Lyndon B. Johnson: The Exercise of Power

By Rowland Evans; Robert Novak | Go to book overview

Chapter XIII DEFEAT-- AND EMANCIPATION

By changing Lyndon Johnson from a Texan to a national politician, Kennedy frees him to take more liberal positions if, as Johnson's old friends in Washington have always vowed, those are the true beliefs of the inner man.

-- The New Republic, July 25, 1960

Los Angeles, on that sultry, smoggy July 8 when the Johnson family arrived there, was a Kennedy town, but nothing in the conduct of candidate Johnson and his managers betrayed an inner sense of defeat.

Here, at a National Convention of his party, Lyndon B. Johnson's potential for exercising power was infinitesimal, as he had learned to his sorrow four years earlier in Chicago. Here there were few levers that Johnson knew how to get his hands on. Most of the deals had been made long ago. As for those not quite closed, Johnson was at a distinct disadvantage. The Kennedy forces, manning every state delegation in depth, were a field army compared to Johnson's platoon.

It was an overhurried, underorganized effort for Johnson at Los Angeles. Marvin Watson, the conservative Texas steel executive, was handling public relations--an alien field to him. Ed Weisl, the Wall Street lawyer, was put in charge of wooing perfect strangers in Far Western delegations. One Texas politician who at the last moment decided not to make the trip to Los Angeles was assigned to mother several delegations. A replacement never was named.

But the fever in the Johnson camp welled hot as he made his entry into the convention city and to his seventh-floor suite in the Biltmore Hotel, two floors below Kennedy's suite. Despite the overwhelming odds against them, the Johnson camp nourished their hope on illusion and sought action, any action, that might upset the smooth pace of the Kennedy juggernaut.

Johnson's key strategists believed that Kennedy had to win on the

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