The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate
Caro, Robert A.
Johnson knew how to get to the older men with senatorial power—the “Old Bulls” of the U.S. Senate. He would use one of the tactics that had served him well in college: e.g., he would sit below the level of a Senator who was talking in an office or cloakroom, and try physically to look up at him while also wearing a look of awed “interest and respect.” Or he would make a statement that he knew a senior senator would agree with, and make it with a look of mixed deference and enthusiasm. In college he also thanked a devoutly Baptist prof for “strengthening my faith” and, in a genius move, praised profs for their greatest weaknesses. “Instead of ignoring a trait embarrassing to his subject, Johnson’s [school paper] editorial would focus on that trait, praising it, as if, only twenty years old though he was, he possessed an instinctive understanding that his subject must be aware of his weak point, so that a word of reassurance about it would be the word that would mean the most: describing a speech by a professor whose pedantic dullness made students snicker, Johnson wrote that “he made his talk bristle with interesting facts.”
With senators, Johnson employed variants of these tactics and also did his filial piety trick: “warming to the subject, Johnson would praise his own father or mother fulsomely, and then say of the Senator: ‘You’ve been like a Daddy to me.'” As a young senator Johnson always wanted to dance with older Senators’ wives so they would introduce him to their husbands. The trouble was doubled by the fact that LBJ was “as overbearing to those beneath him, or on the same level as he, as was obsequious to those above him.” In the same day, maybe in the same hour, he could be both “bully and bootlicker.”