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The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson

June 27, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 231

As we reach the Passage of Power, the fourth of give works planned in Caro's monumental work, "The Years of Lyndon Johnson," we hit a time of both lows and highs for this masterful politician.

By 1959, Johnson had built the Office of the Senate Majority Leader into one of the most powerful places in Washington D.C. In Washington, your ranking - power - could be inferred by the size of your office or the number of windows and in both of those areas Johnson excelled.

In addition, there were "self-important" people, who were legends in their own minds, whom you could tell your secretary to "take a message, I'll get back soon" or you could tell your assistant to tell the caller that "he's in a meeting" and will get back as soon as he can.

At this time, 1958-59 if LBJ called, you took the call, especially if you had a favorite project that you promised would be completed. If you failed to take the call, not only could your projects end up in political purgatory, but also you might find yourself in a sort of political gulag where you were given the last and worst committee assignments. It just depended on how upset LBJ was at you. This was the height LBJ's and his office's power.

At the same time, though, a young senator from Massachusetts was putting together a machine for the run for the presidency in 1960, a position that LBJ also sought. The key is that John F. Kennedy, a young 43, had the votes of the powerbrokers in his pocket, while LBJ was still "working the crowd," so to speak.

LBJ, though a powerful man, couldn't stand up to the ideologues who surrounded JFK, especially John F. Kennedy's brother, Bobby. RFK developed a dislike of LBJ and he tried not only to discredit LBJ, he sought to have him booted from the ticket, which didn't work out.

The ticket went on to win in 1960 with a Congressional majority. It was also a Democratic congressional sweep and it believed to put the president and his cabinet where it belonged, as a creature of congress. Until November 1963, LBJ was in a sort of political Siberia, frozen out of power. As Senate Majority Leader, he had made himself and the office a force to be reckoned with but as Vice President, Johnson virtually disappeared.

The fateful November day in Dallas where JFK was cut down by an assassin's bullet changed things radically and within just weeks of the tragedy, Johnson, as Caro points out in a easy-to-read, polished style, grabbed the reins of power in his new office and, since he was a former congressional heavyweight, he knew where the political skeletons were buried and LBJ was able to push through his War on Poverty.

He played the game with consummate skill and, this was his finest hour. He managed to break the logjam that existed and move things into the main stream such as Medicare, Title IX and more. All of this required the deft hand of a skilled politician who was still surrounded by JFK's own ideologues.

In the end, that LBJ was brought down by an ally in a war that we did not win. The French had not been able to do it years before. What made LBJ think we could win a war the French could not and which we were actually involved in covertly throughout the 1950s? Greek tragedians called it the "sin of hubris" and though we lost many servicemen into the ground, spent billions in treasure and ended up with a country that was fractured along many political fault lines, we ended up in 1975, pulling out and leaving the South Vietnamese to their fate.

The same war may have cost LBJ his chance at re-election in 1968.

Roberto Sedycias works as an IT consultant for ecommUS

Source: EzineArticles
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