve helped you every time I could, and I will help you every time I can, but don’t ask me to help you when I can’t!

LONG: As much as I’ve come through for you, you could at least make a telephone call to see if I’m dead or not.

LBJ: I told you I would do that, Russell, as soon as I hang up here….

The senator assured LBJ that “I’m not going quarrel with you anymore. You’re my boss, and I love you.” “I’m not anybody’s boss,” the president replied, “but I reciprocate.”

LBJ couldn’t reach his Defense secretary so he called McNamara’s deputy, Cyrus Vance (who would serve as President Carter’s secretary of State). Vance told LBJ that Fort Polk was not on the list of the military installations that the Pentagon was shutting down. “All right,” LBJ said. “Let’s don’t get it on any damn list….” He then rang up his old friend.

LBJ: Russell?

LONG: Yes sir, Boss Man.

LBJ: Now, don’t you tell anybody you called up here, and don’t quote me at all because I got to stay away from these things…. But you can go back and go to sleep. I don’t think you’ve got anything that will keep you awake.

LONG: [exhilarated] Thank you, Mr. Boss Man! You can count on old Long!

LBJ: Well, I could count on him anyway, but you just go on and go to sleep….

LONG: Mr. Boss Man, God bless you!

LBJ: Bye.

LONG: Love you forever!

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