Master Of The Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson

Once again, I am awed by the power of Caro to immerse himself so completely in LBJ’s life, spending years researching, combing through libraries, conducting lengthy personal interviews. In this volume, the years between 1950 and 1960 detail Johnson’s arrival in the Senate (under slightly questionable circumstances), his grasping and attaining power which previously did not exist, showcasing his genius legislative ability. He was a conductor, a maestro, sewing together compromises between a militant Southern anti-civil rights group and liberals from the North, recognizing that Western support could be thrown to the South by their cooperation on a water/dam bill. Unfortunately, I read the final volume last year, and as the pace dizzied, frenzied with Johnson’s success and ultimate election as Vice President, I knew he was headed toward a brick wall of powerlessness. This volume showcased his ferocious strength, hard work, smarts, ability to read men, ability to get opposite sides of an argument to simultaneously think he agreed with them. Caro goes deep into the question of LBJ’s civil rights agenda, and leaves you with the impression that while he used it as a tool to further his quest for presidency, he was deeply committed to achieving equality of races. LBJ is the reason the 1958 civil rights (voting act, with jury trial amendment) passed, the first civil rights legislation in 82 years. He kept the South from filibustering and got the liberals to accept the toothless bill, evoking the image of getting the Senate to give up its virginity on civil rights legislation and future acts would be easier to jam through. This finger-jabbing, lapel-grabbing, do-what-it-takes politician did end up signing a much stronger bill once he was president. Caro does a tremendous job making Senate procedure come to life, clearly explained and the impacts outlined. Well written, dreamy to get lost in 1,000+ pages. Perhaps I’ll read volume 1 now, then flow back through the trilogy. I am left with the unshakeable suspicion that LBJ had something to do with Kennedy’s assassination, although Caro denies it. But his uncontainable naked desire for the position comes through in this book, and after being paralyzed in Vice Presidency with the specter of another term should Kennedy be re-elected, I can see dominos falling into place in his home state where the incident occurred.