In the midst of this election year, Robert Caro releases his fourth volume on the life and political career of Lyndon Baines Johnson. In this volume we find Johnson losing the 1960 Democratic Presidential nomination to John Kennedy.
Johnson then accepts the Vice-Presidency from Kennedy, privately making his observation "more than one in four presidents over the last hundred years have died in office. He did not mention Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley or Roosevelt, or the similarly beknighted Wilson by name, but he might as well have done so.
Some observers have used this quote as an indicator that LBJ was involved in the Kennedy Assassination. His fear of the Kennedys and hatred for them cannot be overstated but there is no meaningful evidence of involvement in the murder by LBJ.
What is clear from history and from Caro's writings is that LBJ was the preeminent personal politican of his time. In an earlier volume Mr. Caro probably romanticizes Mr. Johnson's victory over Coke Stevenson in a Senate race. He expresses great respect for the rugged cowboy individualims of Mr. Stevenson but does not seem to know how that might have made Mr. Stevenson an effective working member of Congress.
Mr. Caro does make it plain that LBJ earned the sobriquet "Landslide Lyndon" by taking votes however and wherever he could manufacture them. One can have little doubt that JFK's slight electoral victory over Richard Nixon in 1960 was created by a few hundred thousand votes purchased for Mr. Kennedy in Cook County, Illinois. Mr. Caro demonstrates how this theft of just enough votes to swing the electoral math of the 1960 vote to Mr. Kennedy probably enacted an electoral paranoia in Mr. Nixon that later brought about the Plumber's, the Enemies List, Watergate and, finally, Mr. Nixon's resignation. One should remember Mr. Nixon used all the dirty tricks he could find in a campaign against a thorougly unelectable opponent in a campaign he could not possibily have lost.
Such was the rough and tumble of American presidential politics, circa 1960 to 1972. LBJ was involved in all the earlier races. Only the 1972 race was absent his hand, though, as we have seen, his previous penchant for creating just enough votes to win may have pushed Nixon over the edge.
Mr. Caro recounts the years 1959 to 1964 in Washington. He shows us LBJ exercising power over the Senate as a Senator, running for president, becoming Vice President and then ascending to power at Mr. Kennedy's death. This is a good read. I recommend it.
Mr. Caro is still working on another volume of this series. I hope he lives a long, long time.