We measure our presidents against not only our hopes for the present, which are sometimes unreasonable, but also our understanding of the past, which can be just as flawed.
Has a misreading of history informed a misappraisal of Barack Obama?
That’s a question raised, not explicitly but implicitly, by a new book by the Princeton historian Julian Zelizer, “The Fierce Urgency of Now,” to be published on Thursday.
Its setting is the 1960s, as the title, a phrase uttered by Martin Luther King Jr., suggests. Its focus is Lyndon Johnson. And one of its conclusions is that despite Johnson’s legend as a peerless legislative tactician, he was largely a hostage of Congress and of forces beyond the presidency.
Zelizer reminds us that many of Johnson’s signature victories came during a two-year period when Democrats had two-thirds majorities in both the Senate, where they held 68 seats, and the House, where they held 295.