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The Johnson Treatment


Lyndon Baines Johnson, or LBJ, as he was commonly referred to as, was the 36th President of the United States from 1963 to 1969. Johnson was granted the presidency following the assassination of JFK, he completed Kennedy's term, and was elected President in the 1964 Presidential election. Johnson, a favorite of the Democratic Party, was very famous for his scary, aggressive personality and the "Johnson treatment," his manipulation of powerful politicians in order to get legislation passed. A key element of LBJ's leadership was this famous "Johnson treatment," in which he would hypothetically "pop one's bubble" to demand their attention. No president has been so celebrated for his powers of persuasion in face-to-face confrontations than Lyndon Johnson has.

Johnson was often seen as a tireless, wildly ambitious, imposing figure who was ruthlessly effective at advancing legislation. He worked 18-20 hour days without break and took part in very few, if any, leisure activities. Many historians agree that there was perhaps no more powerful majority leader in American history. It seemed as if Johnson had biographies and footnotes on all of his opponents; as if he knew what their views, ambitions, hopes, and tastes were, and he would use these facts to his advantage when pushing motions. One Johnson biographer writes, "He would get up every day and learn what their fears, their desires, their wishes, their wants were and he could then manipulate, dominate, persuade and cajole them.” At 6’4”, He used his gigantic imposing physical size and intimidating personality to emphasize his point. 

“The Treatment” could last anywhere from ten minutes or four hours and it would come whenever and wherever Johnson might find a fellow Senator or politician within his radius. “Its tone could be and included supplication, accusation, cajolery, exuberance, scorn, tears, complaint and the hint of threat.” All of these elements together brought out the spectrum of human emotions. Its velocity was breathtaking, and it was all in one direction. Interjections from the target were rare and even if they were attempted, Johnson would anticipate them before they could be successfully delivered. He would move in close, with his face a mere millimeter from his target, his eyes widening and narrowing, his eyebrows fluctuating, his pockets stuffed with clippings, memos, statistics and other research he had gathered on his target. All the elements LBJ used, "mimicry, humor, and the genius of analogy," in “The Treatment” rendered the target stunned, helpless, and obedient. It was this intimidating technique of persuasion that made Johnson one of the most feared politicians of the time and it is this persuasion technique that helped Johnson get control of, basically, whatever he wanted.

“When that man started to work on you, all of a sudden, you just felt that you were standing under a waterfall and the stuff was pouring on you.” – Robert Dallek

One example of his “treatment” can be found in his conversation with Representative Albert Thomas when he scolds the Texas Democrat over a clause forcing Johnson to publicly report to Congress on wheat sales to the Soviet Union:

http://whitehousetapes.net/clips/1963_1220_thomas/index.htm

 

Sources: http://www.uiowa.edu/~commstud/resources/nonverbal/lbj.htm

http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/story?oid=oid:85740

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/09/opinion/remembering-the-johnson-treatment.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyndon_B._Johnson

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,973466-1,00.html




- David Dodds

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