Thursday, September 10, 2009

Lyndon Baines Johnson

Merle Miller's biography of Lyndon Johnson provides us with incredible insight into the man with interviews from his friends, colleagues, staff, Lady Bird, and of course, LBJ himself.

Miller begins with stories from LBJ's childhood, tells us of his parents and his life in the Johnson City area. It was interesting reading about his parents, whom I, personally, knew nothing about. His father, Sam Ealy Johnson, Jr., was elected to the Texas Legislature in 1904; he served in the 29th, 30th, 35th, 36th, 37th, and 38th legislatures. If you're touring the Capitol, you can find his portrait in the west wing of the ground floor in the collection of House composites for each legislature.

Regardless of one's politics and opinions on LBJ, there is much that legislators can learn from him. I say legislators, because that is where Johnson was at his best (in Congress). As Vice-President, he was not in control of the Senate as he was while majority leader, and as President, he was unable to meet all of the challenges which faced him. He was in his element in the legislature; he understood the ways of power within the halls of Congress.

Some of the lessons (no particular order):
  1. Never get too far ahead of your constituents (p.68)
  2. Always respond to correspondence (p.74)
  3. Knowledge is power (p.149)
  4. Become an expert in something (p.156)
  5. Respect the rules and decorum of the Lege (pp. 88, 172)
  6. Don't fight the battle unless you know it's won (p.176)
There are also some good quotes from Lyndon in this work, such as, "It doesn't matter how hard you explain it or how well, defeat is not the same as victory - and don't let anybody tell you different." That's some easy advice for me to take, as I am a sore loser anyway, but it would do well for anyone in politics to heed it, because so often, officials, their aides and supporters deceive themselves into thinking they've won even some small victory, even though they have lost.

This was a good introduction to LBJ, and I still have Caro's 4 volumes to read, as well as Johnson: An Irreverent Chronicle by Booth Mooney (one of Johnson's speech writers).

Also, if you haven't been out to the Johnson house, you should definitely go. I went out to the ranch in December 2008. We took a tour of the house that afternoon, and that evening we were at the tree lighting ceremony. It is a very edifying tour, especially with some background previously learned about Johnson's family and childhood.

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