Title: The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson
Author: Robert A Caro
Publisher: Alfred A Knopf
Pages: 604 (of biography; many more pages of notes, etc.)
Rating: ★★★★★ 5 out of 5 stars.
I read the e-Book version. It can be found on Amazon
A fantastic, gripping biography of Lyndon Johnson from the time he was leader of the senate through his Vice Presidency and his becoming president after JFK’s assassination.
LBJ was a master at moving legislation through the Senate. JFK picked him for VP to get the Texas and southern votes during the 1060 election but then gave him nothing to do as VP. This was really tough on LBJ. LBJs biggest achievement in these years was getting the Civil Rights bill enacted into law. He recommended that JFK not send the bill to the Hill when he did knowing the logistics the southern democrats would use to stall and defeat the measure. Within 8 months of becoming president, LBJ used his skills to get a budget, a tax reform measure, and the Civil Rights act enacted.
Four takeaways from this book
- I was a kid during this phase of history and of course the assassination of JFK. It was fascinating to read about the people whose names I heard as a child.
- Congress was just as bollixed up then as today; legislation did not move through the Senate because of holdups by a minority of senators who blocked the majority view of the country.
- Robert and Kennedy and Johnson had an epic feud which was kicked into high gear during the negotiations to have LBJ become the Vice President nominee. RFK tried to get LBJ to take back his agreement to be VP; whether or not it was with JFK’s knowledge has been subject of debate for years. Caro takes the side that Bobby was not working with John’s knowledge. LBJ’s downhome, corny ways were at odds with the urbane, sophisticated Kennedy administration. These two men HATED one another, and not just a little bit. As Bobby and John’s father said “Bobby hates like me; once he hates someone they stay hated” (paraphrase). When John was president Bobby snubbed Lyndon at every possible occasion; Lyndon returned the favor when he became president.
- Lyndon Johnson was probably the best 1-on-1 campaigner/salesman whoever went to Washington DC. He was a master at identifying the fears and needs of his allies and opponents. He used these skills to move through JFK’s programs after Kennedy’s murder.
And then there was Vietnam… This will be the topic of the last volume of the biography; I’m looking forward to reading it. The war completely overwhelmed all the good he accomplished in the early years.
This book reads more like fiction than biography.
This is volume 4 of a 5 volume biography. I’ll definitely read the last in the series but probably not the first 3.