Caro’s The Passage of PowerMay 30, 2012 at 7:41 PM | Posted in Books, Politics | 4 Comments
Tags: Harry Byrd, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Robert Caro
I am stunned that I remain so naive about politics after being alive so many years and reading so many books. For example, it has finally sunk in that my vote is worth less than someone’s in Delaware or Wyoming. Robert Caro has this effect on me.
I have just finished The Years of Lyndon Johnson, The Passage of Power, Caro’s history of the 1960 Presidential Election through Johnson taking office and his truly magnificent first months as President. I was entertained and educated; I felt admiration and dread.
For this post I want to highlight the role of Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia. A Senator from 1933 to 1965, a rock-ribbed segregationist, Byrd ran the Senate Finance Committee. He was the most powerful man in the United States. The vaunted J.F.K. in his three years as President could not get a bill of any note through Congress – Harry Byrd said no. ‘Passage’ is about many things but there is a specific focus on two bills: the Tax Cut Bill and the Civil Rights Bill. Kennedy, against Johnson’s advice, sent the Civil Rights Bill to Congress before the Tax Bill. In the world of that Congress that meant that no one would ever get to the Tax Bill because the Solid South would spend their time not passing or even discussing the Civil Rights Bill.
Though Kennedy had been a Senator, he was a rookie as far as understanding how to work with Congress. President Obama has suffered from this as well. Back when Kennedy was a Junior Senator, LBJ ruled as Majority Leader. So when he became President he got the immovable to move and the Tax Cut passed and then, far more importantly, so did the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which was soon followed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It was L.B.J.’s finest hour.
‘Passage’ ends on a high note but we know that the shadow will soon fall … and I hope that I don’t have to wait another 10 years to get the great Caro’s take on it.