Thursday, June 28, 2012

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

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

For Lyndon Johnson to have accomplished this, he had had to overcome governmental and political obstacles that had stood in the path of social justice for a century, and that for most of the last quarter of that century--since the last great liberal tide ran out in 1937--had been obstacles that could not be overcome: the congressional resistance and the power of the South that had blocked civil rights and social welfare legislation, for instance. And in addition he had had to overcome another obstacle that had nothing to do with government or politics, but only with himself.

So potent an aspect of his character had the fear of failure been throughout his life, for example, that it had all but paralyzed him in his attempt to reach for the presidency, no matter how deep his yearning for the office. When the office was suddenly thrust upon him, however, when there was suddenly no longer room for doubts or hesitation, when he had to act--he acted. If there were fears or doubts, no one saw them.

Gone from Lyndon Johnson during the transition also are the outward manifestations of other aspects of his personality that had been prominent at every other stage of his career. The frenetic, frantic, arm-waving, almost desperate demeanor that had characterized so much of his life was, during this transition period, replaced by a disciplined calmness. As for the alarm clock "inside him" that "told him at least once an hour . . . to go chew somebody out," to "blow his top"--it went off seldom if ever during this period. During these weeks, there was usually, in fact, an underlying note of courtesy when he asked an aide to perform some chore. And, as one aide said, "I've never seen him so composed." "Composed," "calm," "self-possessed," "humility," "self-discipline"--these were the words used to describe him during those week. The boastful, gloating quality was gone, even with enemies over whom he now had power. The words he "isn't President anymore. I am": during the transition did those words slip out more than once?--more than the single time he could not resist saying them (or a close version of them) to Robert Kennedy? Other qualities that had always been prominent in him vanished, not only the bellowing, the jabbing of hands, the waving of arms and the rushing of words that had invariably alienated audiences and made the speeches ineffective, but deeper-rooted qualities as well. "Almost at once, the whining self-pitying caricature of Throttlebottom vanished," George Reedy was to write. "During this whole period, there was no trace of the ugly arrogance which had made him so disliked in many quarters. . . . The situation brought out the finest that was in him."

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