BRIAN LAMB: Robert Caro, author of ”The Passage of Power” your fourth book on Lyndon Johnson. Why was he so concerned about the health of his family meaning his father and brothers and all?
ROBERT CARO: You know, a key element in Lyndon Johnson’s whole life was his absolute belief that he was going to die young. There was a saying, you know, when I was interviewing people in the hill country the Johnson men all die young. In fact, his father died at 60 of a heart failure after he had been sick for many years with heart with a bad heart before that.
His favorite uncle died at the age of 57 of a massive heart attack suddenly. The third uncle lived, I think, until 70. I forgot. But he was also had heart trouble.
Johnson has an absolute you know, he knows he resembles his father amazingly physically, you know, same both tall, both have big ears. Both even have the same way of putting his arm around you. and he used to say, ”John, I’ll be dead at 60.” He said, ”Dead when dead pipe cinch I’ll be dead at 60.”
So throughout his life he had this terrible rush to accomplish what wanted.
LAMB: When was his first heart attack?
CARO: Forty-seven. In oh, in 1955.
LAMB: And what impact did that have on him?
CARO: Well, you know, it was a massive heart attack. They only gave him a 50 percent chance of living and I think that must have reinforced this feeling that he was going to die young, that he didn’t have that much time.
LAMB: How often were you in the same room with him?
CARO: Oh, like once in the same I mean I the only time I was actually in his presence was in 1964. I was a substitute reporter for the regular political reporter on Newsday so I covered his three days of his campaign. I went to New England but I was and yes, he once actually shook my hand but I never was in the pool. I was never, you know, close with him. I just followed him around.
LAMB: Can you remember the first instance, the first moment where the flash came to you that you wanted to study the power of Lyndon Johnson?
CARO: Yes. Well, not at the moment but I was writing ”The Power” as and it’ll just take a second to say I don’t believe my books either on Robert Moses or Lyndon Johnson. I never think of them as biographies. I don’t think of them as I never had the slightest interest, Brian in writing a book to write the life of a great man.
What I’m interested in is exploring how political power worked in America in the 20th in the second half of the 20th Century so I with Robert Moses I tried to do, with ”The Power Broker”, I tried to do urban political power, how power works in not just New York but all cities in America.
Then I wanted to do national power and I knew I wanted to do Johnson because he understood national power better than anyone else, in my opinion, in the second half of the 20th Century.
LAMB: Moses’ book was ’74. First Johnson book was ’82?
LAMB: And what was the title?
CARO: ”The Path to Power”.
LAMB: Did you name all these books did you did you name the titles of the books?
CARO: Sure. Sure.
LAMB: ”Path to Power”. Then after ’82 there was 90.
CARO: You like ”Means of Ascent”.
LAMB: And that title came from what?
CARO: It didn’t from, it just sometimes the titles of my books like to come right out of the books. You know, like I as I’m writing them like I my first publisher, not my current publisher didn’t want ”The Power Broker” you know, as the title. But I said, ”That’s the title.” You know?
Luckily it didn’t come to a showdown because my next publisher who published ”The Power Broker” loved the title.
But each title I’ve had the title so that’s ”The Path to Power”. The whole thing is called ”The Years of Lyndon Johnson”. First volume is ”The Path to Power” then ”Means of Ascent” then ”Master of the Senate” and now ”The Passage of Power”.
LAMB: O0, through ’02, 2002 was the ”Master of the Senate” and this book, 2012, what do you mean by the passage of power?
CARO: Well, it’s about I glad you asked that. The title to this book came at the very end when I decided not to go on to make this a book. I said, ”This is a book.” What am I what form of political power what am I examining here?
The passage of power, the passage from one president to another and because it’s a passage at a time of great crisis we learn a lot about the use of power in ”The Passage of Power”.
LAMB: I’ve read that you already have written the last sentence of the last book which is in a couple years.
CARO: Well, I have.
LAMB: All right. Well, I’m going to read you the last sentence of each of your four books up until now and tell us what you were thinking.
CARO: All right.
LAMB: In ’82 in ’82 ”The Path to Power”, ”Before the paint had faded on the billboards proclaiming his loyalty to Franklin D, Lyndon B had turned against him.”
CARO: I thought that sentence summed up the Lyndon Johnson of that period of his life. He had to get ahead. He’s been Roosevelt’s protιgι, was Roosevelt’s boy. He ran every time his campaign slogan for one race was ”Roosevelt, Roosevelt, Roosevelt, 100 percent for Roosevelt”.
As soon as he, Roosevelt dies and he realizes that it’s not if he wants to move on to the Senate he better not be a New Dealer; he starts not to be so much of a New Dealer. Sums up the book.
LAMB: ”Means of Ascent”, 1990, last sentence; ”By 1955 with the baron’s power broken and the Democrats back in majority, Lyndon Johnson was the most powerful majority leader in history.”
CARO: Is that the second volume?
CARO: ”Means of Ascent”? Well, that’s sort of summing up what’s to come. I mean, the last chapter of ”Means of Ascent” he’s in this whole means of ascent. He’s just trying for power, trying to get to the Senate.
And then at the last I want to say and just seven years later he’s going to be the most powerful majority leader in history.
LAMB: In 2002, ”Master of the Senate”, those years this last this is the last sentence, ”Those years had been happy, 12 years in the Senate and now they were over. The Senate had been Lyndon Johnson’s home. Now he had left it.”
To me, that’s a very poignant sentence because you know, Lady Bird Johnson said those 12 years in the Senate, the happiest years of our lives, you know?
You watch Lyndon Johnson in the Senate, you say this is a place the man was born to be, you know? Roaming around the aisles, buttonholing people, exerting power, you know, getting things done, standing at that Majority Leader’s desk, you know, towering over the Senate, you know, directing people.
You saw he wrote, he gestured and two more men came running out of the cloak room. He made another gesture and a man came running across the aisles, running the world, power enveloped him. But he doesn’t want to be Senate Majority Leader. He wants only one thing, to be president. So he’s going to leave the Senate and become Vice President and be humiliated for three more the next three years. It was his home and now he had left it.
LAMB: And this volume, right now, the 2012 volume, the end of the book is, ”If he had held in check these forces within him and conquered himself for a while, he wasn’t going to be able to do it for long but he had done it long enough.”
CARO: Yes. That’s the last sentence, ”But he had done it long enough.” Because you say in this book well I, no, not you, I say in this book you know, you had a Lyndon Johnson who, before these 47 days, the 47 days after the assassination he was a certain type of man, bullying, ruthless, conniving.
He has to rise above that to make the country know it has a president. He has to curve his temper. He had a secretary named Marie Fehmer. Her name is now Marie Chiarodo who told me the gave me a brilliant insight where she said his very physical movements changed on the plane going back from Washington. It’s like, she said, he had you know, he always shambled. Suddenly he’s walking disciplined like a president. And that doesn’t change. That’s the way he acts.
He has to be humble with the President Kennedy people to ask them to stay on. People he knows despised him. So he says to him he humbles himself. He says, ”I need you more than Jack Kennedy ever needed you.”
He says to one of them, ”You know, Jack Kennedy understood things enough about history that I don’t. But you understand them. You have to stay with me. You have to help me. So he changes in that way. No more rages in that way. He walks with dignity. And he watch him just walk up the aisle to give us the ”We Can Shall Continue” speech. You see a man who’s walking in a different way.
So Marie Fehmer said it’s like his very physical movements he put a discipline on. He’s not going to be able to do that very long, as we’re going to see as soon as the next book opens. But as this book says, he had done it long enough.
LAMB: Give us some background on Marie Fehmer and where you interviewed her and how long you interviewed and how valuable it was to you.
CARO: Well, it was very, very valuable. I can’t I think I I think I had three interviews with her. She came to work for Lyndon Johnson in 1962 and I believe I’m bad on numbers that she was 19 years old. I found she was a secretary who was very close to Johnson. By that I mean they trusted her a lot. They trusted her discretion. She was immensely helpful to me because she was a good observer, you know?
To me, I don’t care how handsome you are or all I care is can you tell me what he looked like? You know, so I’m constantly asking the Johnson people what would I see, you know if I so she was in the right after the she was in Dallas. She’s on the plane. She actually types the oath which is given her, you know, in sometimes she said things that are enough to really make you cry.
She describes if I if I mis-quote a little here it’s I don’t have the book. She has to take the Johnson has telephoned Robert Kennedy to ask him should he be sworn in in Dallas and to get the oath. And Kennedy is apparently on a patched telephone line with Nicholas Katzenbach who has the oath, the Deputy Attorney General
LAMB: OK. But describe where Robert Kennedy was when he’s first learned about his brother being shot.
CARO: Well that’s Robert Kennedy is sitting by the swimming pool at Hickory Hill, his estate and a number of things how he’s talking to Robert Morgenthau, the great District Attorney of New York later who is then United States Attorney and one or more of Morgenthau’s deputies and suddenly they see a number of things happen simultaneously.
They see a workman at Hickory Hills, a big old White House and it’s being repainted. And they see one of the workmen suddenly stop. He’s holding a transistor radio to his ear and he comes running down this long lawn toward the swimming pool where Kennedy and Morgenthau are sitting.
At that very moment before the man with the radio arrives, the telephone rings and it’s J. Edgar Hoover to tell Robert Kennedy that his brother has been shot, perhaps fatally. Hoover didn’t like Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Robert Kennedy didn’t like him. Robert Kennedy was later to say he didn’t show any emotion, you know, at all. He just delivered the news.
So they see, sitting on the other side of the pool, Morgenthau see Robert Kennedy clap his hand to his face in shock and horror. I forget what
LAMB: Well, the question was about the oath and when Lyndon what happened when Lyndon Johnson talked to Robert Kennedy right after he was shot?
CARO: Well, he calls him from the plane. He goes into he calls him from the plan to ask him basically two things. Should I take the oath of office in Texas or wait until I get back to Washington to take it? But he’s not really asked he knows he wants to take it in Texas. He wants Robert Kennedy to agree that that’s the best course and he wants the wording of the oath.
Attorney General Deputy Attorney General Katzenbach really said to me, ”I was really appalled that he would call Robert Kennedy” whatever number of minutes I have in the book, 26 minutes after he learns his brother’s dead, the man he hates is on is now his brother’s successor’s on the phone asking him for the formal details on how to take office.
So Marie Fehmer is on the plane and she takes the oath and she says I mean she says, ”Katzenbach got on the phone”, so I said to Marie Fehmer, how was his voice? She said, ”Like steel. Controlled. Bobby wasn’t when it began. He shouldn’t have been doing that.”
She said, then she says something, ”I was sorry to be doing it but it had to be done.” She was a great admirer of Lyndon Johnson. She said, ”He always taught you if there’s a job to be done, you can do it.’
So you know, in that great picture of Lyndon the iconic picture of Lyndon Johnson taking the oath of office, Jackie Kennedy’s beside him and Lady Bird. If you look in the left background you can see the top of a woman’s head with glasses. That’s Marie Fehmer and what she’s doing is amazing to me. She is reading the words of the oath to make sure Lyndon Johnson is taking it correctly.
She said, ”Lyndon taught you when there was a job to be done you did it.” So she was a great help to me. You know, a lot of these Johnson people were amazing helps to me.
LAMB: You know, in that same picture right off to Lyndon Johnson’s left is Jack Brooks. Former Congressman from Texas, head of the Judiciary Committee, still alive.
LAMB: Did you talk to him?
LAMB: And how helpful was he in explaining that situation?
CARO: I can’t really it’s been years since I talked to him. He I know he was helpful. I can’t remember exactly.
LAMB: What about Homer Thornberry?
CARO: No. I never spoke to Homer Thornberry.
LAMB: Never did.
I want to run an audio tape. And before we do, it’s audio tape of one of these oval office conversations.
Why did Lady Bird let those tapes go way, way ahead of the plan? Supposed to be 50 years after Lyndon Johnson’s death?
CARO: Don’t know.
LAMB: And how useful have they been to you?
CARO: To me, they’re quite amazing. I mean, when we see Johnson when we see when we want to find out how Johnson is bending Congress to his will just to take one thing that’s in this book, and you see you learn so much because he what he’s saying to people you know, one thing it just everyone says Johnson was talking all the time.
When Johnson needed information he’s not talking. Practically his first call is to George Smathers. He wants this is the night he gets back he
LAMB: Senator from Florida.
CARO: I’m sorry, the Senator from Florida but more important a guy Lyndon Johnson could really count. He was a pragmatic senator. So he calls Smathers I believe it’s the very same night to ask him what the situation is with the tax cut bill and the civil rights bill. And you just hear Smathers’ talking. All you hear from Lyndon Johnson for quite some time is, ”Uh huh, um hum”. But then he starts to talk to bring senators around and representatives around and you say wow, this is a genius and bending people to his will.
LAMB: Here’s that audio tape. Bobby Kennedy’s on this tape.
LBJ: Can we have FBI people there and have them keeping their eyes and ears open and preceding him and following him, probably?
ROBERT F.KENNEDY: Well, it’s difficult to just the preceding and following. They’re not going to I suppose we can if again, my I haven’t no dealings with the FBI anymore but I think maybe there are some
LYNDON BAINES JOHNSON: Did he did he get you that report the other day that he sent out?
KENNEDY: Yes. But I understand that you know, he sends all kinds of reports over to you to about me and about the Department of Justice.
LBJ: Not any that I’ve seen. What are you talking about?
KENNEDY: Well, I just understand that that he got the planning and plotting things.
LBJ: No. No, he hadn’t he hadn’t sent me a report that I remember.
I just called him the other day and told him I’d like to have that full report. He and to be sure to send me a copy of it and then I called him back a little while later and said send an extra copy here and I assumed you sent one to the Attorney General and he said yes.
And that’s the only conversation I had. But he hadn’t he hadn’t sent me any report on you or on the department any time.
And I get I guess letter every three or four days that summarized video stuff and Walter Jenkins get eight to 10 of them a day on Yugoslavia and there’s routine things where people are talking. But as far as I know they haven’t involved you.
KENNEDY: Well I had understood that he had that he had had some reports all about me.
LBJ: No, no.
KENNEDY: Plotting the overthrow of the government by force and violence.
LBJ: No. No.
LBJ: No, that’s a that’s a that’s an error. He never has said that or indicated or given any indication of it.
KENNEDY: Well in any case, just going back to this, that’s the they going to have the State Patrol there. That’s just a I and maybe the FBI. I thought about having marshals go along that road but I think that causes all kinds of problems.
Maybe the FBI could talk to the governor’s office down there with whom they have a liaison, see whether they could think of any (inaudible) if they get a car that would follow Martin Luther King out of Greenwood back to Mississippi.
LBJ: Why don’t you have somebody, Burt Marshall or you or if you don’t want to, I’ll do it.
KENNEDY: Well, I think that, to tell you dealing with somebody working over here.
KENNEDY: I hate to ask you to be dealing with somebody that’s working over in the Department of Justice. That’s not a very satisfactory situation.
But I would why don’t I call them and see?
But anyway I
LBJ: I never had the slightest indication that he didn’t want to cooperate with you or with Burt Marshall or any of them. He’s never indicated anything like that to me and I don’t know where
KENNEDY: Well, I think it’s I mean I’m nervous you know, it’s a very difficult situation, I think, for everybody here now. Whether it’s Nick or Burke or me or anybody that has to deal with him. But I mean, so I say we’ll all get through.
AUDIO TAPE ENDS
LAMB: I don’t want to sound incredulous but how could that happen? How could the Attorney General not be able to tell the FBI Director what to do?
CARO: Well, you know, J. Edgar Hoover hated Robert Kennedy. You know, it’s interesting. Writing about you know, people don’t give enough force Shakespeare did to the key role that character, personality plays in politics and power.
And this telephone call, to my mind you know, and your question Hoover hated Robert Kennedy. Robert Kennedy insisted that there be a telephone on Hoover’s desk that he, Robert Kennedy could call him at any time.
As soon as the president, President Kennedy died, that telephone is removed from his desk. Hoover was very close to Lyndon Johnson. I found my reaction to Johnson said I’ve never seen a report on you. You know, it reminds me of Robert Kennedy’s or something Robert Kennedy said in this book.
He says, you know, the thing about Lyndon is he lies all the time. He lies even when he doesn’t have to lie. Of course, he was getting reports on Robert Kennedy from the FBI Director and Hoover was very close to Johnson and so here we have two men. It’s a conversation about civil rights. It’s outwardly quite civil.
I’m sure Robert Kennedy wasn’t believing what Lyndon Johnson told him and Robert Kennedy and yet and yet the two of them on this occasion are working together because they both want the civil rights murders solved.
They both the two men who wanted the cause of civil rights advanced in the United States.
LAMB: You have a phrase that you quote quite often in the book and I want to ask you where it came from. It’s, ”Power is where power goes.” Power is where power goes.
Where’d that come from?
CARO: Johnson Lyndon Johnson says it. When people are saying to him don’t take the Vice Presidency. Right now you are the most you are a powerful majority leader. Don’t take the Vice Presidency. You won’t have any power.
Johnson says, ”Power is where power goes.” Meaning I can make power in any situation. And his whole life, I say, nothing in his life previously makes that seem like he’s boasting. Because that’s exactly what he had done all his life; he was a Junior Congressman; he got himself a position of real power. He took the job as assistant as the whip in the Senate. He made a nothing job I said nothing job, I say in the last book, no one wanted and he made it real power.
Took the Majority Leader job. The Majority Leader didn’t have much power. He mad that a he thought he could do the same thing with the Vice Presidency.
LAMB: And did he?
CARO: No. But he tries right at the beginning. In two fascinating moves. He tries to remain as the Chairman of the Democratic the day facto let me see, Chairman of the Democratic caucus although he’s in the executive branch
LAMB: In the Senate?
CARO: In the Senate. Yes. Of yes, I’m sorry the Democratic caucus in the Senate.
He thinks that they will do it because all the Senators know what he has done for them. You know, it’s one of his worst misjudgements it because what as soon as he accepted as soon as the election is over it’s like the realization comes to him that God, I have no power now.
So he’s got to try to make some. So he does it. I write on two fronts. One was on Capitol Hill where he tries to remain as the power in the Senate. You know, if he had done that, Kenny O’Donnell, one of Kennedy’s aides, his appointment secretary says, you know, he wanted to be Vice President and Majority Leader.
If he had succeeded he would have been. And all of the sudden, think what you would have had. You would have had a president who had a Vice President who had his own independent source of power. The Senate would could be independent of Kennedy.
Then, at the same time, virtually but that fails. Well, and they and at the same time, he submits this letter to Kennedy which generally asks for general supervision of various government agencies, something no Vice President has ever had before.
He asks for an office right next to the President’s in the White House. He asks for his own staff within the executive wing and he thinks he’s going to get these things. He’s absolutely confident he’s going to win on both fronts.
The Senate is just an example of his over reaching where he’s so desperate here that he’s not doing the smart things like his aides, Reedy and Bobby Baker say God, you know, the old Lyndon Johnson would have realized that the Senate would never give power to someone in the executive branch but he was so frantic, manic when he realizes that he doesn’t have power that he makes that misjudgment.
And with Kennedy, you know, I write this line, he said this great reader of men, Lyndon Johnson, this great reader of men, this man who thought he could read any man had read one man wrong. And the one man was John Kennedy. He doesn’t realize how tough he is and he’s going to take the presidential nomination away from he gives this memo to Kennedy and Kennedy just handles it like utterly ignoring it and being very cool about it and Johnson loses, fails and but, that was his boast, power is where power goes.
LAMB:: Let me ask you something that’s not in the book. I assume your book was done by the way, when was the last time you what was the last day you wrote something for this book?
CARO: Not that long ago. I’m known for not giving up my galleys
LAMB:: But, you say, I mean, overall, though, before you edited the galleys, when did you finish this book?
CARO: Oh, that was some time ago because the notes
LAMB:: A couple years ago?
CARO: No. I’d have to think about it. I think the notes took me like four months, at least. So, it’s some months.
LAMB:: While we’re on that for a moment, how do you do the notes and when do you do them?
CARO: Well, that’s always an agony for me because, you know, each every statement in my book that’s, you know, that needs a source has a source. So, there are a lot of notes to do. And as I’m writing, each time, my publisher says, be sure you do the notes, we don’t want to go through this agony at the end, you know? So, each time, I have a notebook there, and I think I’m writing the sources as I’m doing the notes.
But, in fact, when I come to do them, there were all these blank spaces, because when I get involved in writing, I completely forget about everything else. And among the things I forget about are the notes. So, I told them I would be done with the notes in two months, you know, for this book, and I think they took four months or something.
LAMB:: What I was starting to ask you is and I want your perspective on this. In your earlier books, you write about Lyndon Johnson’s mistress Alice Glass, goes way back when he was in the House of Representatives. You write about Helen Gahagan Douglas
LAMB:: And his relationship, you write about other mistresses that he had over the years. And then, recently, we’ve had this book about Jack Kennedy’s, one of his mistresses, Mimi Beardsley Alfred. Did you look into that at all?
LAMB:: The reason I’m asking is that what aspect does power play in this relationship that these married men with families, they present themselves as being, you know, families that are together, and behind the scenes, we’re reading in your books and others that there’s all kind of stuff going on.
CARO: Well, I can only really speak about it with regard to Lyndon Johnson, you know? Johnson was always sleeping with people. You know, it was a constant in his life. However, it wasn’t necessary for me to write about 99 percent of this because they’re just meaningless it has no greater significance in his life than sex.
About Alice Glass, the one that you mentioned, and to some extent Helen Gahagan Douglas, but Alice Glass I had to write at length about. I don’t think the Johnson people, those around, you know, have ever really forgiven me. But, you couldn’t write an honest book about Lyndon Johnson without making her a rather major figure because for he was close to her for more than 20 years. I think the sex part, as near as I can tell, which I cannot, you know, was over in like perhaps three or four years. But, he always was driving down, you know, to Virginia to her great estate.
And she was you know, she played quite a role in his life. She was this great she was a small town girl from Texas who had become the mistress of a very powerful man in Charles Marsh, publisher and oil man. And he brought her apparently, they toured England, she saw this mansion there was a great mansion there at Surrey called Longley. She liked it, so he built her a replica in the Virginia Hunt Country.
And this small town girl from Virginia became this great hostess, center of a liberal circle, very brilliant man, but also someone who was really and went from you know, and when Johnson comes to Washington, he’s this tall at the age of 29, he’s this tall gangly fellow, and his arms are too long, they’re always so, Alice Glass taught him to wear French cuffs so his wrists would not stick out. She taught him, for some reason, which I always to wear Countess Mara ties. To the end of his life this was important to him.
And she was his she there were times where he takes her advice above all other advice. Like, when he’s in the Pacific during 1942, you’re only allowed one telephone call back. The senior senator from Texas has died. He can run for the Senate seat or can he run again for his House seat. Franklin Roosevelt has told him, if you need any advice on anything, because Roosevelt really liked him, you can call he says, you can call the White House, meaning basically you can call me.
Johnson has one call to make to decide whether to run for the Senate or the House of Representatives. He doesn’t call the White House. He calls Alice Glass. How do I know that? Because I found in the Johnson library her telegram back to him and her advice. And the telegram basically says everyone else, which really means probably the White House, everyone else thinks you should run for the Senate, I think you should run for the House. He runs for the House.
There’s another point in his life where he’s feuding with his great financial supporter, Herman Brown, really a breaking through, which would have changed his career
LAMB:: Is this Brown and Root?
CARO: Yes, of Brown and Root, Herman Brown of Brown and Root, who had financed Lyndon’s rise, was prepared to finance but, here they had really clashed over something. And she calls them both to has them both at guests at Longley. It involves a dam and a housing project. And she looks at them, very beautiful everyone said the most beautiful woman, and says, give Herman the dam and let Lyndon have the housing. And all of a sudden, that compromise is reached.
So, you couldn’t write the life of Lyndon Johnson without giving real space to Alice Glass.
LAMB:: So, I suspect we’re going to hear about Brown and Root during the Vietnam War years.
LAMB:: Are you still going to Vietnam?
LAMB:: Do you have a planned time to go there?
CARO: Let me get through with this book tour.
LAMB:: All right. We’ve talked a lot about Lyndon Johnson with you over the years, and I want to go back and show you a montage of many of the different appearances, including a documentary we did on you at the Lyndon Johnson Library.
CARO: My first I was a reporter on Newsday, and what I realized was not that I wanted to do biographies, LAMB:, I never conceived of writing books just as the lives of famous men. I really had no interest in that at all. What I wanted to do was explain how political power worked because I was a reporter and I was covering politics, and I felt that I wasn’t really explaining what I had gone into the newspaper business to explain.
For 44 years, whenever you paid a toll on any bridge or tunnel within the boundaries of the city of New York, you were paying it directly to Robert Moses because the Triborough Bridge Authority and other authorities he controlled collected those tolls, and he had absolute power. He didn’t have to go to a mayor, a governor, a board of estimate or the state legislature. That was his money to spend as he wanted.
But, in this room really was exercised some of the rawest use of power. When Lyndon Johnson was Majority Leader, he ran the Senate as no one else in the Senate in this century has run it. And during the last two years he was majority leader, he appropriated this office.
Well, he came to a Senate where the only thing that mattered was seniority. You weren’t even supposed to speak on the floor your first year or two. In his first two years, he became the assistant leader of his party. In four years, he was the leader of his party. In six years, he was the majority leader. And then, he set out to make the Senate pass the first Civil Rights Bill since reconstruction and did it.
The Johnson Library today says they have 44 million documents, which would be 44 million pieces of paper. What we’re reliving here, thanks to you, is the first moment I saw these and my heart really sunk at what was ahead of me. Just look at it. It’s I will say this, though. If you care about politics and the use of political power in the United States, there’s not much that you can’t find out or at least get hint of that in these papers.
LAMB:: And this is the reading room?
CARO: Right, this is an area that’s closed to the public. You have to be an accredited researcher to use it. And when you want to do research in those boxes that we saw down there, the four floors of boxes, you’ll sit in this room, and you put in a request form for the box of boxes that you want, an archivist goes down and brings them up to you on your desk. If you’re here for a while and you accumulate a few, there’s a whole cart of boxes that you’re using. And sometimes, you can actually go down, if you call for one that’s in that first row of boxes, and you can see the gap, the hole in the box the line of boxes there, which is the box that’s up on your desk. But, that’s what happens. The boxes are brought up when you want to read them to this room.
It is especially an honor for me, because for many years, I have been watching Ted Kennedy in the Senate. In my last book, I wanted to write about the Senate and its history and its power, and in order to get a feeling for the institution itself, its moods and its customs, I would sit week after week in the Senate gallery and its committee rooms trying to absorb how it worked. And it was while I was doing that that I came slowly and almost by accident to the realization of how much Edward Kennedy has meant to the Senate and to America.
If he’s not giving them anything, he writes no. But, sometimes, he writes no out. And I asked John Connaly what did no out mean. And he said, that meant that this guy was never getting anything from Lyndon Johnson. He says, you didn’t cross Lyndon Johnson.
LAMB:: What was that ”no out” that we were talking about?
CARO: That was when he was head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and was deciding how much money to give congressional candidates.
LAMB:: You say in your book, power always reveals.
LAMB:: What does it reveal?
CARO: Well, what you wanted to do all along. Like, you know, the clichι is Lord Acton’s statement, all power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. I don’t think that that’s always true. I think what’s always true is that power reveals, because when you have enough power to do whatever you want to do, then people see what you wanted to do. It’s particularly true in the case of Lyndon Johnson. But, it’s also true in you know, power doesn’t always corrupt. Power can cleanse. It cleanses, for example, in the case of Sam Rayburn, who had to keep quiet as a representative until he became first a powerful committee chairman and then this.
But then, you see him moving the Senate the House of Representatives to populous legislation. You see it within my first book, The Power Broker, I mean Al Smith, this great Governor, who had to be the Tamini Henchman until he was whatever, 50 years old, the moth ruthless Tamini’s ruthless Henchman in Albany. Then, as soon as he gets the power, as soon as he’s Governor, he goes to the Tamini bosses and says, now we have to pass social welfare legislation for our people. So, power can cleanse.
LAMB:: Talking about four books and 3,267 pages, what time, in all these years since 1977 that you’ve been writing about Lyndon Johnson, were you the maddest?
CARO: Well, there’ve been a number of times.
LAMB:: And why?
CARO: Well, I it’s very you get really angry when you follow some of Johnson’s methods, you know, some of the things that he did. In the first volume, when you learn about Lyndon Johnson at Congress in college, I’m sorry when you learn about Lyndon Johnson in college, you say this is really incredible, the things that he did to get campus power - you know, stolen elections, blackmailing a woman student. Sort of you do get angry at him. If you know, it’s disgusting.
In the second volume, you get when you see you know, each one of my books is supposed to be an aspect of political power. So, the second book is about a stolen election. I said, you know, a stolen elections are part of American political life. When you see him stealing this election and you see the negative campaigning he uses, you get angry at him then.
The third volume is probably the angriest I ever got because, as you know, there’s a section on Leland Oles, a liberal new dealer, a member of the Federal Power Commission. Johnson becomes Senator, and he’s been put in there by the natural oil and natural gas put in there he’s been financed by the oil and natural gas people. His job is to destroy Leland Oles, and he destroys him.
And anyone who watches through my book that’s why I did it in such detail him destroy this man’s reputation and life, so the rest of his life is just ruined, you just it’s horrible. And when Johnson comes over to Oles in an interval of the hearings at which Johnson is testify is chairing and destroying his reputation and said, you don’t take this personally, do you, Leland, it’s only politics, you know, you just yes, you get very angry at him.
LAMB:: Okay. When were you the most angry at another person that you were trying to get information out of?
CARO: Angry at a person I was trying to.
LAMB:: In other words, there had to be a time when Bob Caro had a temper in this process.
CARO: Bob Caro, as anyone will tell you, has a lot of temper. Well, I have to really think a moment. The Johnson people, you know, some of them wouldn’t talk to me. They were all with the exception of Moyers and Baker came around and were helpful at the end.
I guess the answer to that is Jack Valenti, as a matter of fact. I can answer your question, because Valenti was always attacking me. He was writing not just reviews, but op ed pieces and all. And he had you know, Valenti was a great phrase maker. So, at one point, he has this phrase, this young man who came to Texas with a poodle and a tennis racket to teach us politics, you know? I thought his attacks were really unfair. I was sort of happy that he came around at the end, you know?
LAMB:: Let’s go back to Lyndon Johnson and this book and the different circumstances that he found himself in as Vice President, and how was he treated by John Kennedy. We could start with the Bay of Pigs and then go to the Cuban Missile Crisis.
CARO: That’s a very good question. The Bay of Pigs, you know, you ask how did the Kennedy Administration treat Lyndon Johnson, where in all the books before so many books before mine, not all, he’s portrayed, you know, he admires Lyndon Johnson, he gives Lyndon he they made sure Lyndon Johnson didn’t even know about the Bay of Pigs. That whole weekend, he is sent by Kennedy to introduce Konrad Adenaeur, the German Chancellor, around Texas. He has to introduce him to the legislature, he takes him to a country fair in Stonewall. He’s not even in Washington during the Bay of Pigs. Whether he actually ever knew about it I think probably, I’d have to say probably, I think probably he never knew there was a planned invasion.
And one thing after another that the Kennedy Administration does they don’t tell him about. When Kennedy introduces the Civil Rights Bill in 1963, for a while, they won’t bring him into the picture at all. And finally, Ted Sorensen is told to call Johnson, you know, and get his advice on the Civil Rights Bill. And Johnson has to say to him, the first sentence is, you know, I don’t know what’s in the bill. The only thing I know about it is what I read in the New York Times.
This is the greatest legislator, the greatest parliamentarian of certainly America in the 20th Century without anyone being close. This was a man who could get things through Congress that no one else could get through Congress. And they haven’t even consulted him on the bill or told him what’s in it.
The Cuban Missile Crisis is a more involved story. But, at the end of it, I mean, Ted Sorensen would tell me, and it’s in the book, you know, how frightened, at the end of by the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis, they were really frightened, the Kennedys, of what might happen if there was a similar crisis and Lyndon Johnson was President. That’s how hawkish they felt that he acted.
I remember Sorensen sitting there in one of these conversations I had with him, and he’s telling about something Johnson said. And he said a chill went through the room, you know.
So, there in the Cuban Missile Crisis, we see both the Kennedy brothers, you know, in the most moving way fighting to keep this from escalating into war. Just, I mean, to, you know, read the tapes on the Cuban Missile Crisis, there are moments there, you know, President Kennedy has been holding off the hawks, holding them off, you know, saying give the give them one more day. But, they have all agreed that if the missiles the ever shot down an American reconnaissance plane, immediately, we would attack.
And suddenly, in one day, a messenger comes in and hands John McCone, the CIA Director, a message, and the message is an American reconnaissance plane has been shot down. And from all you can hear this on the tapes from all around the table, people, not just the hawks, everyone said we said we’d attack, we have to attack now, we no retorts let’s attack.
Jack Kennedy says something like, I’m not right with this exact quote, gentlemen, let’s take a break and go for dinner and we can talk about it later. During the dinner, he goes down the hall with his brother Robert and Ted Sorensen to find another way of approaching Khrushchev.
So, it’s sort of I mean, it’s one of the great dramatic moments. I mean, President Kennedy did some things which are quite remarkable as President legislative record isn’t one of them. But, you really see, when you read these tapes or listen to these tapes on the Cuban Missile Crisis, you are really saying we were on the verge of nuclear war, and these two brothers I have I there’s one point where a Russian ship breaks the blockade. You know, it goes through the blockade and is heading toward Cuba. Again, we said we’d attack. And Robert Kennedy says something like, can’t we wait one more day, you know? And President Kennedy says something like, I’m wrong with the exact quotes here, President Kennedy says something like, yes, we can wait one more day. And I wrote, so peace had one more day.
LAMB:: You talk about Ted Sorensen. In another area, you talked about how important a source he was for you.
LAMB:: What did Ted Sorensen think just in a word or two about Lyndon Johnson?
CARO: In a word or two, contempt.
LAMB:: We have another audio tape, you may have heard this, Arthur Schlezinger interviewing Lady not Ladybird, but Mrs. Kennedy, Jacquelyn Onassis Kennedy, that happened this tape would have been made in March to June in 1964, talking about Ted Sorensen. She’s already suggested that she’s irritated in an earlier time that Ted Sorensen keeps wanting to people to think he wrote the speeches and wrote Profiles in Courage. Let’s listen to this. It’s hard to hear, so listen closely.
JACQUELYN KENNEDY: I know one thing about the legislative breakfast that Larry O’Brien told me, which is something interesting about Ted Sorensen. Larry couldn’t stand Ted Sorensen. So, one night, he was telling me what you know, they were obviously, the Irishmen would be jealous of the Sorensen’s. And he said, so many times, Larry would have prepared an agenda for the breakfast, and just before they were about to start, Ted would ask to see it and take it, and he’d just change one or two sentences, and then initial it TCS and pass it all around that way. And you’ll see that heavy hand of Ted Sorensen in more places. I mean, he, you know, wanted his imprint on so many things.
(ARTHUR SCHLESINGER): The self assertion.
KENNEDY: Yes. Told you about the Profiles in Courage thing and doing it Larry O’Brien, everyone. That’s just so sneaky.
(SCHLESINGER): He was all better in the White House, though, wasn’t he?
KENNEDY: Oh, yes. But, I mean, I just think
(SCHLESINGER): That’s such a petty thing to
KENNEDY: Someone said he loved himself, and finally, he loved one other person, which was Jack. And he also had such a crush on Jack. I can remember when he first started to try to speak like him or dare to call him Jack, and he’d sort of blush. And I think he wanted to be easy all the ways Jack was easy, the sort of civilized side of Jack of the easy dinners or girls like you and men just the end, because he knew he wasn’t quite that way in the beginning. It almost went into sort of a resentment. I mean, it was very mixed up in his own he had a big inferiority complex. So, you can see the things that are all working back and forth.
KENNEDY: But, you know, I never saw him very much in the White House.
LAMB:: I guess you’d conclude that she didn’t like him.
CARO: Well, I guess that’s what I’d have to conclude from this, but I think it’s very unfair because one of the things that struck me about Ted Sorensen was how important it was to him for me to understand that he didn’t write Profiles of Courage, that Jack Kennedy wrote Profiles
LAMB:: But, didn’t he admit, though, a couple of years ago that he actually wrote it?
CARO: No. He has a very he never he I don’t believe that that’s correct. He I think his phrase was something like who was the author of the book, the man who writes it or the man whose name is on it and takes responsibility for it. He meant that it’s the second person, the man who takes responsibility for it who’s the real author of the book. I wouldn’t agree with him on that in particular. But, it was in talking to me, it was always very important to him that I understand that it was Jack President Kennedy who was the author. So, I that’s all I really can say about that.
LAMB:: Well, reading your books, there’s a lot of backroom nasty comments from everybody. I mean, and if you listen to these tapes of Jacquelyn Kennedy, there’s a lot of nasty comments about people. She never says anything negative about her husband. But, meanwhile, while she in that years was sticking up for her husband, her husband, again, reports we’ve read had women being moved around the country for him. Again, what are we to what are the average Americans supposed to take from all when we learn all this, you peel the cover of the onion back, and it’s not very attractive?
CARO: Well, for my you know, as I say, for myself with Lyndon Johnson, most of the sex had no meaning outside it. Likewise with my first subject, Robert Moses.
LAMB:: But, by the way, my question really isn’t to the sex so much as to the trust that we have in leaders and the lying that you report on and just the whole nasty attitude behind the scenes about individuals.
CARO: Well, you mean about the mistresses? Are you talking about
LAMB:: No, no, just, I mean
CARO: Just in general
LAMB:: You know, you described
CARO: Well, it’s a very tough yes, it’s a very tough business. The staffs of Robert Kennedy and Jack Kennedy hated Lyndon Johnson, looked down on the Texas people. The Texas people say to me you could feel one of the another secretary, Ashton Ganello I think it was said to me that they made you feel every minute they were in and you weren’t, you know? They sniped at each other, they made the Kennedy people called Lyndon Johnson you know, in fact, they called it’s not just they called him Rufus cornpone. They called him and Ladybird Uncle Corn Pone and his little Pork Chop, you know, mean, horrible things. When the rare occasions when Lyndon Johnson would be invited out to one of the many dinner parties that Robert Kennedy had at Hickory Hill, Ethel would put them at the loser’s table, you know? But, he knew he was at the loser’s table.
Another incident, which is hard to it’s hard to believe, and it is two of the Kennedy people are mid level Kennedy people are having a conversation at a cocktail party, and they notice a third person come up in the way you do at a cocktail party when you want to get in the conversation, but it’s Lyndon Johnson. They so, they go on ignoring him. After a while, he turns around and walks away. And one of them says to the other, I think we just insulted the Vice President of the United States. And the other one basically says I can’t repeat it. You’d have to bleep it out. They didn’t care what they he was a laughing stock to them. But, behind him being a laughing stock was their fear of him, that they knew what he if they let him off this tight leash, what he might do.
LAMB:: We don’t have but a minute or two left. What has been the best use, in your opinion, just a personal thing, of your four books so far by either educators or any aspect of any number of people in the country?
CARO: Well, there’s only one thing that’s the best use for me, and that’s to teach kids about political power. You know, I started doing these because I felt that in a democracy, power really comes from us, from the readers, if you will. They vote. They have the power.
So, the more they understand about how the political process really works, the better therefore our democracy would have to be.
So, my books try to explain political power. And the best thing for me and it happens, I must say, an okay number of times in New York is you’re riding the subway and you see kids reading paperbacks of the four volumes and The Power Broker. Nothing makes me feel better than I mean, my wife sometimes says, you know, if you win an award or something I have won some awards said, don’t they make you happy, you know? Well, they do. Of course, they do. But, what makes you happy is to see a kid reading your book on the subway.
LAMB:: In the past, you’ve always dedicated your book to Ina.
LAMB:: You do it again.
LAMB:: However, this time, it’s Chase, Carla.
CARO: Chase is my son, Carla’s my daughter in law, and their three children.
LAMB: Barry, Shana and Jess
CARO: Shana and Jessie, yes.
CARO: Jessie, yes.
LAMB:: How old are your grandkids?
CARO: Twenty-three, 22 and 20.
LAMB:: Do they follow what you do?
LAMB:: Do they read the books?
CARO: One of them really one that’s a bad question to ask. I would say possibly one of them has read every word several times - Barry, he’s in he’s going into he’s in politics. He’s a campaign consultant. And he has read every word, you know? And I think the others have read some of them.
LAMB:: The title of the book is The Years of Lyndon Johnson, the fourth book of Robert Caro’s five book series. This one’s called The Passage of Power. And we thank you very much.
CARO: Thank you, LAMB:.