Robert Caro

  • Aired:  05/10/12
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In his book, "The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power," author Robert Caro explores the relationship between Lyndon B. Johnson and the Kennedys. (7:58)

>> WELCOME BACK.

MY GUEST TONIGHT, A TWO-TIME PULITZER PRIZE WINNING AUTHOR, AFTER SEEING THIS I

THINK IT'S GOING TO BE-- THE NEW BOOK IS THE FOURTH ABOUT PRESIDENT LYNDON B JOHNSON,

IS CALLED THE YEARS OF LYNDON JOHN SORNING THE PASSAGE OF POWER.

PLEASE WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM ROBERT CARO.

VERY NICE TO SEE YOU.

WELCOME.

>> Stephen: THANK YOU FOR JOINING US.

I WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT WE HAVE A LOT OF AUTHORS ON THE PROGRAM.

AND ARE YOU PREMIUM SHELF.

YOU OFFER HISTORICAL,

NONFICTION NERDS SUCH AS MYSELF, ARE YOU THE GOLD STANDARD, SIR, AND I APPRECIATE YOU BEING HERE.

AND I ALWAYS TRY AND MAKE A GREAT EFFORT TO READ EVERY AUTHOR'S BOOK THAT COMES ON

THE PROGRAM.

AND I JUST WANT TO YELL-- (LAUGHTER)

>> Jon: I'M STILL GETTING THROUGH EPISODE TWO OF THERE IS THE PASSAGE TO POWER.

THIS IS YOUR FOURTH WORK HERE, THE FOURTH VOLUME, IS REALLY WHERE THE RUBBER HITS

THE ROAD FOR JOHNSON S IT NOT?

>> YES, BECAUSE HE'S CONFRONTED WITH JACK KENNEDY.

HE'S THE SENATE MAJORITY LEADER, HE THINKS HE HAS THE DEMOCRATIC NOMINATION LOCKED UP IN 1960.

DOESN'T REALIZE THAT THIS YOUNG SENATOR IS RACING AROUND THE COUNTRY ACTUALLY

GETTING THE DELEGATES.

>> Jon: AND HE DID NOT,

LYNDON JOHNSON DID NOT REALLY HAVE MUCH RESPECT FOR JOHN KENNEDY.

>> NO, HE HAD NO RESPECT AT ALL.

YOU KNOW WHAT HE SAID ABOUT KENNEDY AS A SENATOR, HE SAID HE WAS PATHETIC.

HE DIDN'T EVEN KNOW HOW TO ADDRESS THE CHAIR.

AND HE USED TO MAKE FUN OF HOW SKINNY HE WAS BECAUSE HE WAS SICK ALL THE TIME.

HE USED TO SAY YOU EVER SEE KEN DOE'S ANKLES, THEY'RE ABOUT THIS BIG AROUND.

>> Jon: SO HE WAS HE THOUGHT HE COULD KNOCK KENNEDY AROUND.

WHEN KENNEDY WINS THE NOMINATION, WHY DO YOU THINK JOHNSON TOOK THE VICE PRESIDENT SEE.

>> WELL, YOU KNOW, HE SAID I DON'T THINK ANY SOUTHERNER CAN GET NOMINATED IN MY LIFE TIME.

AND HE WAS RIGHT BECAUSE THE BIG DEMOCRATIC NORTHERN LIBERAL STATES WERE

DESTRUCTED, THE SOUTHERNERS CONTROLLED THE CON VECHBLINGTS HE ONCE CALCULATED AND THE STAFF

CALCULATESED HOW MANY PRESIDENTS DIED IN OFFICE.

AND IT IS ABOUT ONE OUT OF SIX, AT THE SEEMMENT-- TIME.

AND HE USED TO SAY TO PEOPLE,

YOU KNOW, WHEN THEY ASKED HIM WHY DID HE PICK THE VICE PRESIDENT SEE, HE WOULD SAY

WELL, YOU KNOW, SIX OF THEM DIDN'T HAVE TO GET ELECTED.

>> Jon: SO HE WAS A VERY SWEET MAN.

BUT WHAT IS AMAZE BEING THAT,

WHAT MOVES HIS CHARACTER IN THIS AND I THINK YOU SEE THAT, IS EVERYTHING WAS STRATEGY.

HE WAS AS YOU SAY, PERHAPS THE WORLD'S GREATEST LEGISLATOR, THAT HE HAD THE

SKILL KENNEDY DID NOT HAVE.

>> YES, HE DID.

AND WE SEE IT IN THE CIVIL RIGHTS BILL, YOU KNOW, WHEN OBAMA MADE HIS ANNOUNCEMENT

ABOUT GAY RIGHTS, I FLASHED BACK TO JOHNSON FOUR DAYS AFTER PRESIDENT KENNEDY IS ASSASSINATED.

HE HAS TO GIVE HIS FIRST SPEECH TO CONGRESS AND HIS ADVISORS ARE SITTING AROUND

SAYING DON'T MENTION CIVIL RIGHTS.

DON'T USE UP YOUR POLITICAL CAPITAL ON CIVIL RIGHTS.

IT'S A GREAT CAUSE BUT A LOST CAUSE.

YOU KNOW WHAT JOHNSON SAYS,

HE SAY WAS IS A PRESIDENT SEE FOR THEN.

AND HE TAKES THIS, HE SAYS IN HIS SPEECH, THE FIRST THING WE HAVE TO DO IS PASS

THE CIVIL RIGHTS BILL.

>> Jon: AND HE SHOWED REAL COURAGE IN THAT, AND THAT IS WHAT IS SO INTERESTING IS

YOU, THE BOOKS PAINT THIS VERY COMPLEX PICTURE.

AND IT ALMOST, DO YOU THINK HE WAS ONE OF THE MOST COMPLEX OF OUR PRESIDENTS

BECAUSE OF HIS ABILITY TO LEGISLATE.

>> YES, I THINK HE WAS, I MEAN HE WAS A GENIUS IN PASSING LEGISLATION.

HE ALWAYS WANTED TO HELP POOR PEOPLE.

AND PARTICULARLY POOR PEOPLE OF COLOR.

AND HE SAYS WHEN HE GETS INTO THE PRESIDENCY, YOU KNOW, I ALWAYS SWORE IF I

HAD THE POWER TO HELP THEM,

I WOULD DO IT.

I WILL TILL A SECRET, I HAVE THE POWER NOW AND HE DID IT.

HE PUSHES THE CIVIL RIGHTS AND VOTING RIGHTS BILLS TO PASSAGE.

>> Jon: INCREDIBLE MOMENT WHERE YOU-- (APPLAUSE) THAT IS CORRECT.

SPEAKING TO HIS ABILITY AS SORT OF A TACTICIAN AND STRATEGIST IN WAITING, THE

VICE PRESIDENT SEE REMOVES ALL POWER FROM HIM.

THE KENNEDY GOES OUT OF THEIR WAY TO HUMILIATE HIM.

>> YEAH.

>> Jon: IN DALLAS ON THAT TERRIBLE DAY, HE IS NOTIFIED AT THIS HOSPITAL, HE IS

CALLED MR. PRESIDENT FOR THE FIRST TIME.

AND YOU HAVE AN AMAZING SECTION ABOUT HOW HE KIND OF COMES TO LIFE.

>> YES.

>> HE IS TRANSFORMED.

AND ONE OF HIS ASSISTANTS SAYS TO ME, HE WAS BACK WHERE HE BELONG.

HE WAS BACK IN CHARGE.

AND LADY BIRD, SEEING HIM STANDING THERE, WAITING FOR 40 MINUTES WHERE NO ONE

TELLS HIM IF HE IS PRESIDENT OR NOT.

HE KEEPS SAYING SEND SOMEONE OUT, TELL ME KENNEDY'S CONDITION.

ALL THEY WILL SAY IS THE DOCTORS ARE STILL WORK.

THEN LADY BIRD SAYS SEEING PENNY O DOM OHL, KENNEDY'S ASSISTANT, SEEING THE

STRICTEN FACE OF PENNY O'DONNELL WHO LOVED HIM, WE KNEW.

A MOMENT LATER ANOTHER ASSISTANT CAME IN AND SAID MR. PRESIDENT, AND INSTANTLY HE IS IN CHARGE.

>> Jon: AND HE DOES, THE FIRST DECISION MAKES IS A STRATEGIC ONE.

THEY WANT HIM TO FLY BACK TO WASHINGTON.

EVERYBODY.

>> THE SECRET SERVICE AGENT SAYS WE HAVE TO GET YOU TO THE PLANE.

WE HAVE TO TAKE OFF IMMEDIATELY AND GET YOU BACK TO THE WHITE HOUSE.

BECAUSE NO ONE KNOWS IF IT IS A CONSPIRACY.

JOHNSON SAYS NO, I'M NOT LEAVING WITHOUT MRS. KENNEDY.

THEY SAY WELL SHE WON'T LEAVE WITHOUT HER HUSBAND'S BODY.

HE SAYS I WILL GO TO THE PLANE BUT I WON'T LEAVE UNTIL SHE AND THE COFFIN ARE ABOARD.

>> Jon: AND HE MAKES A DECISION TO HAVE HER NEXT TO HIM.

>> YES.

>> AS HE IS SWORN IN AS A SHOW OF A PEACEFUL TRANSFER.

BUT EVERYTHING IS DONE WITH PURPOSE.

>> WITH JOHNSON EVERYTHING HAS A POLITICAL PURPOSE.

AND USUALLY A POLITICAL GENIUS AND SOMETHING PERSONAL IN IT YOU KNOW, HIS REFUSING TO LEAVE DALLAS

WITHOUT JACKIE KENNEDY THERE IS A POLITICAL PURPOSE.

BUT THERE ISAS, YOU COULD SAY A HUMANITARIAN PURPOSE.

I'M NOT LEAVING HER BEHIND IN DALLAS.

>> Jon: HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH BOBBY AFTERWARDS IS FASCINATING.

>> THESE ARE TWO MEN, AS A HISTORIAN, YOU HATE TO USE THE WORD "HATE" BECAUSE IT

IS SO STRONG.

BUT HATE ISN'T TOO STRONG TO DESCRIBE BOBBY KENNEDY AND LYNDON JOHNSON.

WHEN JOHNSON IS VICE PRESIDENT, ROBERT KENNEDY SELDOM INVITES HIM, HE HAD GREAT PARTIES AT HICKORY HILL.

WHEN JOHNSON IS INVITED HE'S PUT AT WHAT ROBERT KENNEDY'S

WIFE ETHYL CALLS THE LOSER'S TABLE.

AND JOHNSON KNOW OS IT'S THE LOSER'S TABLE.

>> Jon: I'VE BEEN AT THAT TABLE.

AND THEN AFTERWARDS HE HAS A PHONE CALL WITH ROBERT.

>> YES.

ONE OF THE MOST, YOU KNOW,

THE MAN WHO TOLD ME ABOUT THIS CALL, NICHOLAS-- DIED YESTERDAY.

HE WAS ROBERT KENNEDY'S DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL.

AND I SAID WHAT IS THE REASON FOR THE CALL, YOU KNOW, JOHNSON FROM AIR FORCE

ONE CALLS ROBERT KENNEDY, A FEW MINUTES AFTER HE IS LEARNED THAT THE BROTHER HE

LOVED SO MUCH IS DEAD.

TO ASK HIM THE FORMALITIES OF HOW HE TAKES OVER HIS BROTHER'S POSITION.

AND CATSENBACH SAID YOU KNOW,

COHAVE TOLD ME, COHAVE CALLED ANY ONE OF A HUNDRED GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS, FORGET

THE WORDING OF THE OATH OF OFFICE, WE ALL KNEW IT AND I SPOKE TO JOHNSON'S SECRETARY

WHO TOOK DOWN THE OATH OF OFFICE.

I SAID WELL WHAT WAS IT LIKE.

HE SAID WELL CATSENBACH VOICE WAS LIKE STEAL.

HE SAID ROBERT KENNEDY'S WAS NOT.

I THOUGHT YOU SHOULDN'T BE DOING THIS.

AS I WENT TO THE DOOR LEAVING AFTER HE HAD BEEN VERY CAREFULLY LAYING OUT THE THINGS ON BOTH SIDES,

WHY JOHNSON CAUSE HE SAID YOU KNOW TO TILL THE TRUTH,

THE FACT THAT LYNDON JOHNSON CALLED ROBERT KENNEDY AT THAT MOMENT OS, I WAS APPALLED.

>> YEAH.

>> IT'S AN UNBELIEVABLE STORY.

THE DETAIL THAT YOU ARE ABLE TO RING OUT.

HISTORY, THE WAY YOU MADE IT COME ALIVE.

YOUR PASSION FOR IT IS JUST MAGNIFICENT.

I REALLY APPRECIATE YOU BEING ON THE SHOW AND THE BOOK IS PHENOMENAL.

THE PASSAGE OF POWER ON THE BOOK SHELVES NOW.

ROBERT CARO, EVERYBODY.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

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