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The Passage Of Power (2012)

The Passage of Power (2012)

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4.53 of 5 Votes: 2
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0679405070 (ISBN13: 9780679405078)

About book The Passage Of Power (2012)

In volume four we find out Johnson’s great skill at Senate politics does not translate to national politics. Whether due to arrogant presumptiveness, simple miscalculation or some of both, LBJ blows his chances for the 1960 presidential nomination. Caro suggests fear of failure kept LBJ from announcing earlier, running in primaries and sewing up some votes that might have stopped JFK. Not sure I see that since once JFK became the clear favorite after winning the West Virginia primary LBJ immediately jumped in with full force. Where was the fear of failure now that failure was even more likely? I think LBJ simply was overconfident, as Caro points out, in the power of his Senator allies to help him and in his own ability to forecast how delegates would vote. He learned that his expertise as a Senate vote counter did not apply to national conventions. Similarly LBJ miscalculated his ability to exercise power as VP. As a member of the Executive, no longer wanted in the Senate, hated by Bobby Kennedy, JFK’s right hand, and dismissed by JFK’s elite staff, LBJ found himself in constant humiliation. He went from the powerhouse to the doghouse, a situation that brought out the worst in his persona and made him look bumbling. Caro makes a good case that JFK planned to drop LBJ from the 1964 ticket despite subsequent denials from Schlesinger and RFK. LBJ also faced scandal as Bobby Baker was investigated and LBJ’s quid pro quo financial deals were being unearthed. LBJ’s future looked bleak.But LBJ had correctly calculated one thing. Seven vice presidents had become president upon a president’s death and he would be just a heartbeat away. When that heartbeat stopped, the old LBJ instantly reappeared. Transformed by power, LBJ took charge. Recognizing the legitimacy that would transfer to him from the Kennedy legacy, he focused on keeping the entire Kennedy cabinet and the Kennedy agenda. It took him just days to get commitments to stay from all of Kennedy’s cabinet and other key people. Robert Kennedy, although staying on, had always hated Johnson and now even more so. LBJ wanted to be sure RFK could not unseat him in the 1964 primaries coming soon. Johnson only had a year until the next election, but as always Johnson knew how to wield power under pressure.JFK had assembled a high powered team of intellectuals with progressive ideas to advance the economy and Civil Rights. But JFK and his team were inept at managing their proposed legislation in Congress. In their arrogance they had ignored the advice of the legislative genius at their side. But now unleashed, LBJ could and would get those bills passed. JFK’s death had facilitated an effective melding of talents. Great ideas were now put into the hands of the most capable person to actually make them law, something JFK for all of the erudite genius he amassed, couldn’t do.When Johnson took office in November of 1963, a budget still had not been passed for the current fiscal year which began in July and passage was not in sight. Only short term continuing resolutions kept the government afloat. JFK’s two most important bills, a broad tax cut and a Civil Rights bill were hopelessly pigeonholed by Congressional opponents. Johnson saw his chance to bask in the glow of the Kennedy legacy by getting both bills passed, something only he with his consummate manipulation of Congress could do. And he did it in Johnson style by threatening, cajoling, sucking up, quid pro quos, every tactic in the book. So effective was he that by April LBJ’s Gallup Poll approval rating was 77% versus 9% disapproving – truly astounding figures. He had transformed the Presidency from one that talked the talk to one that walked the walk.Having just read consecutively all four volumes of “The Years of Lyndon Johnson” I ponder what makes this biography so immensely rewarding. There is the unbelievably detailed research, the engaging prose better than most novelists’ produce and the insightful revelations of the stark nature of politics. But the best quality is the way Caro takes you inside his subject. Starting several generations before LBJ’s birth, Caro painstakingly details LBJ's heritage, LBJ as a young child, LBJ as an adolescent, his relationships with his parents, LBJ’s relationships with his early friends and enemies, his schooling, youthful adventures, college days and first shaping adult experiences and on and on. By the time LBJ assumes the Presidency, an LBJ that surprised his contemporaries does not surprise us. We know him inside and out. Everything he does is completely in character. Just as a parent can look at their children as adults and see behavior that is innate, that was present from the earliest age, so we see LBJ. I haven’t read any other book that more completely captures the essence of a person. Needless to say, I anxiously await the next volume. A little more disappointing than some of the previous LBJ books. Mostly, it seems like a setup for book 5. It sets up his relationship with the Kennedys and his isolation as the VP. His campaign for president--and the extraordinary fear he has of failure--are quite interesting, mostly because such emotions seem to make the otherwise crafty and calculating LBJ act quite amateurishly.Still, the overview of JFK's presidency is fairly perfunctory. The Cuban Missile Crisis is the only part really explored (and, according to a Slate piece, with some significant inaccuracies). That was disappointing as I'd hoped for a fuller understanding of American politics and policy during the time (as is Caro's aim), not just a biography of LBJ. Supposedly this will come more in Book 5. Similarly, the civil rights act of 1964 isn't delved into in the same detail as LBJ's fight for a weaker bill was in Master of the Senate.I'm very much looking forward to the capstone fifth book, but this one seemed mostly to be buildup, character development for that one.

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Not quite as exciting as the previous volume, but still stellar.

Great american history



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