The Passage of Power (Vol. 4, The Passage of Power)

David Runciman writes:

It is the mismatch between Johnson’s fate prior to the assassination [of JFK] and his fate in its aftermath that gives this book, the fourth volume of Caro’s monumental biography, its compelling but also unfathomable flavour. Caro begins this part of the story with the presidential race of 1960, when Johnson was easily seen off for the top spot on the Democratic ticket by Kennedy and had to settle for second billing. But the story really starts at the 1956 Democratic Convention, when Johnson made his first bid for the nomination. At that point he had firmly established himself as the dominant figure in the Senate, despite still being one of its younger members (he was 47). He had proved a master manipulator of his fellow senators. His political gifts were perfectly suited to a small club of self-important men whom he could get at one on one. He alternately flattered them shamelessly and openly threatened them, never missing an opportunity to get them on the hook for something they either coveted or feared. Everyone knew that Johnson was the conduit through which their political ambitions must pass: he was the maker and breaker of legislation. In this way, he made himself the most powerful Democratic politician in the country.

(LRB 5 July 2012)

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