Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Trust and Betrayal

So I've been reading Robert Caro's new book on LBJ (fourth volume in the series).  I am not very far in, and so far Caro is mostly indulging his habit of recapitulating stories from previous volumes.  A few notes:

1.  The book has some unfortunate problems, almost as though it was rushed to press.  So far most of them are minor—a missing closed-parenthesis, for instance. But one mistake was jarring: Caro describes the Senate as having 96 senators, allowing Johnson to work his magic on a small audience and rapidly become minority leader and then majority leader (when the Democrats took the Senate in 1955). 96 senators! Such a crazy mistake to make.  Has Caro read the Constitution?

2.  The Southern bloc of Democratic senators (who were of course segregationists) allowed LBJ to pass the (weak) 1957 civil rights bill because they wanted a Southerner to be President and they thought LBJ was their best shot.  They figured the civil rights bill would not do much harm and it would give LBJ credibility with Northern liberals.  (Johnson, of course, never signed the Southern Manifesto, but he had voted with the Southern bloc on every racial issue up to that point.)

I think this is an important and little-remarked aspect of politics—often people have quasi-noble motivations that aren't contemplated by cynical theories of political decision-making.  By way of example, when Al Smith became governor of New York, the leaders of Tammany Hall made it clear that he could decline any request he received for political favors if he thought it would hurt his image or agenda.  The leaders thought it was more important for New York's first Irish Catholic governor to be a great governor than for Tammany Hall to maximize its returns from holding the office.  (And it worked, Al Smith has to be considered one of the greatest governors in history.)

Of course, neither Tammany nor the Southern bloc was really all that noble, since each expected to reap considerable rewards from the elevation of one of its members.  But it's touching to me that two of the greatest political leaders in the history of the United States were able to achieve great things because their colleagues supported their ambitions by putting aside their own benefit.

And of course, thankfully LBJ betrayed the trust put in him and forced the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act through Congress, finally destroying the political project of the Southern bloc and, incidentally, setting the Democratic Party on the path to destruction in the South.  But what a way to go down.

5 Comments:

Anonymous D. Avid Joergermeister said...

Makes me wonder if Caro got the plot for book four from Samurai X: Trust & Betrayal.

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm...

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