Thursday, June 14, 2012

the last book I ever read (The Passage of Power, excerpt two)

from Robert A. Caro's The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson:

In attempting to explain why he was torn, why he wasn't really trying--in attempting to explain why Lyndon Johnson, who had schemed and maneuvered so endlessly, worked so hard, to become President, now, when the prize was closer than ever before, when it was perhaps almost within his reach, was refusing to reach for it--the men, in both Texas and Washington, who had worked longest with Lyndon Johnson come to the same conclusion. Connally, who had once confided to a friend that "He's never had another thought, another waking thought, except to lust after the office," had been told by Johnson that he would be managing the campaign for that office, but he had still been given no campaign to manage. Asked, years later, for an explanation, Connally said that as much as "He (Johnson) wanted the nomination, he did not want to be tarred," with--did not want the stigma of--"having lost it." And, Connally says, "If he didn't try, he couldn't fail." Says Jim Rowe: "He wanted one thing. He wanted it so much his tongue was hanging out; then he had another part inside him htat said, 'Why get my hopes up? I'm not going to try. If I don't try, I won't fail.'"

And indeed, as the men who had worked with him longest knew, failure--the dread of it, the fear of losing, that is a factor in the equation that makes up the personality of many men, perhaps most men--was a factor possessed of a particularly heavy weight in the very complex equation that was the personality of Lyndon Johnson. When Bobby Baker had first been assigned the job of counting votes for Johnson in the Senate, Walter Jenkins, who, like Connally, had been working for Johnson since 1939, warned him never to overestimate the number of votes that Johnson would have if he brought a controversial bill to the floor, because then the measure might be defeated, and defeat was something the Chief wanted to avoid at all costs. "Never"--that was the operative word, and Baker learned quickly that the warning had not been overstated. Other senators might want Johnson to make a fight even on an issue on which he might lose because it would enable them to make "a fighting record in behalf of their causes," Baker says. But "Pyrrhic victories were not Lyndon Johnson's cup of tea. . . . He saw no value in glorious defeats." "Johnson feared losing," Baker was to say. He had a deep "fear of being defeated. He always was petrified by that notion." He was, Baker says, "haunted by fears of failure."

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