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The Passage of Power
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PRESIDENTIAL SERIES > 1. Presidential Series: PASSAGE OF POWER ~~ Sept. 17th ~ Sept. 23rd ~~ Introduction, Chapter ONE and TWO (ix-53); No Spoilers Please

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message 1: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 17, 2012 02:43AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
This is the Week One thread for the next Presidential Series selection (The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power) by Robert A. Caro.

The week's reading assignment is:

Week ONE - September 17th - September 23rd -> Introduction and Chapters ONE and TWO p. ix - 53
Introduction and ONE – The Prediction and TWO - The Rich Man's Son


We will open up a thread for each week's reading. Please make sure to post in the particular thread dedicated to those specific chapters and page numbers to avoid spoilers. We will also open up supplemental threads as we did for other spotlighted books.

We look forward to your participation. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders and other noted on line booksellers do have copies of the book and shipment can be expedited. The book can also be obtained easily at your local library.

There is no rush and we are thrilled to have you join us. It is never too late to begin reading this selection and/or to post.

Bryan Craig is the assisting moderator who will be leading this discussion. We hope you enjoy this discussion of another great book in the Presidential Series.

REMEMBER NO SPOILERS ON THE WEEKLY NON SPOILER THREADS

Notes:

It is always a tremendous help when you quote specifically from the book itself and reference the chapter and page numbers when responding. The text itself helps folks know what you are referencing and makes things clear.

Citations:

If an author or book is mentioned other than the book and author being discussed, citations must be included according to our guidelines. Also, when citing other sources, please provide credit where credit is due and/or the link. There is no need to re-cite the author and the book we are discussing however.

If you need help - here is a thread called the Mechanics of the Board which will show you how:

http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/2...

Glossary

Remember there is a glossary thread where ancillary information is placed by the moderator. This is also a thread where additional information can be placed by the group members regarding the subject matter being discussed.

http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1...

Bibliography

There is a Bibliography where books cited in the text are posted with proper citations and reviews. We also post the books that the author used in her research or in her notes. Please also feel free to add to the Bibliography thread any related books, etc with proper citations. No self promotion, please.

http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1...

Table of Contents and Syllabus

Here is the link:

http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1...

Welcome,

~Bentley

The Years of Lyndon Johnson The Passage of Power by Robert A. Caro by Robert A. Caro Robert A. Caro


Bryan Craig Chapter Overviews and Summaries

Introduction


The book covers the years from 1958 until January 1964. It begins at a low point in Lyndon B. Johnson's (LBJ) life as vice president with little power to triumph as president with a national vision. LBJ entered the presidency by a national event: John F. Kennedy's (JFK) assassination. Also, many in JFK's staff, especially his brother Bobby (RFK), did not like him. However, LBJ was able to move domestic bills like civil rights through Congress where JFK failed. For Caro, it is a story of power and LBJ had much of it in 1964 with a vision of social justice, the Great Society, but will end in tragedy with Vietnam (in his next book).

Chapter One: The Prediction

As a boy, LBJ predicted he would be president one day. His total energy was to achieve this goal: congressman, senator, then president. He tried in 1956 but Adlai Stevenson won the nomination. Now he was aiming for 1960. Or was he? Sure, LBJ had liabilities as a southerner (thus had to pass a 1957 civil rights bill to show Northerners he could handle the issue), but he had strong political instincts and friends in Congress. However, in 1958, he did not follow up with his campaign officers to enter the primaries. LBJ felt he could handle the election from Washington. He also didn't take JFK seriously, saw him as a sickly, rich playboy, that as a Catholic, he didn't stand a chance. Caro argues that it was a fear of failure that made him hesitate. This fear was deeply rooted in his childhood as his successful father died penniless and out of public office.

Chapter Two: The Rich Man's Son

LBJ was not alone in underestimating JFK. At first glance, he was a son of a millionaire who had big influence. Once JFK got to Congress, he wasn't around very much and people saw him dating Hollywood starlets. In the Senate, he also was absent and LBJ denied him a place on the Foreign Relations Committee.

However, JFK shared LBJ's strong drive to achieve the presidency, and JFK suffered a lot for it. He was a sick kid and young man. He went into the Navy during WWII, and with a bad back, saved his crew-mates on the PT-109. His brother, Joe, Sr., died in the war, leaving the political fortunes on JFK's sick back. In 1946, JFK ran for Congress and suffered long campaign days that included standing and stairs. Part of the reason he was absent in Congress was due to illness. In 1947, JFK was diagnosed with Addison's Disease and by 1949, got cortisone for it.

Like LBJ, JFK felt he had to run for Senate and did so in 1952. As Senator, he focused on national issues, and knew that the longer he stayed a senator, the more difficult it would be to run for president, because senators must vote on controversial issues. He also had to have a couple back surgeries and had to fight off infection. Dr. Janet Trevell gave JFK procaine and Novocain injections to get him through the day.

JFK's candidacy began to improve as he improved as a campaigner and television gave him an effective tool to use.


Bryan Craig K, everyone, start your political history engines. We are off...

For those new to our discussions, please comment only on material that is in each assigned chapter for the week.

Be sure to check the glossary for some background information.


Bryan Craig I think Caro's core of the book is about power. In the introduction, do you get a sense of what that power is?

I think he sketches out what power does to LBJ. I would like to share with you a quote:

"It [the book] tries to most particularly to focus on and examine a specific, determinative aspect of that era-political power; to explore, through the life of its protagonist, the acquisition and use of various forms of that power during that half century of American history, and to ascertain also the fundamental realities of that power; to learn what lay, beneath power's trappings, at power's core." (p. xvii)


Paul I was struck at how detailed a background Caro gives JFK in these early chapters, it's probably the best I've seen written in any book.


message 6: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 17, 2012 01:12PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
I was surprised with how in such an openly hostile and degrading way - Kennedy treated Johnson:

"You don't mean to say that Mr. Johnson is again insisting to ride with me?"

- Introduction


Craig (twinstuff) Bryan wrote: "I think Caro's core of the book is about power. In the introduction, do you get a sense of what that power is?"

I believe LBJ's power was his ability to control the Senate and, to a lesser extent, Washington D.C. I had the privilege this past summer to attend a workshop where one of the speakers was another historian who has written extensively on LBJ (and JFK), Robert Dallek. He told me that he wishes President Obama (who he has met several times) has the ability to control or even bully Congress the way LBJ did.


Tomerobber | 334 comments Craig wrote: "Bryan wrote: "I think Caro's core of the book is about power. In the introduction, do you get a sense of what that power is?"

I believe LBJ's power was his ability to control the Senate and, to a..."

I have also purchased the first 3 volumes of this work and am reading vol.1 at the same time as this one. LBJ developed that power over several decades . . . and perfected it to suit his goals . . I don't believe that Obama has had time enough to develop that kind interaction with congress . . LBJ was a honed pro at it.


Bryan Craig Craig wrote: "Bryan wrote: "I think Caro's core of the book is about power. In the introduction, do you get a sense of what that power is?"

I believe LBJ's power was his ability to control the Senate and, to a..."


Interesting, LBJ had a gift. Dalleck wrote a great series. Don't forget to cite the author

Robert Dallek Robert Dallek


Bryan Craig Tomerobber wrote: "Craig wrote: "Bryan wrote: "I think Caro's core of the book is about power. In the introduction, do you get a sense of what that power is?"

I believe LBJ's power was his ability to control the Se..."


Indeed, the "LBJ" treatment was famous.


Bryan Craig Cheryl wrote: "I think the power Caro refers to is influence, and it is based on experience. LBJ had the political influence he coveted when he was the leader of the Senate. He earned that sphere of power because..."

I agree Cheryl, I think this is part of his power.


message 12: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Some of his power came from his deep and abiding fear of failure; it developed a drive so deep that it was a powerful driving force and the LBJ treatment in MHO was a reflection of that: a dog on a bone and he was not giving you up or the position up until he either ensnared you or wore you out.


Bryan Craig Bentley wrote: "Some of his power came from his deep and abiding fear of failure; it developed a drive so deep that it was a powerful driving force and the LBJ treatment in MHO was a reflection of that: a dog on a..."

I found this part interesting, his deep sense of failure. I found it frustrating that he wouldn't go for the nomination.


Craig (twinstuff) Have we ever had an American President who could be such an enigma? (well maybe Nixon would be close too) Caro does such a magnificent job in the early chapters showing how Johnson's upbringing affected his intense desire to make something of himself. Really to make it to the top rung of the political ladder. Contrast that with JFK's wealth of opportunity which as Caro shows didn't mean Kennedy didn't face adversity of his own, primarily at the physical level.

I really loved how Caro kept switching back and forth between LBJ and Kennedy while keeping Johnson the pivotal player in the narrative.


message 15: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Bryan wrote: "Bentley wrote: "Some of his power came from his deep and abiding fear of failure; it developed a drive so deep that it was a powerful driving force and the LBJ treatment in MHO was a reflection of ..."

That was unbelievable wasn't it. BTW - I think the author is magnificent.


Bryan Craig I think it shows the strong ambition needed to go after the brass ring.

Caro is a great writer.

Do you sympathize with LBJ in seeing JFK as a rich boy?


message 17: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
I do more so because of the upbringing that LBJ had and the disappointments he experienced in life. LBJ from his perspective never saw the steeliness of Kennedy because Kennedy covered it up well.

I thinK LBJ discounted him because of what he perceived as a poor work ethic, his religion, his age etc. What he wanted to see in his opponents is what he always saw and I think the fact that JFK's father had intervened and LBJ felt that he had doled out a favor falsely put blinders on LBJ. He never saw anything formidable in Kennedy because that is all Kennedy ever displayed to him in the beginning.


message 18: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
When you think about it - he became president by default - a horrible thing happened and he was thrust into the role.


message 19: by G (new) - rated it 5 stars

G Hodges (glh1) | 901 comments Caro's ability to weave the intimate psychology of his very public subjects continues to amaze me. The driven natures of LBJ and JFK stand out because one is simultaneously crippled and motivated by his insecurities and fear of failure and the other is driven by his family's expectations and his own illness which he does everything to deny. LBJ felt he had to overcome his background. JFK felt he had to live up to his. And then throw the rather mean-spirited, cunning and resolute Bobby Kennedy into the mix and you have a whole range of people who 'bully' in their own special way. And this dynamic set the political agenda for a generation.

I am reading excellent books on political power right now, but this book pulls me to read it.


message 20: by Mick (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mick (mcedeez) | 11 comments I think in this instance, it was the fear of failure, which was such a driving force in his career, that kept him from going after the nomination.


Bryan Craig Bentley wrote: "I do more so because of the upbringing that LBJ had and the disappointments he experienced in life. LBJ from his perspective never saw the steeliness of Kennedy because Kennedy covered it up well...."

Blinders, indeed, Bentley. JFK seemed to hide his pain very well from the public, and the Kennedy family, I should say clan, protect each other.


Bryan Craig Cheryl wrote: "Loosing the nomination to Kennedy with all his priviledges, education, and wealth was a stark reminder of what LBJ perceived as his severe shortcomings. I wonder how it all would have played out if..."

I think LBJ did see how powerful he was in the Senate compared to JFK, and felt D.C. was the place to run his campaign. This was a mistake and JFK knew it.

Do you think LBJ would have a good shot if he went to campaign just as hard as JFK?


message 23: by Bryan (last edited Sep 18, 2012 06:16AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bryan Craig G wrote: "Caro's ability to weave the intimate psychology of his very public subjects continues to amaze me. The driven natures of LBJ and JFK stand out because one is simultaneously crippled and motivated ..."

Some good points, G. We really are reading a great mix of personalities, LBJ's "big as life" right in the center. JFK and Bobby make great political drama.

You mentioned about his health. LBJ was a workaholic's workaholic. I remember going to the LBJ ranch and he had a phone built into the dining room table! Really?! Hard core.


Bryan Craig Mick wrote: "I think in this instance, it was the fear of failure, which was such a driving force in his career, that kept him from going after the nomination."

I think Caro makes a good argument, Mick. It is really is amazing, so out of character for him not to reach for the thing he wanted so much in life. This seems to put it into context. Everyone is human, right?


Bryan Craig He was rich, not Kennedy rich, but with his radio and TV stations, he was well off. But you couldn't compare it to JFK.

We will see more of this next week, though, so I shouldn't delve too much further, but he also didn't have great oratory skills like JFK.


message 26: by Mick (last edited Sep 18, 2012 07:21AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mick (mcedeez) | 11 comments Bryan wrote: "...but he also didn't have great oratory skills like JFK."

So true, and in a time when television would begin to play such a significant role in politics and how a candidate is perceived.



Bryan Craig Mick wrote: "So true, and in a time when television would begin to play such a significant role in politics and how a candidate is perce..."

I agree, JFK had a huge advantage.


message 28: by G (last edited Sep 18, 2012 01:20PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

G Hodges (glh1) | 901 comments Cheryl wrote: "Thank you G (message 21) for your observations of Caro's attention to JFK and LBJ's motivations. "And this dynamic set the political agenda for a generation." Can you give an example of a book on p..."

In addition to the Passage of Power, I am also reading a biography of Julius Caesar by Adrian Goldsworthy, the Privileged life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt by H.W. Brands, and yes the link is tenuous, but it is there, the Hobbit by JRR Tolkein.

In Caesar, I’ve learned that like LBJ, Caesar was a handshaking, back slapping politician who made the rounds and also did what he needed to do to make himself look and act the part of a person of influence. Throughout his adolescence and young adulthood he became a point of reference for the people of Rome because of his physical skill, the extremes he went to and his ambition. Goldsworthy notes that because he (Caesar) was enthralled with himself, he enthralled others.

In Roosevelt, there is a quote by Raymond B. Fosdick who worked with FDR under Wilson in which he sees the President shuffling to dinner, using a cane. It was here that Fosdick “realized…that this apparently broken man was indeed the chief – with the capacity and magnetism of great leadership, and bearing on his face and in his handsome eyes the mark of confidence and power”. These are traits JFK certainly had, RFK did not, and I am just not sure about LBJ.

Finally, with regard to the Hobbit, Tolkein has created a wizard/magician Gandalf who throughout the book manages groups of people, or individuals and facilitates their thinking the way he wants them to largely because of his personal presence, his sense of personal responsibility, which he always acted upon, and his willingness to lead. (Not really as big a stretch as you might think).

LBJ was ambivalent about himself and because of that, I don’t think he could be a great leader. Apologies for the lengths I went to make a point (no apologies for the Hobbit)


Caesar Life of a Colossus by Adrian Goldsworthy by Adrian Goldsworthy Adrian Goldsworthy

Traitor to His Class The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt by H.W. Brands by H.W. Brands H.W. Brands

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien by J.R.R. Tolkien J.R.R. Tolkien


Bryan Craig Thanks, G. You raised some issues to keep in mind as we move along in this book. We will get to contrast his lowest moments (like now) and his highest: Jan. 1964.


Craig (twinstuff) JFK had more success or at least more exposure with international relations than LBJ whose presidency will probably be remembered primarily for his role in escalating America's involvement in Vietnam. But there is no question that LBJ did more for domestic programs than JFK, perhaps more than any other American President than FDR (maybe even more than FDR?)


message 31: by Mark (last edited Sep 18, 2012 04:30PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mark Mortensen As noticed on pg. 22 LBJ certainly had command of the 4 letter words. Nixon was also known to throw such words around.


Bryan Craig Cheryl and Craig, good points, but don't stray too far from what Caro writes about in this week's thread.


message 33: by Mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mark Mortensen It was noted that LBJ wished to use his initials in similar fashion as FDR. JFK certainly did the same.


Craig (twinstuff) I'll try not to stray, but I completed the book a few weeks ago and listened to it on audio so I don't have a hard copy of the book and can't exactly remember what was specifically covered in which chapters.


message 35: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
A good rule of thumb if that is the case is to look at the summaries that the moderator posts which gives the outline of the chapters discussed. In this thread see message 2.


message 36: by Mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mark Mortensen Craig said: I really loved how Caro kept switching back and forth between LBJ and Kennedy while keeping Johnson the pivotal player in the narrative.

I liked Caro's style too.


message 37: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Mark wrote: "As noticed on pg. 22 LBJ certainly had command of the 4 letter words. Nixon was also known to throw such words around."

Yes Mark - interesting that both men used that language. I think that LBJ felt that presidents used initials as a reference and it stuck. I guess a few did but not that many for him to get hung up on it. But then again he thought that FDR was his hero.


Bryan Craig I thought it was insightful of JFK to realize that the Senate was not the place to run for president. The longer you are there, the more controversy you will attract.

What are your thoughts?


message 39: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 19, 2012 07:29AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
I have to agree because you then have a voting record which becomes irrefutable. You always have to come down on one side or the other.

Yet, isn't that the way life is - a series of choices -- but more valuable should be the fact that they know how hard it is to get things done and are able to do it in spite of the obstacles.

That to me was LBJ's calling card. It is not really the controversy itself but how you are able to deal with this controversy and build consensus which is key - without it the presidency cannot make any headway whatsoever.

I guess I look at it differently; I like folks to stand for something and show their true self; and I would be more apt to vote for a man who disagreed with me than one who I felt was not trustworthy or who was trying to pull the wool over people's eyes. I guess it comes down to a matter of perspective.


Bryan Craig It is interesting to see both men saw the same path: House, Senate, presidency. However, JFK really did see the Senate as a stepping stone, and if I lived in MA at that time, I don't think I would be getting my money's worth out of him.

LBJ really enjoyed the Senate and was a master of procedures, etc. You get a sense that he is a mix of pragmatist and idealist (stemming from his poor upbringing).


message 41: by Paul (last edited Sep 19, 2012 09:41AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul It's too easy to dismiss JFK as lazy and a rich boy. He certainly worked as hard as the likes of LBJ to get first elected, you could argue harder. The House was also more of a stepping stone for him as the Senate. He was said to find the out of date and slow mechanics of the House frustrating and that's certainly why he looked to move on. Ill health is also a factor too in his absences.

Easy to bash JFK for the rich boy image, but you don't get that far without hard work.

Also on running for the Presidency from the Senate, there is a great West Wing line on it, along the lines of there being a reason that nobody since JFK had (other than Obama now) and it's both the level of scrutiny and also the time it takes up - in the case of Obama both candidates were from the Senate.


message 42: by G (new) - rated it 5 stars

G Hodges (glh1) | 901 comments Bryan wrote: "It is interesting to see both men saw the same path: House, Senate, presidency. However, JFK really did see the Senate as a stepping stone, and if I lived in MA at that time, I don't think I would..."


I wanted to say that it is difficult not to post on future chapters that I have already read. I almost did here. It is an indication of the authors' skill that he engages us so thoroughly in his subject.


Bryan Craig Paul wrote: "It's too easy to dismiss JFK as lazy and a rich boy. He certainly worked as hard as the likes of LBJ to get first elected, you could argue harder. The House was also more of a stepping stone for hi..."

You do learn to respect JFK as he struggles with his health; it is amazing...walking and climbing stairs in bad back pain and near death a few times.

As a campaigner for the presidency, the Senate can bring a lot of political baggage. Governors have the edge.


message 44: by Paul (new) - rated it 4 stars

Paul Yes agree


Bryan Craig G wrote: "I wanted to say that it is difficult not to post on future chapters that I have already read. I almost did here. It is an indication of the authors' skill that he engages us so thoroughly in his subject. "

I understand, G, Caro is great at weaving back and forth in a great style.

I just remind folks to be mindful, especially if the post covers future chapter material...it is only fair for people who have only read this week's reading. Thanks for understanding.


message 46: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Bryan wrote: "It is interesting to see both men saw the same path: House, Senate, presidency. However, JFK really did see the Senate as a stepping stone, and if I lived in MA at that time, I don't think I would..."

I agree with you Bryan; Lyndon was right about his modus operandi while in the Senate. That is why I think he was so dismissive of him for sure.


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G Hodges (glh1) | 901 comments Paul wrote: "This isn't becoming a JFK bashing session?"

No. I don't think so. The reality is that Joe Kennedy bought his son a great deal in the political arena. This takes nothing away from JFK's remarkable perseverance, stamina and intelligence. I think in these early chapters, Caro is comparing Johnson's use of political currency with Jack Kennedy's use of the other form of currency.


message 48: by Ann D (last edited Sep 19, 2012 08:17PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ann D In note 43, Bryan wrote, "I thought it was insightful of JFK to realize that the Senate was not the place to run for president. The longer you are there, the more controversy you will attract."

Caro points out that only one senator - Warren Harding- had been elected directly from the Senate, prior to Kennedy. I remember reading during the 2008 campaign (sorry I can't be more specific) that Obama didn't want to stay in the Senate for too long for the same reasons.

I think LBJ’s biggest achievement was getting a strong Civil Rights bill through Congress. In this part of the book, Caro has already written about the apparent transformation of LBJ from a diehard Southern conservative into the greatest presidential supporter of Civil Rights. I am interested in reading more about this. Caro has already indicated that LBJ had to hide his own views and play the power game until he was in a position to make changes.

I liked this sentence about this process in the introduction: "...although the cliché says that power always corrupts, what is seldom said, but what is equally true is that power always reveals.."


message 49: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Ann, I thought that was an interesting correlation too. That is a tremendous quote and I believe Michelle Obama used a variation of that idea in her convention speech when introducing the President.

He voted against Civil Rights so many times and then suddenly being able to turn the corner was remarkable. There were of course many conflicting reasons for the transformation; yet when all was said and done; he still accomplished it.


Craig (twinstuff) The contrasts between LBJ and JFK really start to become evident in these first two chapters. And I thought the biggest contrast that Caro does a great job in developing as a theme throughout the book is each man's confidence level. Powerful men also tend to rarely lack confidence and I believe that LBJ fit that description except his uncertainty and weakness in not being able to make a decision between 1958 and 60 in pursuing his lifetime dream of running for and winning the presidency.


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