One somewhat stares at it wondering whether to pick it up. Its girth sets you back. My Uncle has said a book this size should really count as reading two books. And then you think gosh, I have already read almost 2,000 pages in the past three books that Robert Caro wrote about Lyndon Johnson. Do I really want to forge through another 600-page book? Then you find a time when you can commit and you do it. You start to read Passage of Power and you are grateful for every moment.
The main reason one really appreciates reading a dense biography like this is because one is reminded that history almost always predicts the future. This fourth book on the life of Lyndon Johnson centers on the period between 1958 and the beginning of 1964. The book tells of the period in LBJ’s life that is focused on his relationship with John F. Kennedy and the rest of the Kennedy clan.
As a matter of full disclosure, I have come to believe the Kennedy clan is a blight upon America. After Jack and Bobby were killed we were left with Teddy, for whom I had near total disregard, and the next generation of Kennedys is totally annoying and should never have been elected to public office. I had been hoping they might give up public disservice and just go lay on a beach somewhere for the betterment of mankind.
The grabbing at the Kennedy legacy has been illuminating to watch especially on the heels of Ira Stoll’s book JFK, Conservative. He certainly was in favor of what became to be known as the Laffer Curve. He understood the idea that lower tax rates will stir the economy and bring in higher tax revenues to be used for his favored programs. His successors in the Democratic party have not grasped the concept. I often argued that the Democrats should keep their mouths shut about George W. Bush because his tax cuts raised revenues $750 billion over four years. But this current President would rather punish people in the name of fairness than lower tax rates.
Those of you believing JFK was a conservative should just focus on one fact. He was the person who brought unionization to federal employees. That caused an avalanche of unionization of public employees at the state and local level which has caused massive problems for all levels of government. That is enough of a legacy to dispel any idea of him being a conservative icon.
Caro spends the beginning of his book writing about the true Jack Kennedy. To be fair he was amazing in two regards. First, his bravery during World War II is not to be questioned. Though it was romanticized, it has been verified by others and he deserves all the credit any American should get for what he did. Second, his fortitude dealing with his physical challenges from an early age certainly is a testament to his personal strength of character. He gave his life in service to our country and that should be honored. But that is where it ends.
JFK spent fourteen years in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate accomplishing nothing. He used that nothing resume and lots of his father’s money and connections to run for and win election as President. He then went on to accomplish virtually nothing of a domestic policy. Sure he gave nice speeches and inspired people. Certainly, he moved the country forward in the space race and accomplished other minor legislative items, but his domestic agenda was only passed after his neglected and abused Vice-President took over on November 22, 1963, and pushed it through the Congress. JFK talked; LBJ accomplished.
My friend, Dennis Prager, recently said that the difference between conservatives and liberals is that Conservatives support politicians for what they have done; Liberals support politicians for who they are. Prager was referring to the anointed 2016 Democratic candidate -- Hillary Clinton. He really could have been focused on our current President.
Looking back through the eyes of a great historian like Caro, one sees that JFK really was the forbearer of Barack Obama. Neither accomplished much in their political careers, but just kept on moving up. What got them to where they were was a desire to move ahead and a demagogic ability to inspire the inspirable.
If you look to their histories, you can also see the precursor to the Alinsky methods used by Obama. JFK used his brother Bobby as his ruthless henchman. While JFK kept his sophisticated aura, it is clear he fully supported his brother’s ways. That could have easily been the basis of Rules for Radicals, where Saul Alinsky outlines the methods of destroying your opposition. After all, Mr. Obama worked his way up to the U.S. Senate by similar ruthless methods effectively dispatching any legitimate competition.
The interesting thing is now Obama is languishing because of the realities of his signature program -- Obamacare. If he had real political skills, he could trade changes to Obamacare (which would make it more effective) for passage of what he wants to accomplish in his second term – immigration reform. But because he never actually worked a bill in the Senate, and does not know how to or have people who know how to or have a Lyndon Johnson to get it done, Obama will accomplish nothing in the remainder of his second term.
Jack Kennedy paved the way for Barack Obama. He was referred to as our first TV President. He made it acceptable for someone to become president based neither on their experience nor leadership, but on how they affect people. Unfortunately, we did not learn from that time in our history and we are suffering for it.
There is one other lesson we did not learn. Lyndon Johnson accepted his place on the Presidential ticket knowing the grave dislike the Kennedy people had for him. He hoped he would have some responsibilities in the administration if they won. He knew that Kennedy would not win without him on the ticket and that would make Nixon the President. Johnson could not accept Nixon winning and did what his team (the Democrats) needed.
Unfortunately, Republicans have not learned the lesson that the alternative is worse than a Republican they don’t totally love. That is why we have Obama still