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The Passage of Power

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Johnson’s lack of influence, after reading Caro’s meticulous interviews and research cataloging his ineffectual existence under JFK, can not be overstated. The Kennedy team – “The Harvards,” as Johnson called the academic, business, and political Eastern establishment elite recruited to run the administration – openly mocked the vice president. Robert F. Kennedy, the often-ruthless attorney general and brother of the president, hated Johnson. LBJ reciprocated. Others on the president’s team regarded Johnson as a hick, dubbing him “Rufus Cornpone,” and belittling his hardscrabble journey from poverty in the Texas Hill Country to leader of the Democratic Party during the Eisenhower era.

Among other slights, LBJ humiliated Robert Kennedy when the former reigned as majority leader and the latter served as a Senate aide. Later, the men feuded as Robert Kennedy sought to renounce the offer of the vice presidency extended to Johnson at the 1960 convention. Caro makes a persuasive case that such a move would have devastated the campaign. Without Johnson and his ability to sway Texas and other Southern states, Republican Richard Nixon would likely have become president in 1960.

None of that resonated with the new attorney general, who enjoyed repaying Johnson with all manner of slights in the vice presidency. Caro dubs the back-and-forth animosity, destined to take yet another turn when John Kennedy dies, “one of the great blood feuds in American political history.”

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