The Passage of Power – By Robert A. Caro

The Passage of Power by Robert A. CaroThis book is the fourth of five books about the life of Lyndon B. Johnson. The predominate focus of this book covers the election of John F. Kennedy, assignation of JFK, and the subsequent passage of power between the two men. This author does a great job in laying a foundation of the formative years of Johnson to allow this book to stand alone.

After reading this book, I will be the first to admit that LBJ was a very smart politician. There is no way that I could ever call him a statesman. LBJ was an expert in reading people and he would use this knowledge to help him pass legislation. LBJ was a power hungry individual and it was interesting to read how frustrated he became serving as the Vice-President.

LBJ desired to be President of the United States from a very young age. He was very purposeful in the decisions that he made in order to move his career forward to obtain his ultimate goal. However, because of an event that happened to his father when LBJ was young, LBJ hated to lose. This hatred of losing caused LBJ to be gun shy and thus delayed his starting the campaign for the presidency of the United States. This delay ended up costing him the election in 1960.

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LBJ was the majority leader of the U.S. Senate. He was very well known and he had strong ties to the Democratic leadership around the country. However, LBJ decided that he was not going to officially announce that he was running and instead “allow his record to speak for itself”. LBJ would tell the press that he was not running for the presidency and then get angry when he heard someone repeat the exact same line.

This confusion created by LBJ gave JFK a huge head start in the 1960 elections. By the time LBJ finally got around to announcing that he was running, JFK had already locked up many delegates around the country. JFK knew that if he did not win the nomination on the first round, he would probably lose to LBJ. JFK outplayed LBJ and managed to win the Democratic nomination by just a couple of delegates.

The next morning after the delegates had voted for JFK to be the nominee, LBJ got a telephone call from JFK. JFK asked LBJ to be his vice-president. LBJ ended up accepting this position thinking that he would be instrumental in helping JFK push his legislative agenda through. LBJ was a tireless campaigner for JFK and JFK won the election.

As a side note, the chair at the 1960 Democratic convention played very loose with the rules to ensure that the anti-LBJ contingency did not run anyone else for the vice-presidency and thus deal an early blow to the JFK campaign. The Chair found that there was a super majority that wanted to suspend the rules to make LBJ the uncontested VP pick. The Chair found this super majority even though it was clear to everyone in the room that the room was pretty divided.

After the election, JFK did not end up allowing LBJ to push his legislative agenda. JFK’s brother, Robert did everything he could to keep LBJ sidelined. LBJ went into hibernation and refused to take media interviews and he became a non-factor in D.C.

After the death of JFK, LBJ quickly ascertained the political landscape. He understood that it was less than a year away from the 1964 presidential elections and he needed to do something to ensure he was elected. He knew that there would be a lot of positive sentiment towards JFK after his death, so he used it to help pass JFK’s tax cuts and the Civil Rights act.

LBJ was a shrewd politician. However, for a man who held a government job most of his life, he managed to accumulate a rather large fortune. It was really sad to read how he used his political power throughout his life to line his own pocket. It really reminded me of some of the accusations that we hear about today’s politicians who have amassed great wealth using their political offices.

Many of the things that LBJ did are reasons why we have some of the campaign finance laws that we do today. LBJ was unable to self-govern his behavior and as such, the public became so outraged by his and other’s self-dealing that they demanded that the government pass major laws to tell politicians what they can and cannot do.

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As a political junkie who did not live through the 60’s, I found it fascinating to read about the hatred between Robert Kennedy and LBJ. This author did a great job going through all the details of the relationship and I felt tried to be as impartial as possible.

Even though I dislike LBJ and the massive expansion of government welfare, I highly recommend reading this book. LBJ was a master at politics and it would be helpful for anyone who has an interest in working in politics to understand some of the tactics that politicians use to help pass their political agendas.

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