Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1908-1960

By Robert Dallek | Go to book overview

11
"The Best Possible Senator for . . . Texas"

FORTY years of age when he entered the U.S. Senate in January 1949, Johnson was a well-known figure among Washington insiders. He had lived in the capital for fifteen of the last seventeen years and was more at home in Washington than in Texas. Moreover, his election to the Senate gave him an ideal locus for his interests and talents. Prominent Federal officials, past and present, who knew Johnson well, expected his presence in the "Club," as many called the 96-member upper house, to benefit both Texas and the nation. Those who knew him best believed that his knowledge of national politics and congressional operations made him better prepared than almost any other member of the lower house to become a United States senator.

Yet opinion about Johnson at the start of his Senate term was not uniformly enthusiastic. As was the case throughout his life, Johnson appealed greatly to some people and offended others. All agreed on one thing, however: he was a memorable character. At six feet three and a half inches, with long arms, big ears, a prominent nose, and outsized personality to match, Johnson left a lasting impression on everyone he met. Interviews about him done twenty, thirty, and even forty years after 1949 are fresh and vivid, as if people were describing yesterday's events. Bryce Harlow, a counsel to the House Armed Services Committee and a Special Assistant to President Dwight Eisenhower, remembers encounters with Lyndon as memorable: "they were searing; they were big; they were tough; they were exciting; they were out of the ordinary, because he was bigger than life."1

-351-

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