28 April 2012

The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Part 4

I’m looking at a copy of Robert Caro’s latest, THE PASSAGE OF POWER. This is the fourth book in his series THE YEARS OF LYNDON JOHNSON.
One of the themes in the early going of Vol. 4 could be summarized in the words “Johnson dithered.” It is Caro’s view that he might well have won the Democratic nomination for President in 1960 if he had grabbed for it himself with his usual decisiveness and energy. But that would have meant laying groundwork as early as 1958, and engaging in a serious hunt for delegates through 1959. Johnson did neither of those things.  Nor did he close the door on them. 

He dithered.
By January 1960, he finally seemed ready to get busy. His strategy required the Mountain West. He assumed he could go into the convention as the south’s candidate, but to be something more, his natural allies were to be found in the mountain states – on mining and other resource issues, he had a Senate record that found admirers there.

So Caro gives us the following scene from early 1960. An experienced western-states political operative, Irving Hoff, was now working there on LBJ's behalf, and Hoff spoke for example with a key figure in Idaho who had the wonderfully appropriate name Tom Boise.

These are Caro’s words:

In Idaho, where the Hells Canyon Dam was rising day by day, and where political leaders knew who had gotten them the dam at last, the Democratic state chairman, Tom Boise, had told Hoff that, despite all the Kennedy efforts, many party leaders were still considering supporting Johnson. ‘These guys were for Johnson,’ Hoff says, ‘If we had been able to tell them that he was going to run, we’d have had that delegation.’ He explained this to Johnson, and Johnson accepted an invitation to speak in Lewiston, Idaho, and afterwards to have a drink with Boise and his leaders in a hotel suite. But in the suite [Johnson still couldn’t quite bring himself to declare.] He said, ‘What the heck do you think I’m out here for – catching butterflies? Do you see me carrying a net?’ But there were future government positions at stake, careers at stake,  issues at stake – with the convention so close, rhetorical humor wasn’t enough. They pressed him further. But all Johnson would say was, ‘I’ll let you know…You’ll be the first to know.’”  

(p. 74.)

I love Caro’s way of developing – and, you might say, milking – such a scene. He even tells us that Johnson was walking around the living room of the hotel suite in his pajamas while saying these evasive things, and that he was stirring his drink with his big finger. That’s the way to do biography!

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.