The Corner

Robert Caro on Political Power

In today’s Wall Street Journal, I have the Weekend Interview with historian Robert Caro, whose latest volume on Lyndon Baines Johnson, The Passage of Power, was released this week. Here’s a taste:

Asked to define “political power”—the motif of his multivolume biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson—historian Robert Caro falls silent. “I don’t think anyone ever has asked me that,” he says. Sitting in the office near Columbus Circle where he writes, Mr. Caro stares at his silver-buckle shoes for a few seconds. Then he offers: “It’s the use of the power of government.” The corners of his mouth twist in disappointment; he’s dissatisfied with the answer.

And yet, whatever political power is, Mr. Caro knows it when he sees it. His subject, the 36th president of the United States, possessed it in abundance. The more interesting question, from Mr. Caro’s perspective, is how did he get it? For the past 36 years, the 76-year-old scribe has been answering this question, documenting every scheme Johnson perpetrated in his upward climb. This week, publisher Alfred A. Knopf released the fourth volume of his biography, “The Passage of Power,” which covers Johnson’s sudden catapult from the vice presidency to the White House.

If his book suggests an answer, it’s that Johnson gained power through sheer ruthlessness.

Read more here.

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