on the World Today
LYNDON JOHNSON’S use of his Cabinet and of his White House staff’ fascinates Washington because it tells a great deal about the President and about his approach to the problems of administration. Under Johnson, the Cabinet is in the ascendancy, or, rather, members of the Cabinet are in the ascendancy. The staff, which played such a large role in the Kennedy Administration, is now essentially a group of special assistants, performing chores that may be assigned to them but only rarely playing leading policy roles.
During Kennedy’s thirty-four months in office he held thirty-one Cabinet meetings. Johnson’s record is almost precisely the same. In the twelve months of 1964 he held eleven meetings with the Cabinet. He has told the Cabinet that his goal is to “meet as regularly as possible with the full Cabinet — and to make our regular meetings productive and useful with full participation from all Cabinet members.”
Those words do not fully reflect the President’s approach to the Cabinet meeting. He docs not invite participation by all members in the making of policy. His purpose is to have every member participate in executing, not making, policy. At one meeting last year, the President told the Cabinet that he expected each officer to be “as bold and as imaginative in reforming ongoing programs as in proposing new ones.” But he quickly added, “I want to make the decisions as to those lights which it will be worthwhile to take on and those which it won’t.”
On Vietnam, the President has never thrown a Cabinet meeting open for a discussion of the issues. The President, Rusk, and McNamara have reported to the Cabinet on Vietnam; they have never debated the issues or even asked for comment from other officers. Basic foreign and defense policies are worked out in the smaller National Security Council, or in even smaller groupings, or in meetings between the President and a single Cabinet officer. Probably the most important meetings the President holds are the luncheon sessions with Rusk, McNamara, and McGeorge Bundy, the President’s special assistant for national security affairs, which occur three or four times a month.
On economic affairs, the President has carried forward the Kennedy plan of fairly frequent conferences with the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, the Secretary of the Treasury, and several other key fiscal or monetary experts.
Despite Johnson’s vast knowledge of the workings of the government, he obviously has been unclear at times about how to use the Cabinet. When Kennedy entered the White House, he had around him an experienced staff fully familiar with legislative problems and with his purposes. He tended to rely more heavily on the staff for a variety of functions than on the Cabinet.
When Johnson became President, he immediately began placing his orders through the Cabinet. He believed that the Cabinet officers should be responsible for their departments, and he stopped the Kennedy practice of dividing responsibility between a White House staff officer and a Cabinet officer. Even since he created his own staff, Johnson has continued to use the traditional approach to Cabinet officers.
A management device
The Cabinet as an institution, however, is now used largely as a management device, not a policy-making body. Johnson first began using the Cabinet meeting to impose his ideas on the budget and on the need for economy. Later he summoned the Cabinet to hear his views on personnel appointments.
This year Cabinet meetings have largely been devoted to a discussion of various administrative objectives which the President has outlined. For example, he has ordered a reduction in the number of interagency committees, new approaches to the problems of federal relations with tlie cities and states, and a study of how to reduce government’s competition with private enterprises. These matters affect all departments.
Legislative strategy also is a subject of Cabinet discussion, because Johnson wants each member of the Cabinet to act as a lobbyist in the promotion of Administration programs. The President directed each Cabinet officer to select a “top man to serve as your legislative liaison.” He said that the liaison officer should keep the Cabinet officer “thoroughly informed” of the legislative situation at all times. “In turn, 1 expect you to keep me informed at all times” the President said. He underlined the last three words and released his directive to the press.
The W lii.to House staff
The Johnson staff is able, devoted, and largely silent. There is universal complaint about the press oflice, which goes on the assumption that nothing is true until the President, in his own good season, chooses to announce it. The rest of the staff also is under a Johnsonian injunction to work anonymously and to avoid the press. Every member works incredibly long hours for a demanding taskmaster who complains if a staffer goes out of the building even for lunch.
The quick-thinking, fast-talking Bill U. Moyers is the chief, but no one suggests that he has the authority Sherman Adams held in the Eisenhower Administration or the influence Theodore C. Sorensen wielded in the Kennedy Administration. Only Johnson has power in the White House today. He hands out assignments to what lie calls his “triple-threat men,” men who can undertake any task he may give them. He docs not like specialists around him; he wants each staff member to be a generalist. Very few of them are really in the President’s confidence; he does not like to tell anyone his intentions. Often the staff is as much in the dark about future plans as the press. The President’s staff performs important functions on assignment from him, but it has no authority of its own.
No turning back
When the 1964 Civil Rights Act finally made its way through Congress and to the President’s desk for signature, it was well known that it had one important defect. It did not provide proper safeguards for voting. Until that right is fully guaranteed in the South, all other rights stand in jeopardy. When it is fully guaranteed, it will provide the underpinning for all others.
After 100 years of delay it is appropriate that the push for a final decision on this issue should come from a Texan, the first Southerner elected to the presidency since the Civil War. The President’s announced determination to use his vast powers to the fullest to protect those who have been afflicted by poverty and hatred brought a joint session of Congress to its feet in a rare demonstration of appreciation and support.
Every Negro who saw that standing ovation on television knew that the battle cry “We Shall Overcome,” which the President adopted as his own, was at last more than a dream. The tempestuous force that is Lyndon Johnson was asserted for all to see. There could no longer be a turning back, for Congress, too, was casting its vote even before the President’s bill was introduced.
Nor can there be a turning back now in the fight against the Ku Klux Klan. The call to battle against this iniquitous organization was sounded by an angry President who as a youth learned at firsthand of the venom it embodies. He more than most men knows that the Klan has played a leading role in the history of violence in the South in the last few years. And he knows that many Southerners earnestly support him in his war on the Klan.
Many other Southern politicians would like to be as responsible as the President on the subject of race relations. They, too, know that a new hour has arrived and look forward to the day when all their constituents can exercise their right to vote. For many years, Southern leaders in increasing numbers have known that the key to progress in the South is the ability of all citizens to exercise the vote — and by “all” they mean tens of thousands of disfranchised whites as well as the much larger number of Negroes.
As soon as these persons can go to the polling places, a pronounced change will take place in the Southern representation in Congress. A subtle change is already noticeable. The day of the Southern racist politician is coming to an end because the right to vote is at last to be secured.
President Johnson indicated early this year that he was eager to go to Latin America, Europe, and the Soviet Union in 1965. A considerable number of State Department officials were silently pleased when events forced him to cancel plans for a Latin-American trip in April. These officials recognize, if somewhat reluctantly, that a President must make occasional trips abroad. But the majority of diplomats share Dean Rusk’s conviction that the number of overseas ventures should be kept to a minimum and that they should involve the President in negotiations only on the rarest occasions. Johnson has been impatient to demonstrate his skill as a foreign traveler, partly to overcome the belief that he is truly at ease only in domestic matters.
The crisis in Vietnam made it apparent that he could not leave the United States this spring. He continues to hope that he may be able to go to Europe in the early summer for formal visits in France, Britain, Germany, and Italy. He believes that he can apply the same kind of persuasiveness in meetings with foreign statesmen that he has used in his relations with Congress. He has been heard to say, though not lately, that “De Gaulle likes me,” as if to suggest that the Johnson charm could melt the austere Frenchman’s heart.
Whether he likes Johnson or noL the President of France has pursued his own peculiar ends, much to the embarrassment of the White House. No one else in the American government thinks, if indeed the President does now, that De Gaulle’s views will be changed by charm, attention, argument, or anything else.
President Kennedy entered the White House in the conviction that Presidents should stay at home. In 1960, when Candidate Nixon rashly promised to go to Eastern Europe if elected, Candidate Kennedy replied, “If I am elected, I will go to Washington.” When Kennedy read Dean Rusk’s article that year in Foreign Affairs arguing against foreign travel, he was deeply impressed. Rusk did not rule out all foreign travel on the part of a President or a Secretary of State. He wrote that a President might safely undertake “a limited and carefully planned program of state visits, of short duration, aimed at the exchange of courtesy and respect as a tangible expression of the good will ot the American people.”
But Rusk said that negotiations at the summit, except to prevent the most dangerous breakdown in diplomatic relations, should be avoided. John Foster Dulles held the same view, once remarking that even God did not visit the earth but sent His Son.
Explaining our goals
At first, President Kennedy did not want to undertake any foreign travel. But events changed his mind. He came to believe that by traveling he could stimulate interest in his policies, promote cooperation with America, and improve the basis tor negotiation. His Latin-American trips gave him an opportunity to demonstrate his concern for the problems of the hemisphere and to express his support of the Alliance for Progress. Politically and psychologically, the trips produced much goodwill for him and for the United States.
Kennedy’s European trip in 1963, during which he visited Germany, Ireland, Britain, and Italy, stirred the imagination of all who heard or saw him. He did not engage in negotiations. He did explain American policy forcefully and effectively to a European audience. While the visit did nothing to improve FrancoAmerican relations, it did strengthen the resistance to Dc Gaulle in the other European countries. There are some who think that Kennedy’s eloquence weakened the cause ol Gaullism even in France.
One important value of a foreign trip is that it forces the President to explain in a series of speeches the position of his country on the issues that interest the people he is visiting. Since President Johnson normally is allergic to any such dissertation in public, a trip by him would have its useful aspects. He needs to set forth his position more often. The danger is that Johnson might think he could get by writh a banal recital of old truths. His spcechwriters would have to improve upon some of the phrases they serve up for the domestic audience.
Almost as discomfiting as the state of affairs in Southeast Asia is the condition of our policy toward Western Europe. Like sidewalk superintendents, the Administration planners watch General de Gaulle’s iron ball bang at the worn mortar of American global interests and termites chew at the stability of West Germany, and they seem unable to bestir themselves back to the drafting tables.
They see virtue in President Johnson’s wise determination not to respond hastily to provocation, not to commit himself to initiatives that have no widespread acceptance among our allies, but, tor now, to let developments work their course. What depresses them most is that the President must do that because nobody has come up with good ideas for adjusting old American reflexes to the realities of Western Europe of the sixties.
Mood of the Capital
If it were not for the world beyond our shores, the temper ot Washington would verge on exhilaration this spring, beginning as it did with such achievements as the government’s creative handling of the Alabama violence, the legislative takeoff of the fight on poverty, and the Gemini flight.
But this domestic accent on the positive has been rudely diminished by the unsatisfactory course ot foreign affairs. The situation was hardly helped by the appalling psychological debacle caused by the use of nausea-inducing gas against Viet Cong insurgents and \ ietnamesc villagers. Due in great part to the enthusiasm of military “weaponeers” for boasting about new achievements, this incident has moral implications far outweighing military or other values, and has sharpened the developing conviction that Vietnam is too important to have been left so long to the Pentagon.