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Book Review by Stuart Nulman

The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power

by Robert A. Caro

As current U.S. President Barack Obama is running for reelection to a second term in the White House, it's been plainly obvious that a lot of his intentions and agenda as president over the past four years has been blocked and prevented by the Republican majority in Congress. When Lyndon B. Johnson

Stuart Nulman

Book Banter Knopf, $41. 00 assumed the presidency after John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963, it wasn't Republican representatives and senators that were his biggest obstacles. It was, ironically, his fellow Democratic senators and many of the members of JFK's cabinet. In the newest (and fourth) volume of Robert A. Caro's magnum opus biography of former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, "The Passage of Power", it examines the period between 1958 and 1964, a period when he was transformed from the most powerful politician in Washington, to Vice President of the United States, to (thanks to a single bullet fired from a gun in Dallas), President of the United States. The book begins with Johnson as the powerful Senate Majority Leader, in which many in the corridors of power in D.C. touted him as the most likely Democratic Party nominee for president in the 1960 campaign. However, Johnson was more like a reluctant candidate in the early days of the campaign, preferring to remain in Washington and continue his work in the Senate helping to pass important legislation (including another Civil Rights Bill). As a result, his reluctance paved the way for a thin, sickly junior senator from Massachusetts named John F. Kennedy to snatch the nomination away from him. Johnson sacrificed his power and influence at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, as he accepted to be Kennedy's running mate (much to the consternation of his younger brother Bobby), in order to help deliver important votes to him in the southern states. And what was Johnson's reward? A total dimin-

Former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson

ishing of power as vice-president. He was basically shoved aside from being an important participant in Kennedy's "New Frontier" cabinet; he was relegated to taking goodwill trips across the U.S. and abroad; he was ignored by Kennedy and his cabinet, his opinions were mostly disregarded and at times he was not called to attend important meetings (especially during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962); and to add insult to injury, he was snidely called "Rufus Cornpone" by the cabinet behind his back. That all changed in Dallas on November 22, 1963. Caro gives a breathtaking account about the JFK assassination, but from Johnson's point-ofview, from where he was taken by the Secret Service after Kennedy was shot (a secluded treatment room in Parkland Hospital, where Kennedy aide Kenny O'Donnell told him that Kennedy had died), to how he orchestrated his impromptu swearing-in onboard Air Force One (he insisted on having the widowed Jackie Kennedy stand beside him while he took the oath of office, which ended up in the memorable photograph that was taken of the ceremony). The main thing that Caro marvels in the book was how Johnson, usually a blustery, loud, intimidating, profanityspewing individual during his days as an influential senator, became the epitome of calm and rationality as he underwent the difficult transition to the presidency immedi- ately following Kennedy's death. He held off from moving into the Oval Office until the Kennedy family moved out all of their belongings on their own speed (he conducted his presidential duties at EOB 274, his vice-presidential office at the Old Executive Office Building located next door to the White House), he approached senators, representatives and governors in a more conciliatory manner, and he urged every member of the Kennedy cabinet to remain in their jobs to help him with the transition process. That couldn't be said for Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who possessed a rather poisonous resentment towards Johnson since the early 50s, when he was counsel for Senator Joe McCarthy. Caro chronicles this blood feud between the two in very smart, explicit detail, which makes for fascinating reading (in fact, Bobby Kennedy hoped that Johnson would turn down the offer of being JFK's running mate at the 1960 convention). To Bobby, having Johnson succeed his brother in the White House was a nightmare scenario for him that came to reality. The remaining quarter of the book deals with Johnson's first eight weeks as president, and how he gradually used his tactics and skills he developed as Senate Majority Leader not only to outline his own presidential agenda

continued on page 35

10 SEPTEMBER 15, 2012 *

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