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The Passage of Power
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PRESIDENTIAL SERIES > 2. Presidential Series: PASSAGE OF POWER ~~ Sept. 24th ~ Sept. 30th ~~ Chapter THREE (54 - 108); No Spoilers Please

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Bryan Craig This is the Week Two 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 TWO - September 24th - September 30th -> Chapter THREE p. 54 - 108
THREE - Forging Chains


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

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Glossary

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Bibliography

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Table of Contents and Syllabus

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Welcome,

~Bryan

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


Bryan Craig Chapter Overviews and Summaries

Chapter Three: Forging Chains


LBJ began to do a little more campaigning for the presidency. He got the state law changed that he could run for Senate and president at the same time, and he talked with George Parr in the Rio Grande valley who he helped with a mail fraud case. He spoke in Pennsylvania and it was a success, but he did not go back. Edward Kennedy, who was in charge of the western states for his brother, said that those states were leaning toward LBJ, but LBJ was not ready.

The Kennedy campaign was run by RFK. RFK and LBJ started off poorly and never recovered. LBJ was apparently present when FDR said he was going to fire Joe, Sr. as ambassador to Great Britain, and LBJ told people the story. At the time, RFK was an angry person and held grudges, and he held one for LBJ. In the Senate cafeteria, RFK would not shake hands with LBJ or even look at him.

However, LBJ still denied he was running. RFK went down to the Johnson ranch to find out LBJ's intentions. After LBJ told him that he had to learn to handle a gun to be a man, RFK walked away thinking LBJ was probably out. JFK heard otherwise.

By 1960, LBJ began to actively campaign by lining up donations and capture 10 western states. Johnson helped pass the watered down 1960 civil rights act to help his image with northern liberals. Yet, liberals, blacks, and whites who were civil rights supporters did not fully trust LBJ and it did not help that he did not travel to meet with them.

LBJ went out west for a five day speaking tour in May 1960. He did well, but JFK already locked up the votes. LBJ tried to make sure JFK would not get a first ballot win, thus give him a shot. He pleaded to Stevenson not to commit his delegates, and even investigated JFK's health issues.

At the convention, LBJ worked on the Pennsylvania delegation, specifically Pittsburgh's David Lawrence. However, the plan failed. Another plan was to debate JFK in front of the Texas and Massachusetts delegation. This also failed as JFK put on the charm. Sam Rayburn nominated LBJ, but JFK won on the first ballot.


Bryan Craig What are your thoughts about the LBJ and RFK cafeteria incident?


message 4: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 24, 2012 07:45AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
I have been wondering how overblown some of this might have been; the tapes between Bpbby and Lyndon seem very polite and respectful.

But the Kennedys' were a big clique and you were either in their group or against them. I think part of this must have come from the fact that the old man had to bring himself up by his bootstraps and being Catholic during that period of history did not help. As far as Lyndon, he wanted to be the center of attention and be admired and looked up to and could not stand to be humiliated (even the fear of potential humiliation paralyzed him) - so maybe Lyndon reacted in a certain way because of a perceived lack of respect and potentially RFK out of family loyalty which was fierce. Or it could simply be two dominant male dogs just seeking out their own territory - where one felt the infringement of the other.

Hard to tell; peoples' memories always makes things grander or more despicable than they really were - but it is obvious that the two men did not like each other (smile)


Bryan Craig And these oral histories are done years later, which is not the best way to do it.

LBJ even rubbed it in outside the cafeteria; he was pretty relentless.


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Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
It appears that way; but Robert Kennedy was well known for his tactics also (although neither are around to defend themselves) - even his brother noted how intense RFK was. I guess intense is a nice way of putting it. Both of these men were intense for different reasons (smile).

Yes, it would be better for the oral histories to be done right after a presidency ended but sometimes that is not done for a host of reasons - possibly even political ones.


message 7: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 24, 2012 08:49AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
This image sort of sums it up: (it was like RFK was smelling something foul and LBJ was trying to politely ignore the "face").



Robert F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson at the ground-breaking ceremony for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D.C., December 1964

This was an excerpt from a review of the book that stood out for me:

"Caro understands that Bobby was determined not to see Johnson, even if he saw him—so he did not see him. But Johnson saw him not seeing, and hated him the more. That is how hate narrows one—narrows what one wants to see, or is able to see, in order to keep one’s hatred tended and hard." - from the New York Times review by Garry Wills in America’s Nastiest Blood Feud


Bryan Craig Great picture, Bentley, thank you. It sums it up well as does Wills.

Intense would be a good word and if your own brother sometimes was leary of you, this says something.


Mark Mortensen I was always aware of the political accomplishments and battles associated with Robert Kennedy, but until now I failed to comprehend that this was such a strong a personality from his youth.


Tomerobber | 334 comments I'm still reading along and was glad to have the reason for the bad will between LBJ and RFK explained . . . I didn't recall that. Great pic - the expressions seem similar in any pic where they were in proximity together.


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G Hodges (glh1) | 901 comments On page 58 of the book, there is this quote from LBJ

"Flung down before us now is a Communist challenge to wrestle for the soul of uncommitted lands. The struggle is not to be won by arms - it is to be won by the force of the examples of our two systems - and the century itself is the prize. "

Can someone tell me if this is where the term "American Century" originated?


Ann D The most interesting part of this chapter was the character analysis of Bobby Kennedy. I was in college when he was assassinated and, like many young people, put both him and his brother on a pedestal. I had no idea just how nasty he could be.

The anecdotes about his explosive temper (LBJ apparently had one too) and his work for Joe McCarthy really tempered my admiration.

Caro says he was always trying to please his father, who for a long time just ignored him when it came to discussing politics with his sons. The story about him abandoning his friend on a boat, even though his friend didn't know how to sail, was telling. He didn't want his father to be mad at him for being late to lunch and that was more important to him than his friend.

Johnson hated Robert Kennedy because he didn't show him respect, but I can see why RFK hated Johnson too. Caro says, "Passing Bobby in the Senate corridor, he would greet him as "Sonny Boy." He also told him he needed to learn to shoot like a man after he fell down while hunting. Johnson may have feared humiliation more than anything else, but he sure had no trouble dishing it out.


Bryan Craig G wrote: "On page 58 of the book, there is this quote from LBJ

"Flung down before us now is a Communist challenge to wrestle for the soul of uncommitted lands. The struggle is not to be won by arms - it i..."


I believe Henry Luce of Time coined the term during WWII


Bryan Craig Ann wrote: "The most interesting part of this chapter was the character analysis of Bobby Kennedy. I was in college when he was assassinated and, like many young people, put both him and his brother on a pede..."

I felt uneasy about RFK after reading this section.

Also, "sonny boy"....I think I would put LBJ on my team because he gets results but not for getting along.


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G Hodges (glh1) | 901 comments Bryan wrote: "G wrote: "On page 58 of the book, there is this quote from LBJ

"Flung down before us now is a Communist challenge to wrestle for the soul of uncommitted lands. The struggle is not to be won by a..."

Okay. Thanks. So Johnson probably extrapolated from Luce.


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G Hodges (glh1) | 901 comments Bryan wrote: "Ann wrote: "The most interesting part of this chapter was the character analysis of Bobby Kennedy. I was in college when he was assassinated and, like many young people, put both him and his broth..."

Re: RFK. Me, as well. In the photo of RFK and his brother at the McClellan Committee, the look on Bobby's face is chilling. It is just underlined by his actions in this chapter. I was appalled that he left his friend in the boat to get back to his father.


Ann D Bobby studied how to run a campaign in the 1956 election and learned his lessons very well. He was a huge asset to his brother.

But the Kennedys were willing to play dirty too. Caro tells us that in the 1960 West Virginia primary, FDR Jr. agreed to campaign for Jack. The Kennedy campaign supplied him with documents that alleged Humphrey was a draft dodger during WWII, which was completely untrue. Caro says, "Although FDR was reluctant to use the documents, Bobby insisted..." The Kennedys refused to stop this dirty trick even when Humphrey supplied proof that the allegations were false.

This reminded me of some other dirty tricks in more recent elections -- blaming Michael Dukakis for the crimes committed by furloughed black convict Willie Horton in 1988, organizing rumors in the 2000 South Carolina primary that John McCain had an illegitimate black child, turning John Kerry from a war hero into a traitor with the Swiftboat Veterans for "Truth" campaign in 2004, etc. etc.

I wonder if we have ever had any "clean" elections.


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Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
I am not sure with all of the money changing hands for these ridiculous ads, robocalls and the like; I wish election day was tomorrow. And who knows without campaign finance reform - things could continue to get worse.

Although politics never was a clean sport. And the Kennedys were not above board either.


Ann D As long as corporations are "people," it looks like we will need a Constitutional amendment for true campaign finance reform.

I guess I was naive. I knew the Kennedys had piles of money to spend in the lead up to the 1960 election, but I was surprised at how much money Johnson had available from the oil magnates. Caro writes, "Envelopes stuffed with cash cascaded up to Washington" and he quotes Booth Mooney as saying that he personally "carried packets of a hundred hundred- dollar bills" to Jenkins, on Johnson's staff.


Theresa | 84 comments Ann wrote: "The most interesting part of this chapter was the character analysis of Bobby Kennedy. I was in college when he was assassinated and, like many young people, put both him and his brother on a pede..."

I wonder if wasn't assassinated how different our public's perception of him would be. RFK and JFK both for that matter. RFK especially had a reputation in Washington and politics but it isn't common knowledge. I've never read anything about either one so all of this information was completely new and surprising to me. This all happened before my time but my perception is shaped by those before me who put RFK on a pedestal.


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G Hodges (glh1) | 901 comments Information I previously did not know about Bobby Kennedy was revealed here. The bad blood between RFK and LBJ apparently started because of Joe Seniors support of the Nazi’s and appeasement during WW2, and LBJ’s quite public disdain of him.

In addition, the fact that RFK had a ‘tribal loyalty to his family’ and was (it seems) very mean spirited added a toxic quality to the relationship. Theirs was a bad mix especially since RFK learned how to ‘work’ a campaign and he had the money to back it up whereas LBJ repeatedly turned down invitations to speak in the North and other places less kind to him. RFK was ‘ruthless’ in his pursuit of the Western states even though both the West and South were sympathetic to Johnson.

I think this was a pivotal point, with almost no chance of success for LBJ after this. LBJ was still dwelling in his neurotic ambivalence, and with RFK driving his brothers campaign (Ted was having a positive impact as well), I think the timing was crucial for JFK.


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Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Great comments all. Yes Ann, I see you have a concern with "corporations being people" - the antithesis of any thinking by our founding fathers. Theresa, your comments were also so interesting - yes what would have been the legacy of both men if they had not had a most horrendous end. G, I agree and the term you used about a "tribal loyalty" is so point perfect.


message 23: by Ann D (last edited Sep 25, 2012 12:47PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ann D Cheryl,
I was very interested in that "black and white hats" comment by Ethel too. It implies a strict moral code, but Bobby seems to have thought that the "white hats" were justified in using unscrupulous methods to achieve their goal. I am thinking of the Kennedys using FDR, Jr. to smear Humphrey's war record.

Of course, LBJ also had a very flexible view of morality. :-)


Bryan Craig Ann wrote: "As long as corporations are "people," it looks like we will need a Constitutional amendment for true campaign finance reform.

I guess I was naive. I knew the Kennedys had piles of money to spend ..."


Indeed, Ann, he filled a niche delivering money to the right races.


Bryan Craig Theresa wrote: "Ann wrote: "The most interesting part of this chapter was the character analysis of Bobby Kennedy. I was in college when he was assassinated and, like many young people, put both him and his broth..."

Good question, Theresa. I doubt RFK would have moved out of his big brother's shadow if he lived.


Bryan Craig G wrote: "Information I previously did not know about Bobby Kennedy was revealed here. The bad blood between RFK and LBJ apparently started because of Joe Seniors support of the Nazi’s and appeasement durin..."

The Kennedy's were the realists on the campaign. They knew what had to be done to get those western states. LBJ took things for granted, stemming from D.C. and as Caro says repeatedly, the Senators do not control the delegates.


Bryan Craig Cheryl wrote: "Caro is interested in power/influence in the LBJ series and his Robert Moses tome. If "the world is divided into black and white hats," as Ethel, his wife described him (pg. 65) then it is not surp..."

Interesting points, Cheryl. I didn't think of that about LBJ. You know, Nixon, had that same kind of hatred.

Nixon friends used to say that he was defined by his enemies. Would you say the same of LBJ up to this point?


Bryan Craig Yes, it is a good quote, black and white hats...you are either with the Kennedys or not. If not, watch out...


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G Hodges (glh1) | 901 comments Cheryl wrote: "Hi Ann,
I think Ethel's comment is the most telling in this phase of RFK's life. It implies judgment, but human judgment is based on individual perceptions which, as we know, are not perfect! He ma..."


I agree with you. I have a tendency not to trust people who think they are the only ones who are right. There is something extremely rigid and inflexible in that. That his own wife saw this unflattering trait really is telling. Comparing RFK with LBJ, give me the person with a modicum of self-doubt (although I think LBJ took it a tad too far), which would leave him open to taking advice.


Bryan Craig It is good to admit, "I don't know the answer" and get people around to discuss the issues.

I think RFK softens a lot after 1963 with the death of his brother and I think grows as a person. But in our snapshot in time, he does seem inflexible, no doubt.


message 31: by G (new) - rated it 5 stars

G Hodges (glh1) | 901 comments Cheryl wrote: "G said, I have a tendency to not trust those who always think their right...

Hi G,
The inflexibility/rigidity you pointed out about RFK is usually a part of youth. With maturity, some are able to ..."


Sorry about the typo (their instead of they're) but Caro pointed out that RFK was 22 when he left his friend floundering in the sailboat in 1948, which means he was in his mid thirties during the convention. I can't give him the youth card on this. I have not read a biography of him yet, and to be honest, I thought he was the best thing since sliced bread when he ran for President. I wasn't yet old enough to vote, but I was absolutely supporting him. This book is showing me a whole different side of him. I am waiting to learn more, but right now, he seems like a nasty piece of work.


message 32: by Mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mark Mortensen Ann said: The most interesting part of this chapter was the character analysis of Bobby Kennedy. I was in college when he was assassinated and, like many young people, put both him and his brother on a pedestal. I had no idea just how nasty he could be.

The Boston papers I read during those years certainly did not mention that aspect.


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

G Hodges (glh1) | 901 comments Hi Cheryl,

I see your point. I'll wait for future chapters.

My big problem is that I become so involved and can't seem to put the book down!


message 34: by Ann D (last edited Sep 25, 2012 04:19PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ann D I look forward to reading more about RFK as the book progresses. I'd like to see him improve. :-)

On a more positive note, I would like to mention JFK's masterful paid telecast in West Virginia when he convinced voters that his Catholic religion would never interfere with his promise to uphold the Constitutional separation of church and state.

That may not seem significant today when we have an African-American president and a Mormon running for the office. But I was a young Catholic girl in 1960. There was still a lot of anti-Catholic prejudice around and many people thought that JFK would take orders from the Vatican. It was also before the liberalization of the Catholic Church under Vatican II. I remember being told by a nun that Catholics should not attend Protestant weddings because it might give people the idea that we were considering joining their religion. I'm sure Protestant girls were also warned about those dangerous Catholics.

At any rate, I thought Kennedy handled the whole problem with great intelligence and grace.


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G Hodges (glh1) | 901 comments Ann wrote: "I look forward to reading more about RFK as the book progresses. I'd like to see him improve. :-)

On a more positive note, I would like to mention JFK's masterful paid telecast in West Virginia wh..."


It is true about young Christian girls. When I was 10, my best friend was a Catholic and I was a Protestant. I tried to go to confession at my friends church and was rudely sent away for reasons that are totally irrelevant now. John Kennedy certainly turned the American world on its head, thankfully. His speech was not only masterful and a game changer, but it was essential to his election.


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Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Ann wrote: "I look forward to reading more about RFK as the book progresses. I'd like to see him improve. :-)

On a more positive note, I would like to mention JFK's masterful paid telecast in West Virginia wh..."


Great points and you are right Ann; he did.


Bryan Craig Great stuff everyone. I have to bring up the RFK gun incident. It is a classic, wouldn't you say?


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Mark Mortensen Yes, from one who was slight in build but physical in fooball, you might think he could handle the gun. Still most on their first attempt regardless of age are usually a bit taken back. I'm sure there was some humility and LBJ enjoyed the moment.


Bryan Craig I suspect in LBJ's world (south and west), a measure of someone is how to handle a gun. RFK did not fit the bill.


Bryan Craig I want to return to the theme of power. My philosopher's hat is coming on, lol.

I think you could argue that LBJ is a testament to Nietzsche's will to power. For him, his whole meaning in life is power. Every fiber of his being is pushing towards the one goal: the presidency, the epitome of political power.

Also, he seems to see life through the lens of power, relationships for example, as we see with RFK and JFK.

Now, in the last couple of months before the campaign in 1960, he feels threatened, he will lose the nomination, and now, he begins to actively campaign.

Like a man threatened, he lashes out. A great example, calling Kennedy a "little scrawny fellow with rickets." (p. 96)

I thought I would share my thoughts on another way to look at things.


Bryan Craig Thanks, Cheryl, a great moment. LBJ realized how charming JFK was and smart right then and there.


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Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
RFK wasn't a deer hunter and LBJ and his cronies picked out a gun that would recoil and set up what happened to embarrass him. LBJ wanted to embarrass RFK probably in retaliation for the humiliation he suffered at the hands of the Kennedy family and RFK. They made LBJ feel less as a man and substandard. They needed him to carry Texas and other states in the South and without him JFK would not have been president but after using him for their purposes - they treated him like his usefulness had been served.


Ann D Cheryl,
Charm and wit go a long way in winning people over. JFK had it in abundance.

According to Caro, Johnson was great in a one on one encounter, but I don't think he could compete on the national stage.


Ann D As for the deer gun incident, in addition to falling down, RFK had to listen to LBJ say, "“Son, you’ve got to learn to handle a gun like a man.”

It's really not surprising that Bobby hated Johnson.


Bryan Craig Bentley wrote: "RFK wasn't a deer hunter and LBJ and his cronies picked out a gun that would recoil and set up what happened to embarrass him. LBJ wanted to embarrass RFK probably in retaliation for the humiliati..."

Yeah, you have to think LBJ felt pretty good out in that field with RFK flat on the ground. But RFK would have the last laugh...


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Bryan Craig Ann wrote: "Cheryl,
Charm and wit go a long way in winning people over. JFK had it in abundance.

According to Caro, Johnson was great in a one on one encounter, but I don't think he could compete on the nati..."


Indeed, giving formal speeches was not LBJ's style.


message 47: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 27, 2012 08:26AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
I think he could have Ann, but his own procrastination did him in. He was a good stumper and folks liked his style. And he ultimately won on his own. There was a lot of push back on the Kennedy nomination and if Lyndon had thrown his hat in the ring sooner and went to the West, etc, - I think he might have been the nominee versus JFK.

After the horse was out of the barn; not much he could do then and the JFK charm started to work its magic (and Bobby's muscle and intensity in the background alongwith the old man's money - smile)


Ann D Re- Bryan's question about LBJ's will to power

Bryan,
This is a political biography of LBJ and Caro does present everything through the lens of power. I wonder if LBJ was the same in his personal life. Then again, I wonder if he really had a personal life outside of politics.

Don't you think that will to power motivates most presidential candidates? You can want that power for either your personal good or the general good, but many end up deciding the two are synonymous.


Bryan Craig Ann wrote: "Re- Bryan's question about LBJ's will to power

Bryan,
This is a political biography of LBJ and Caro does present everything through the lens of power. I wonder if LBJ was the same in his personal ..."


I tend to agree with you Ann, I think politicians do have the will to power. He did have a personal life, he loved to raise cattle for example. However, he really had politics on the brain. He was in constant motion and thinking about politics. This is the impression I got even visiting his ranch in Texas. It seemed to be his meaning in life.


message 50: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 27, 2012 08:47AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Charisma is very powerful and in this media age and with the criteria with which most folks judge a candidate today (who would you rather have a beer with?) - yes charisma and telegenic qualities would win out.

But at the time that LBJ and JFK were running this was not the case. Folks did not want somebody who was necessarily only charming and had not done anything of substance; they also were against anybody Catholic (they worried about who the candidate might be aligned with) and were concerned and adamant about separation of church from state and real accomplishments mattered when choosing a president.

There is no doubt in my mind that LBJ would have won the nomination and would have been able to compete on the national stage successfully. Remember, with the horse playing being done in the background by Kennedy Sr and the arm twisting being done by Bobby; JFK only won the presidency because Lyndon was on the ticket - plain and simple.


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