Claude Raines: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here!”
[A dealer hands Raines a pile of money.]
Dealer: “Your winnings, sir.”
Raines (quietly to the dealer): “Oh, thank you very much.” (aloud to the crowd): “Everybody out at once!”
— Scene from
It is a strange coincidence that while the Chris Christie “Bridgegate” scandal is breaking in New Jersey I am listening to a book about President Lyndon Johnson.
During his years as Senate majority leader, the tall Texan wielded power as no other leader of that body has before or since.
Once he became the president, he made sure everyone he dealt with knew it.
Like or dislike his political policies or philosophies, LBJ knew how to get things done.
He did it by persuasion. He did it by horse trading. And, he did it by knowing where the bodies were buried.
Our 36th president’s tactics even developed their own nickname: “The Johnson Treatment.”
Standing at 6 feet, 4 inches tall, LBJ towered over almost everyone he came in contact with and he used that physical stature in ways some people might even call “bullying.”
Do you see where I’m going?
Anyone sitting in the Oval Office might have wondered why when they sat on the couch and LBJ sat in the adjacent chair, they seemed so very much lower.
It was because Johnson had the couch purposely sitting lower so he could overshadow the person to whom he was speaking.
Legendary newspaper journalist Mary McGrory described it this way:
“It was an incredible, potent mixture of persuasion, badgering, flattery, threats, reminders of past favors and future advantages.”
Washington Post Editor Emeritus Ben Bradlee recalled feeling as if “a Saint Bernard had licked your face for an hour and had pawed you all over.”
When appointing the members of the Warren Commission, Johnson called upon Georgia Sen. Richard B. Russell to serve as the board vice chairman.
Russell was a pure, right-leaning Southern Democrat of the day who made no secret of his disgust with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and former California governor who leaned toward the opposite political viewpoints.
“I can’t serve with that man,” Russell told Johnson.
“You can and you will and you’ll do it for your country. I’ve already announced it,” Johnson responded.
He had put the senator in a box and wrapped it up nicely.
In 1964, the president needed Republican support on excise taxes.
Then-Senate minority leader Everett Dirksen needed support for a dam project in his state of Illinois.
Tapes of that conversation reveal the art of political horse trading:
LBJ: "Now, you're not going to beat me on excise taxes and ruin my budget this year ... You can do it if you want to, and you can ruin my budget, but you're hollering ‘economy’ and trying to balance it ...”
Dirksen: “Now, now, look at the pressure I'm under ... from the trade associations.”
LBJ: “Well, I know it, but God, you're also for good fiscal prudence, and ... you know that the way to do this is through the House committee ... They're not going to let y'all write a bill over in the Senate on taxes.”
Dirksen: “I don't suppose they are.”
LBJ: “Now, please don't press me on that.”
Dirksen: “Well, I've got to press it.”
LBJ: “Well who are you going to take? You're going to take all your Republicans? Give me one or two of them and let them be prudent. You've got people on there that can ...”
Dirksen: “Well, you've got enough votes to beat it.”
LBJ: “No, I haven't. I haven't ... And you see how I'm — how you're going to let me win by one vote in there, and I'll call you back in a little bit on [the dam]."
In the end, Dirksen got his dam and Johnson got the GOP votes he needed to get his excise taxes.
Even more nefariously during his Senate years, Johnson had a handyman to help him with these negotiating tactics.
Author Robert Dallek tells in his book about Johnson of his aide, Bobby Baker.
Baker served as secretary of the Senate, but in truth was LBJ’s right-hand man.
“Baker catalogued [Senators’] preferences and dislikes, their jealousies, class differences and clashing personal goals,” Dallek wrote.
The author also writes of a member of the Capital police force who recalled Baker’s desk contained “stacks of money. Drawers full of money.”
Baker himself called it “storing up residues of goodwill for the future.”
(It has to be noted Baker resigned from his position in 1963 under threat of a Republican-led investigation into allegations of congressional bribery using money and arranging sexual favors in exchange for votes and government contracts.)
The point of these Johnson ruminations is simply to say in the case of the governor of New Jersey, no one should be shocked “that gambling is going on here.”
Personally, I kind of like Christie. He has a Trumanesqe quality of just throwing it out there.
I like that quality because I believe the majority of Americans can actually handle the truth of situations if they are actually told the truth.
That’s why I lean toward believing the governor when he says he didn’t know about the bridge closings and alleged threats against mayors to hold back hurricane relief moneys.
But, to hear the chorus of shock, dismay and outrage coming from politicians of the opposite party makes me want to throw shoes at the screen.
My bet is there is not one of them — not a single one — who can honestly say they haven’t had to make some kind of swap or deal to get something they wanted.
And, being that they are all human, I think it may be a safer bet they have taken care of their friends and, at worst, rebuffed their enemies.
Even if Christie did participate in these shenanigans, he would simply be guilty of playing the political game that has been and remains routinely played in every governmental entity that holds elected officials.
Sometimes the players play for the crowd. Sometimes they play for themselves.
Either way, they are all guilty of being Claude Raines.
They take their winnings and criticize the club in which they play.
This is not “Bridgegate.”
It’s just plain hypocrisy.