This is the story of Lyndon Johnson's Vice Presidency and early days as the 36th President of the United States The fourth volume of Robert Caro's magisterial biography focuses on four crucial years in Lyndon Johnson's life. It begins with the 1960 race for the Democratic Presidential nomination. Johnson was Senator from Texas and the highly respected Majority Leader. He had shrewdly maneuvered a weak Civil Rights bill through the Senate in 1957 in hopes of removing the stain of a pro-segregation voting record. It helped LBJ's image but not as much as he had hoped. He remained disliked by rank and file liberals. Johnson ran an old school insider's campaign. He counted on the support of fellow Senators to help him win the prize. John F. Kennedy, however, rewrote the campaign playbook and became the Democratic nominee.
After JFK's victory, very few people thought that Lyndon Johnson would be interested in second place on the ticket. They were wrong: Johnson saw the Vice Presidency as his only route to the White House. There are conflicting stories as to what happened during the selection process and Caro does his best to unsnarl them but in the end it is still difficult to know exactly what happened. We know why: John Kennedy wanted to be the first Catholic President, and he needed the electoral votes of Texas and as many Southern states as possible. Lyndon Johnson helped Kennedy win the election but things did not go according to LBJ's plan.
Johnson hoped to retain his influence in the Senate by remaining a member of the Democratic Caucus. His fellow Senators, even his allies, rejected this as violation of the separation of powers. LBJ then tried to carve out specific powers in the executive branch. This was politely but firmly rejected by President Kennedy. In the end, the Kennedy team never used LBJ's immense gifts as a legislator.
Lyndon Johnson's Vice Presidency was one of the worst times of his life. He had no power and was treated shabbily by the President's men, especially by Attorney General Robert Kennedy. The two men had long hated one another and the relationship worsened when RFK opposed LBJ's inclusion on the 1960 Democratic ticket. The LBJ-RFK feud was to become a major factor in Democratic politics for years to come.
Lyndon Johnson was a depressed man and endangered politician when he and President Kennedy took their fateful trip to Dallas in November of 1963. Kennedy's goal was to heal a breach between Conservative Democratic Governor John Connally (who was LBJ's de facto son) and liberal Senator Ralph Yarborough. The trip seemed to be a success until shots rang out at Dealey Plaza in Dallas killing President Kennedy.
The period between November 1963 and March 1964 was Lyndon Johnson's finest hour. He showed a restraint, humility, and dignity that impressed the country and the world. Johnson was finally able to shed his image as a regional politician by working hard to retain Kennedy's staff and pass his agenda. LBJ had started his political life as a New Dealer and "FDR's favorite young Congressman" so he felt liberated.
Johnson's initial speech as President was his finest. In it, he urged Congress to pass JFK's Civil Rights Act and, with the help of Hubert Humphrey and GOP leader Everett Dirksen, it passed. A fascinating chapter in the book involved Johnson's efforts to pass a tax cut to stimulate the economy. Johnson called upon his longstanding personal relationship with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Harry Byrd of Virginia to win the latter's support. Byrd was opposed to deficit spending but LBJ eventually won him over and the economy boomed.
There were two somewhat sour notes to this great period in the young Johnson Presidency. First, LBJ's appointment of establishment insiders to investigate the Kennedy Assassination played well at the time but has lent itself to conspiracy theories in subsequent years. Second, the specter of Vietnam loomed in the background throughout this period. Johnson chose to kick the can down the road and put off making any major decisions until after the 1964 election.
The book ends with Lyndon Johnson on top of the world with re-election in the bag and a chance to become one of the greatest Presidents in American history. As we know now, his legacy defines the term mixed bag.
Best part of story, including ending:
Lyndon Johnson is one of the most complex and fascinating Presidents the US has ever had.
Best scene in story:
The chapter about Johnson's dealings with Senator Harry Byrd about the tax cut bill.
Opinion about the main character:
Lyndon Johnson was a charming and talented man but he was not exactly a nice person.