“The man of power who suddenly finds himself short of it is a fascinating study.”
– Ward Just
This book contains that study. And it goes further. Not only is it about a man of power, LBJ as Senate Majority Leader, who suddenly finds himself short of it, but it is about a man abruptly thrust to the pinnacle of power at an assassin’s bullet.
Caro delves into John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy and provides a fantastic character comparison with LBJ. Caro also puts you in the mind of LBJ as he’s riding in a limo just 75 feet behind JFK’s limo on the afternoon of Friday, November 22, 1963. There is a true passage of power, only it’s not a passive one but a very active, behind the scenes, passage. Actually, it’s extraordinary. There was no script. There was actually a deep fear of a larger plot to take out the entire top-tier of the US Government. And there was an even deeper fear lodged forever into the heart and mind of LBJ – a fear of failure and humiliation.
This is a book about LBJ overcoming that fear to be the leader the United States needed at that pivotal time. It’s a book comparing JFK’s idealism to LBJ’s pragmatism. It’s a book about LBJ meeting his political genius match in RFK. It’s a book about the office of the president and the person of the president, and how regular interactions can become gut-wrenching distinguishing between the two. It’s a book about an eloquent president cut short and his successor quickly grasping an understanding that a martyr’s death can be used for good. It’s a book about a master of the Senate using his insight into the legislative process, the character of men, and the subtleties of power to pass JFK’s legislation that was all but blocked before the assassination. And not just passing some of it, but passing all of it, including the Civil Rights bill and the tax bill.
The Passage of Power covers the years 1958 – 1964. There is one more book left in this series but it has not been released yet. I cannot wait for its release and will drop everything else I am doing to read it. That book will cover 1964 and beyond. Robert Caro hints at that book three different times in The Passage of Power. He says that a lot of LBJ’s bad characteristics were subdued in this volume out of necessity during the passage of power. However, he forewarns that the floodgates will open in the next book. Perhaps RFK’s assessment of LBJ will reach fruition in the final volume:
“…he lies all the time, I’m telling you, he just lies continually about everything…He lies even when he doesn’t have to lie.”