LBJ Aide: Obama ‘a Chicagoan, Not a Washingtonian’

Joseph Califano Jr. recalls how the 36th president was immersed in the ways of the capital, unlike the 44th.

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 24: Former United States Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Joseph Califano Jr. attends a screening of 'Herblock - The Black and the White' at the Dolby 88 Theater on April 24, 2013 in New York City. 
National Journal
Christopher Snow Hopkins
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Christopher Snow Hopkins
April 9, 2014, 5:46 p.m.

By all ac­counts, Pres­id­ent John­son was a down-home deal-maker with a pre­dilec­tion for schmooz­ing. “He wasn’t a Tex­an; he was a Wash­ing­to­ni­an,” said Joseph Cal­i­fano Jr., who served as LBJ’s top do­mest­ic-policy aide.

“He knew the dif­fer­ence between the UAW and the AFL-CIO. He knew the dif­fer­ence between the bankers and the man­u­fac­tur­ers,” Cal­i­fano said. “He knew the re­li­gious lead­ers, wheth­er it was Billy Gra­ham or Car­din­al Spell­man. He knew lots of uni­versity pres­id­ents. He had been in all their worlds, be­cause he had been in Con­gress so long.”

This week, Pres­id­ent Obama and three of his pre­de­cessors gath­er in Aus­tin, Texas, to mark the 50th an­niversary of the Civil Rights Act, which LBJ signed in­to law on Ju­ly 2, 1964. The three-day con­fer­ence, or­gan­ized by the Lyn­don B. John­son Pres­id­en­tial Lib­rary and Mu­seum, provided an op­por­tun­ity for Cal­i­fano and oth­ers from the John­son White House to re­as­sess his leg­acy and com­pare his pres­id­ency with the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“We are a pres­id­en­tial na­tion,” Cal­i­fano said when asked to com­pare Pres­id­ent Obama with LBJ. “Pres­id­en­tial lead­er­ship is crit­ic­al, and the only way Con­gress will work pro­duct­ively is when there’s a strong pres­id­en­tial lead­er.

“Obama doesn’t seem to rel­ish Wash­ing­ton polit­ics the way Lyn­don John­son rel­ished Wash­ing­ton polit­ics. John­son was in Wash­ing­ton for 35 years. Obama had no real le­gis­lat­ive ex­per­i­ence be­fore he be­came pres­id­ent: He was only in the Sen­ate for two years, and he spent most of that time run­ning for the Demo­crat­ic nom­in­a­tion. I would char­ac­ter­ize Obama as a Chica­goan, not a Wash­ing­to­ni­an.”

At the same time, Cal­i­fano ad­ded, Obama is a sub­lime orator, which LBJ was not.

Raised in Brook­lyn, N.Y., Cal­i­fano at­ten­ded the Col­lege of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and later Har­vard Law School. After serving in the Navy as an en­sign in the Of­fice of the Judge Ad­voc­ate Gen­er­al, Cal­i­fano won nu­mer­ous ac­col­ades as gen­er­al coun­sel of the Army. In Ju­ly 1965, he be­came John­son’s spe­cial as­sist­ant, a po­s­i­tion he held for the re­mainder of LBJ’s pres­id­ency.

Al­though Cal­i­fano did not be­come one of John­son’s top aides un­til after the Civil Rights Act was en­acted, he played a role in passing the sub­sequent Im­mig­ra­tion and Na­tion­al­ity Act, or Hart-Celler Act, which ab­rog­ated quotas on im­mig­rants from out­side West­ern Europe.

“John­son tore that book up,” Cal­i­fano said. “If you want to know what John­son did for this coun­try, this is it: Every­body can have a fair shot; every­body can make it. Those bar­ri­ers have been torn down. The “˜Whites Only’ signs have been torn down.”

Cal­i­fano, who went on to serve as sec­ret­ary of Health, Edu­ca­tion, and Wel­fare un­der Pres­id­ent Carter, sees par­al­lels between the Hart-Celler Act and the com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form that Obama called for in his most re­cent State of the Uni­on ad­dress.

“We’re over­due for im­mig­ra­tion re­form,” Cal­i­fano said. “You can’t keep sep­ar­at­ing par­ents and chil­dren, hus­bands and wives.”¦ We’ve done sav­age harm to the Afric­an-Amer­ic­an fam­ily, and we’re do­ing sav­age harm to [Latino] fam­il­ies.”

Apart from his work on im­mig­ra­tion, Cal­i­fano dis­mantled a pub­lic-health reg­u­la­tion that cat­egor­ized ho­mo­sexu­al­ity as a men­tal dis­ease and thereby pre­ven­ted ho­mo­sexu­als from im­mig­rat­ing to the U.S. “I elim­in­ated it,” he said. “It made no sense. It made no med­ic­al sense, and it made no hu­man sense.”

Non­ethe­less, Cal­i­fano is re­luct­ant to char­ac­ter­ize gay rights as the next fron­ti­er in the civil-rights move­ment.

“I don’t deny the fact that there has been a lot of suf­fer­ing on the part of [the LGBT com­munity], but I don’t see the same kind of ten­a­cious op­pos­i­tion,” he said. “As sec­ret­ary, when I moved to in­teg­rate South­ern col­leges or force South­ern states to provide com­par­able re­sources to his­tor­ic­ally black col­leges, all hell broke loose. People are much more dug in on race.”

After leav­ing the White House, Cal­i­fano prac­ticed law at Dewey Bal­lan­tine for close to a dec­ade. In 1992, he foun­ded Columbia Uni­versity’s Na­tion­al Cen­ter on Ad­dic­tion and Sub­stance Ab­use, where he con­tin­ues to serve as chair­man emer­it­us.

Cal­i­fano, 82, is the au­thor of a dozen books. A re­vised edi­tion of his most re­cent book, How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid: The Straight Dope for Par­ents, is due out in Septem­ber.

What We're Following See More »
SAYS LEFT WILL GO INTO “MELTDOWN”
Cruz Predicts Another SCOTUS Vacancy “This Summer”
3 hours ago
THE LATEST
HEADS OF DELL, CORNING, WHIRLPOOL AMONG INVITEES
Trump Hosts CEOs Again
3 hours ago
THE DETAILS
AT HEART OF FEDERAL RACKETEERING LAWSUIT
A.T.F. Agents Filled Secret Coffers
5 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives " used a web of shadowy cigarette sales to funnel tens of millions of dollars into a secret bank account," according to a federal racketeering lawsuit filed by a group of tobacco farmers who claim they were "swindled out of $24 million." The agents allegedly used shipments of snack food disguised as tobacco. The Justice Department is reportedly investigating the matter, though as of now it is unclear how widespread the practice was or if it is still ongoing.

Source:
THE QUESTION
How Many Signatures Has the Petition for Trump’s Tax Returns Received?
5 hours ago
THE ANSWER

More than 1 million, setting a record. More than 100,000 signatures triggers an official White House response.

Source:
TIED TO RUSSIA INVESTIGATION
Sen. Collins Open to Subpoena of Trump’s Tax Returns
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

Sen. Susan Collins, who sits on the Intelligence Committee, "said on Wednesday she's open to using a subpoena to investigate President Donald Trump's tax returns for potential connections to Russia." She said the committee is also open to subpoenaing Trump himself. "This is a counter-intelligence operation in many ways," she said of Russia's interference. "That's what our committee specializes in. We are used to probing in depth in this area."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login