I’m reading–well, listening to, anyway–Robert Caro’s Pulitzer prize winning biography of LBJ, a bio he refers to as a study of political power, how to acquire it and how to use it. I’m almost through with the second volume, Means of Ascent. The first volume, Path to Power, which chronicles his life (and his ancestors’s life) up through his years in Congress and his first run at the U.S. Senate–which he lost only because his opponent–literally–bought more votes than he did and then only because Johnson got a little cocky on the day of the election, is an enthralling read. (In case this sentence is a little too complex [a little?], here’s the essence: The first volume is an enthralling read.) The second volume has proved its equal.
Means of Ascent discusses Johnson’s time in the armed services during World War II and his second run for the Senate, an election he literally bought, paid cash for. This comes as no surprise to the reader. At this point in the story, the reader has already read where Johnson stole a student election in college, stole another election for the presidency of an organization of congressional staffers, stole an actual congressional seat, and attempted to steal a Senate seat in a special election.
I’m reminded of a great line from the movie Patton. The great general is facing Rommel in North Africa, and he’s beating him. George C. Scott, as Patton, peers through his binoculars at the unfolding spectacle and says, “Rommel… you magnificent bastard, I read your book!” Methinks more than a few politicians and their operatives have read Caro’s biography of LBJ.