“The White House is small,” Lyndon Johnson was to recall years later, “but if you’re not at the center, it seems enormous. You get the feeling that there are all sorts of meetings going on without you, all sorts of people clustered in small groups, whispering, always whispering, I felt that way as Vice President.”—Lyndon B. Johnson
Last night I finished reading the rock-solid book brilliantly written by Robert A. Caro entitled, “The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power”. It’s one of those books that sink deep into ones brain.
The book deals mainly with the transition of power from John F. Kennedy to Lyndon B. Johnson after Kennedy was tragically shot on November 22, 1963. The period covered by Caro is November 22, 1963 – January 8, 1964, the date when LBJ gave his first State of the Union Address to Congress. It had been only 47 days since a new president took control of a nation in a state of shock and continued his predecessor’s policies with a gentle and firm leadership.
Johnson’s great legislative victories can be summarized by writing into the books of law the following acts of law, which are considered by many historians as an embodiment of the liberal spirit in all its nobility.
- The Civil Rights Act of 1964
- The Voting Rights Act of 1965
- Head Start
- Model Cities
He said this legislation depicted government’s hand to help people caught in “the tentacles of circumstance.” Those millions of Americans who were living on the outskirts of hope. To a large degree, these principles were part of the agenda of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. Lyndon followed up and followed through ferociously until legislation was passed and written in the books of law and history itself.
“No memorial…could move more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long.” During the transition he was constantly invoking the late President’s memory.
Great as LBJ was in handling the inner circles and cloakrooms of Congress and flexing power when necessary, he was a man with great flaws and responsible for deteriorating the image of the Presidency, together with Richard N. Nixon. His dealing of the war he waged in the jungles of Asia and the deceptions he practiced in the name of that war, brought his political future to an unexpected halt.
Words like “Hey!, Hey! LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?” swept the country during those violent years of the sixties when the Vietnam War reached its peak. The choruses of the great civil rights hymns were not the only memorable choruses of the Lyndon Johnson years, “Waist deep in the Big Muddy/And the big fool says to push on.”
At the end of the book Robert Caro wrote:
“It is difficult…to remember, much less…to understand, the extend to which the President, any President, was revered, respected, before Lyndon Johnson. Tom Wicker was to write shortly after Johnson’s presidency ended; difficult to remember so thoroughly had respect and reverence for the institution disappeared during that presidency. It is difficult for most Americana today—more than forty years, two generations, after that presidency ended—to remember, or to understand, such reverence for a President, or for the institution of the presidency, so lasting has been the damage inflicted on it. While much of the damage was inflicted by Richard Nixon, Johnson’s successor, it was under Johnson that the damage began.”
My next book is “Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover” written by Antony Simmons. This man played a critical role in the shaping of the nation under several presidents. And my next book after that will be…., I’ll tell you when the time comes. Good Day and happy reading to you all.