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Review: The Works of Robert Caro
Review: Robert A. Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (Knopf, 1974, 1,296 pp.); Robert A. Caro, The Path to Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 1) (Knopf, 1982, 882 pp.); Robert A. Caro, Means of Ascent (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 2) (Knopf, 1990, 560 pp.); Robert A. Caro, Master of the Senate (The Year of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 3) (Knopf, 2002, 1,200 pp.); Robert A. Caro, The Passage of Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 4) (Knopf, 2012, 736 pp.); Robert A. Caro, Working (Knopf, 2019, 240 pp.)
In a widely debated 2020 essay, venture capitalist Marc Andreesen argued that the coronavirus pandemic had exposed a systemic failure in American—in western—institutions. “Part of the problem is clearly foresight, a failure of imagination,” Andreesen wrote. “But the other part of the problem is what we didn’t *do* in advance, and what we’re failing to do now. And that is a failure of action, and specifically our widespread inability to *build*.”
This was true, Andreesen maintained, across a variety of domains. Pandemic preparedness, yes, but also in education, in energy production, in transportation, in housing. “Our nation and our civilization were built on production, on building,” Andreesen wrote. “Our forefathers and foremothers built roads and trains, farms and factories, then the computer, the microchip, the smartphone, and uncounted thousands of other things that we now take for granted, that are all around us, that define our lives and provide for our well-being. There is only one way to honor their legacy and to create the future we want for our own children and grandchildren, and that’s to build.”
Andreesen’s essay both reflected and further seeded that rarest of things, a cross-partisan consensus. This consensus takes many forms: "supply-side progressivism” or an “abundance agenda,” a new “conservative industrial policy” or a reembrace of traditional supply-side. But there appears to be agreement, in many corners, on Andreesen’s three points: that America used to be able to build; that it can no longer build; and that it needs to build again.
Where did our ability to build go? We used to build skyscrapers in months; now it takes decades. Where did this sclerosis come from? Yes, it is a product of regulation, of “vetocracy” and bureaucracy taking its pounds and pounds of flesh. But how did we end up here? And how, if at all, can we go back?
These are the questions I thought about, more than anything else, reading the works of Robert Caro.
Robert A. Caro is a journalist and biographer. Born in 1935 in New York City, Caro spent the early part of his career as a reporter, covering politics in New York. In 1965, he began thinking about urban policy and land use in the city, and particularly about Robert Moses, who had been in charge of parks and highways in New York City and State for essentially all of Caro’s life. The Power Broker, his monumental biography of Moses, took him seven years to write. It is a serious contender for the greatest work of biography in the 20th century.
Buoyed by the success of The Power Broker, Caro turned his attention to President Lyndon Johnson. Originally intended as a trilogy, the project has ballooned into an as-of-yet unfinished tetralogy. Caro, 87, has been working on the final book, detailing Johnson’s actual presidency, for more than a decade.1
When asked, Caro will maintain that his body of work is concerned with how power is obtained and exercised in a democracy. To this I might add that it is about how power was obtained and exercised in a democracy, and in particular in America in the 20th century, in that period when we built things.
Who are the men Caro has written about?
Lyndon Banes Johnson was born in 1908 in the dirt-poor Hill Country of Texas. The son of a man who bet big on a farm and lost everything, Johnson was forced to work on the road crew to feed his family. He attended the little-known Southwest Texas State Teachers College, prepared for a career in teaching, then rode a lucky break to a job as a Congressman’s secretary. He used the connections he made in Washington to garner an appointment as Texas Director of FDR’s National Youth Administration; turned that position into a House seat and Chairmanship of the (then mostly useless) DCCC; lost a Senate election; won a Senate election; in his first term became Senate Majority leader of the Senate, which he made functional for the first time in decades; traded it all for an ignominious Vice Presidency; was elevated to power by an assassin’s bullet; and from the White House oversaw a profound transformation of the American way of life.
Robert Moses was born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1883. The son of German Jewish parents, he attended Yale, Oxford, and Columbia, before entering the world of reform politics. A world-class mind with a plan to reform the state government, he was immediately and comprehensively crushed by the political machine, Tammany Hall, which he was trying to reform away. He then spent the next 60 years of his life accruing power, first as a close advisor to New York Governor (and 1928 Democratic nominee for president) Al Smith, then as president of the Long Island State Park Commission, then as Chairman of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority and Commissioner of the New York City Planning Commission (among other posts). From these positions, Moses transformed the urban landscape of New York. If you have been on a bridge in New York City, or driven upstate or through Long Island, or been to one of the state’s many public parks or beaches, you have probably experienced one of Robert Moses’s creations.
How did these two men obtain power? However they could.
Lyndon Johnson stole, or tried to steal, every competitive election he ever ran in. He stole the student government elections at Southwest Texas State Teachers College, by having friends go around and pretend to be in different years so they could vote more than once. He stole the Speakership of the Little Congress, a defunct group for Congressional secretaries, by stuffing the ballot boxes. He tried to steal a U.S. Senate seat in 1941, only to be out-stolen by the oil interests backing Governor W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel. Most of Means of Ascent is dedicated to the way Johnson finally stole his Senate seat in 1948. He bought tens of thousands of votes in southwestern Texas in a theft so flagrant that his opponent, governor and Texas hero Coke Stevenson, tried to stop him in court. Johnson responded by pushing the case up to the Supreme Court, where it was thrown out by Hugo Black for lack of jurisdiction. Johnson would later appoint the aide who masterminded this plan, Abe Fortas, to the Supreme Court himself. And of course, Johnson stole Texas for himself and John F. Kennedy in the 1960 election, a fact so obvious to Caro that he dispenses with it in just a handful of pages.
At the pinnacle of his career, Robert Moses essentially operated his own government, separate from the city and state of New York. Through clever legislative drafting, he secured Triborough the power to renew its bonds indefinitely, so it would never go out of existence, and to build not only its designated project (the Triborough Bridge), but whatever projects it wanted, as well as “access roads” to those projects and parks along those access roads, of arbitrary size and distance from the projects. He ensured that Triborough’s money flowed only through him. And to guard against legislative repeal, he wrote those new rules into the covenants of the bonds the authority issued. Such covenants are inviolable by state or local government, thanks to Art. I § 10 of the U.S. Constitution, which stipulates in part that “No State shall … pass any … Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts.” By making these bonds perpetual, Moses had created an authority with a source of revenue and a set of rules ungoverned by either the Mayor or the Governor to whom he nominally answered.2 He had created, in Caro’s words, “within a democratic society based on a division of powers among three branches of government, a new, fourth branch, a branch that would, moreover, in significant respects, be independent of the other three.”
Both men surrounded themselves with profound corruption. Johnson’s entire political career was funded by Brown and Root, the Texas construction firm to which he funneled millions and millions of dollars in federal contracts. By the time he entered the White House, Johnson was the richest man ever to become president—thanks in large part to a radio station that was wildly successful due to his influence over the FCC and the kickbacks he funneled through the station. He used non-monetary favors, too: part of how Johnson became “Master of the Senate” was by breaking the seniority system and doling out committee appointments to Senators he liked. Moses was personally honest with money—primarily because every time he got some, he used it to get more power. He handed out millions of dollars in retainers and insurance fees to favored politicians, and used the money that flowed into his authorities to tie together “banks, labor unions, contractors, bond underwriters, insurance firms, the great retail stores, [and] real estate manipulators” in support of his vision.
Both men were masters of procedure—Johnson in the Senate, and Moses in New York city and state. As Senate Majority Leader, Johnson seized upon little-used tricks of procedure, like the unanimous consent agreement, to turn the infamously slow-moving body into a Johnson-run legislation machine. And in the White House, he used those same skills to ram through in just a few short months programs that John F. Kennedy—philosophical, agreeable, unpragmatic John F. Kennedy—had failed to implement in years. Many, including his mentor Al Smith, called Moses the “best bill drafter in Albany.” And he used that bill-drafting power not only to thwart his and Smith’s enemies, but in 1924 to make himself Chairman of the Long Island State Parks Commission with the power to seize private land “by simply walking on it and telling the owner he no longer owned it.”
Both men were viciously secretive. Caro opens The Path to Power by informing the reader that he struggled to find copies of Johnson’s college yearbook because the pages referencing him had been ripped out of hundreds of copies kept by the school. In Working, Caro relates how even after he tracked down some of Moses’s papers—carbon copies of his Park Department correspondence locked away in file cabinets in a sub-basement of a parking garage—he still had to deal with hostility from Moses’s (then-former) employees. Whenever he and his wife (and research assistant)3 Ina would leave, he relates, the “parkies” would come in and unscrew all the light bulbs, to try to scare them off.
Both men abused the people around them more or less as a matter of habit. Johnson had numerous, very public affairs, despite the constant doting of Lady Bird. (Moses had at least one.) Every one of Johnson’s aides faced constant humiliation; when he was in Congress, Johnson would sometimes force one of his more squeamish aides to take dictation while the congressman was sitting on the toilet.4 Moses ruined his brother Paul’s life, leaving him to die destitute, out of what seems mostly like vindictiveness and a twisted theory of what his mother would have wanted. Both men surrounded themselves with yes-men and sycophants, and fired anyone who even considered disagreeing with them.
Though they were publicly fêted, both men were often personally very alienating. Caro reports that all of Johnson’s college acquaintances initially have nothing but glowing praise for him, but with a little provocation, it becomes clear that they all hated his guts. The only time Robert Moses ever actually ran for public office, as the Republican nominee for New York governor in 1934, he spent the entire time insulting the electorate and the press. He lost in a landslide to Herbert Lehman, who would, coincidentally, go on to be a subject of Lyndon Johnson’s bullying after he became a Senator for New York.
How did Johnson and Moses exercise power? They built.
Johnson’s achievements are better known: the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act; Medicare; Medicaid; the Higher Education Act; Head Start. He built the Great Society. But just as instructive is what he managed to do before his presidency. Johnson was the driving force behind the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the first civil rights legislation passed since the end of Reconstruction. Though today remembered as barely a half-measure, the 1957 act was significant because it broke—for the first time in nearly a century—the impasse around civil rights that had been enforced by Johnson’s southern colleagues in the Senate. As Caro details in Master of the Senate, the south both controlled all of the critical committees—thanks to seniority—and had developed what seemed like an unbeatable filibuster strategy under the guidance of Johnson mentor Richard Russell. Unbeatable, that is, until Lyndon Johnson became majority leader. Caro summarizes the extent of Johnson’s senatorial achievements in Working:
For a hundred years before Lyndon Johnson, since the halcyon era of Webster, Clay, and Calhoun, no one had been able to make the Senate work—as, in the fifty-nine years since Lyndon Johnson left the Senate, no one’s been able to make the Senate work. But he made it work. During the six years of his leadership, in fact, the Senate became the center of governmental ingenuity, creativity and energy in Washington. For example, no civil rights bill had passed the Senate since 1875, during Reconstruction. In 1957, he succeeded in passing a civil rights bill, a weak one, but a necessary first step toward getting a stronger one—it was the first civil rights bill to pass in eighty-two years.
And then there is what Johnson did for the Hill Country of Texas. As Caro details in The Path to Power (and discusses further in Working), life in rural Texas before electricity was a horror. Women would carry hundreds of gallons of water on their backs to the house each day. To do the ironing, they would labor over “sad irons,” heated on a wood-fired stove and pressed on to clothes with blistered hands, even in the heat of the Texas summer. Many of the women, Caro writes, were “bent” before their time.
When Johnson went to represent his home district in the House, he put special effort into bringing electricity under the auspices of the Rural Electrification Act. He organized hundreds of residents into an electric cooperative, getting people to put up what little money they had—the meager fees represent a substantial portion of their income—to convince the electric company to build out the capacity. And then it took months, years, for the cables to be laid. Residents became disillusioned, convinced that local advocates and Lyndon Johnson wasted their money.
But then one evening in November, 1939, [Hill Country residents] the Smiths were returning from Johnson City, where they had been attending a declamation contest, and as they neared their farmhouse, something was different.
“Oh my God,” [Evelyn Smith’s] mother said. “The house is on fire!”
But as they got closer, they saw the light wasn’t fire. “No, Mama,” Evelyn said. “The lights are on.”
They were on all over the Hill Country. “And all over the Hill Country,” [resident] Stella Gliddon says, “people began to name their kids for Lyndon Johnson.”
What about Moses? I am going to quote here at length from the introduction to The Power Broker, because it is the only way to do justice to the Moses achievement:
The very shoreline of metropolis was different before Robert Moses came to power. He rammed bulk-heads of steel deep into the muck beneath rivers and harbors and crammed into the space between bulkheads and short immensities of earth and stone, shale and cement, that hardened into fifteen thousand acres of new land and thus altered the physical boundaries of the city.
Standing out from the map's delicate tracery of gridirons representing streets are heavy lines, lines girdling the city or slashing across its expanses. These lines denote the major roads on which automobiles and trucks move, roads whose very location, moreover, does as much as any single factor to determine where and how a city's people live and work. With a single exception, the East River Drive, Robert Moses built every one of those roads. He built the Major Deegan Expressway, the Van Wyck Expressway, the Sheridan Expressway and the Bruckner Expressway. He built the Gowanus Expressway, the Prospect Expressway, the Whitestone Expressway, the Clearview Expressway and the Throgs Neck Expressway. He built the Cross-Bronx Expressway, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the Nassau Expressway, the Staten Island Expressway and the Long Island Expressway. He built the Harlem River Drive and the West Side Highway.
Only one borough of New York City-the Bronx-is on the mainland of the United States, and bridges link the island boroughs that form metropolis. Since 1931, seven such bridges were built, immense structures, some of them anchored by towers as tall as seventy-story buildings, supported by cables made up of enough wire to drop a noose around the earth. Those bridges are the Triborough, the Verrazano, the Throgs Neck, the Marine, the Henry Hudson, the Cross Bay and the Bronx-Whitestone. Robert Moses built every one of those bridges. …
Out from the heart of New York, reaching beyond the limits of the city into its vast suburbs and thereby shaping them as well as the city, stretch long ribbons of concrete, closed, unlike the expressways, to trucks and all commercial traffic, and, unlike the expressways, bordered by lawns and trees. These are the parkways. There are 416 miles of them. Robert Moses built every mile. Still within the city limits, stretching northward toward Westchester County, he built the Mosholu Parkway and the Hutchinson River Parkway. In Westchester, he built the Saw Mill River Parkway, the Sprain Brook Parkway and the Cross County Parkway. Stretching eastward toward the counties of Long Island, he built the Grand Central Parkway, the Belt Parkway, the Laurelton Parkway, the Cross Island Parkway, the Interborough Parkway. On Long Island, he built the Northern State Parkway and the Southern State Parkway, the Wantagh Parkway and the Sagtikos, the Sunken Meadow and the Meadowbrook. Some of the Long Island parkways run down to the Island's south shore and then, on causeways built by Robert Moses, across the Great South Bay to Jones Beach, which was a barren, deserted, windswept sand spit when he first happened upon it in 1921 while exploring the bay alone in a small motorboat and which he transformed into what may be the world's greatest oceanfront park and bathing beach. Other Long Island parkways lead to other huge parks and other great bathing beaches. Sunken Meadow. Hither Hills. Montauk. Orient Point. Fire Island. Captree. Bethpage. Wildwood. Belmont Lake. Hempstead Lake. Valley Stream. Heckscher. Robert Moses built these parks and beaches.
It keeps going like this, but you get the idea.
At this point I should acknowledge that there are substantial, I think quite justifiable, criticisms of these projects. Johnson of course has critics from the left, who loathe him for Vietnam. On the right, most of the conservative social scientific tradition of the latter half of the 20th century is about pointing out why the Great Society was a huge failure. Moses has become an object of hate in New York City, and The Power Broker exhibit number one in the case that racism can be baked into the very roads and bridges of our society. And Caro documents extensively what he calls the “human costs” of Moses’s projects, the tens of thousands—probably hundreds of thousands—of people displaced by highway construction and slum clearance.5
But I want to suggest that whatever you may think of the things they built, the fact is that both Johnson and Moses built things.6 They built things at a scale simply unimaginable in today’s America. You may not like the Civil Rights Act or the Cross-Bronx, but you can acknowledge that these are concrete achievements of government in a democracy, of the sort that everyone is always complaining we do not produce any more.
And so to the extent that we are interested in building once again—and almost everyone is interested in that—it is worth thinking about why.
Johnson and Moses were not able to build things, to be clear, because they were cruel, petty men. But some of the lessons are about character. Johnson and Moses shared a youthful optimism which was crushed out of them by the cold, hard realities of politics, and which instilled in them a resolve to never be crushed again. Both men were motivated first and foremost by the desire for glory in history. And both men were willing to do whatever they needed to do to accomplish their goals. There was in both of Caro’s subjects something of the Thielian founder, the man with a dream and an unbreakable willingness to see it achieved.
To put it in less flowery terms, Johnson and Moses highlight the importance of executive agency for overcoming bureaucratic and legislative inertia. It is only once Johnson takes the reigns of the Senate that an eight-year logjam around civil rights can be broken. When Moses is finally pushed out of power, by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, he still commands the support of the city’s labor unions, because they realized that nothing of the Moses scale could be built without Moses’s organizational capacity. Democracies are made up of many, often diffuse, centers of power. If you want to get something done, sometimes you need executive agency to bring those together.
At the same time, neither Johnson nor Moses could have been successful without an ability to make deals. Executive agency is not enough without the ability to reconcile disparate interests towards a common goal. You can try doing that with principles—young Moses did, as did Kennedy, and both failed spectacularly. Johnson and Moses succeeded by aligning interests using concrete incentives. Sometimes these were, well, graft and threats. But often they were just horse-trading, the careful distribution of patronage without which their projects could not have worked.
But Johnson and Moses were not just successful because they had these intrinsic qualities. They were successful because they came of age in political systems which rewarded, or at least did not penalize, these qualities. Johnson only stole the 1948 Senate election because he failed to steal the 1941 election—that’s how common such behavior was in Texas politics in the first half of the 20th century. The young, starry-eyed, reformer Moses was crushed by Tammany Hall, and then learned how to do Tammany politics from Al Smith, arguably the most successful Tammany politician in the machine’s 150+ year history.
This way of doing things is connected to what political scientist Edward Banfield once characterized as “the old party system,” an arrangement he dates from the Jackson administration to the mid-1950s. Under this system, Banfield writes, “both national parties were loose confederations of state parties that came alive every four years to nominate presidential and vice-presidential candidates and then to wage campaigns for them. Some state parties existed in name only, but most were loose aliances of city machines, state and local officeholders, labor unions and other interest groups, and some wealthy individuals.” Becoming president under this arrangement—or exercising executive power more generally—entailed obtaining the assent of party stakeholders, usually in the proverbial “smoke-filled rooms.” And at both the state level (e.g. through Tammany) and the national level (where Johnson operated), the party system served to lubricate the gears of governance, forcing cross-branch cooperation. The system, Banfield quotes another political scientist as saying, “overcomes the handicaps of governance imposed by the separation of powers and furnishes a common leadership and a bond of loyalty by which the President and Congress may work together.” This is the kind of politics Moses and Johnson typify—backroom deals, horse trading, a little pressure, everything to make the process of governance run smoothly.
Banfield attributes the collapse of that system to the rise of the primary system, which incentivizes candidates to court voters directly rather than the party machinery. This is true at a systematic level. But on a historical level, primaries are themselves a product of the collapse in trust in the old way of doing things. More precisely, they are a product of the collapse of trust in Lyndon Johnson—the Democratic party embraced primaries after the disastrous 1968 nominating convention, at which Johnson’s chosen successor, Hubert Humphrey, managed to fend off a challenge by the progressive Eugene McCarthy while the party’s radical wing rioted in the streets.7 These, and other anti-machine reforms, were a product of the so-called “credibility gap” Johnson faced with the public.
The same kind of reform happened, around the same time, in New York City. It started when Mayor Robert Wagner, running for his third term, broke from Moses’s allies in Tammany—and won. Moses was eventually pushed out of city office by Wagner’s successor, the crusading young liberal mayor John Lindsay. Both Wagner and Lindsay defeated Tammany by forming progressive coalitions outside of their control, coalitions animated by the desire to break the old party system.
In both New York and nationally, these reformist movements wiped away a system that was widely, and not inaccurately, perceived as corrupt, exclusionary, and undemocratic. It tried to replace—and in some senses succeeded in replacing—that system with one in which candidates’ fidelity to principle and direct accountability to the voters trumped their connection to the political machinery of the nation. Banfield sees the transition from the old to the new system as the victory of a very different kind of political mind:
The 'amateur democrat,' as James Q. Wilson described the type in the early 1960s, 'sees the political world more in terms of ideas and principles than in terms of persons. Politics is the determination of public policy, and public policy ought to be set deliberately rather than as the accidental by-product of a struggle for personal and party advantage. Issues ought to be settled on their merit. It was the 'amateur democrat,' moved now to the national scene, who, following the 1968 convention, devised and won acceptance for the 'guidelines' that brought the Democratic party close to the democratic ideal and close, as well, to destruction.
“See[ing] the political world more in terms of ideas and principles than in terms of persons” would subsequently characterize, I might argue, Buckleyite/Meyerite/Reaganite fusionist conservatism, with its constant elaboration of principles and love of moral absolutes.
Is my argument here that the reforms were bad? Not necessarily. Johnson and Moses’s personally and politically unethical behavior were related, and the collapse of the old system was ultimately its own fault. And I am of course sympathetic to—a participant in—the American tradition of ideological conservatism, so I cannot simply dismiss it for those idealistic tendencies.
At the same time, I think it is worth understanding what was lost when we wiped Johnson and Moses’s world away. “A political system is an accident,” Banfield writes, and “to meddle with one that works well is the greatest foolishness of which men are capable.” This, too, is a conservative sentiment.8 Once you have corrected the accident, you cannot undo that correction. But it is worth noting that the accident, for all of its flaws, is what let sometimes-terrible men build great things, something with which its replacement has struggled and continues to struggle.
I can’t do the story more justice than the Wikipedia entry can:
In November 2011, Caro estimated that the fifth and final volume—expected to treat the remainder of Johnson's presidency and his life thereafter—would require another two to three years to write. In March 2013, he affirmed a commitment to completing the series with a fifth volume. As of April 2014, he was continuing to research the book. In a televised interview with C-SPAN in May 2017, Caro confirmed over 400 typed pages as being complete, covering the period 1964–65; and that once he completes the section on Johnson's 1965 legislative achievements, he intends to move to Vietnam to continue the writing process.
In an interview with the New York Review of Books in January 2018, Caro said that he was writing about 1965 and 1966 and a non-chronological section about the relationship between Johnson and Bobby Kennedy. Asked if he still planned to visit Vietnam soon, Caro replied: "Not yet, no. This is a very long book. And there's a lot to do before that's necessary. I'm getting close to it now." In December 2018, it was reported that Caro is still "several years from finishing" the volume. In January 2020, Caro said he had "typed 604 manuscript pages so far" and is "currently on a section relating to the creation of Medicare in 1965". Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Caro postponed his research trip to Vietnam and a visit to the Johnson Presidential Library, but continued work on the book from his home in Manhattan. In October 2021, Caro said that he was writing about Johnson's passing of Medicare and his escalation of the Vietnam War.
This process is detailed in Ch. 28, “The Warp on the Loom.” I think this chapter probably ties for best chapter in Caro’s work. The other contenders are the second to last chapter of Means of Ascent, “A Love Story,” and Ch. 27 of The Path to Power, “The Sad Irons.”
Yes, Caro’s wife is also his research assistant. This isn’t really a review about Caro, but I feel like I should mention in a footnote that the guy is—and I say this with the highest regard—completely nuts. He took seven years to write The Power Broker: during most of that time he, his wife, and his son were flat broke. They had to sell their house just to keep going, moving to a tiny little apartment in the Bronx. Then, after Caro wrote The Power Broker and had started researching The Path to Power, he did preliminary interviews in the Hill Country, decided he couldn’t get through to people, and informed his wife they’re moving there (Ina: “can’t you do a book on Napoleon?”). Caro also appears to spend a lot of time feuding with not just the Johnson Library, which hates him and which he hates, but also other historians. Several of the books feature totally gratuitous references to Doris Kearns Goodwin, who wrote another biography of Johnson, and whom Caro seems to think is a complete moron.
So, interesting guy.
As Caro writes in Ch. 5 of Master of the Senate:
The physicality of Lyndon Johnson extended into areas besides that of argument. During the 1940s, Capitol Hill was, of course, very much a man’s world, in which locker-room humor and morals were common; besides, almost half the members of the House, having been raised on farms, were accustomed to earthiness. But even some of these men were startled at Lyndon Johnson’s earthiness.
“He would piss in the parking lot of the House Office Building,” says Wingate Lucas, a farm boy who represented Fort Worth. “Well, a lot of fellows did that. I did it. But the rest of us would try to hide behind a car or something. Lyndon wouldn’t. He just didn’t care if someone noticed him.” In fact, Lucas says, he seemed to want to be noticed. “I remember once, we were walking across the lot and some [female] secretaries were behind us, and he just stopped and began to take a piss right in front of them.”
Caro does this most extensively in chapter 37, “One Mile,” which tells the story of the demolition of the East Tremont neighborhood to make way for the Cross-Bronx. “One Mile” was excerpted in The New Yorker before publication of the full book:
The Power Broker generated substantial public discussion upon publication, especially after the "One Mile" chapter ran as an excerpt in The New Yorker. The chapter highlighted the difficulties in constructing one section of the Cross-Bronx Expressway and the way Moses ran roughshod over the interests of residents and businesses of the section of East Tremont which the road effectively destroyed. Before publication, Caro, largely unknown at the time, challenged the magazine's legendary editor, William Shawn, over his changes to Caro's prose. It was common for the magazine to edit excerpts to conform to its house style. This did not make allowance for many of the author's narrative flourishes, such as single-sentence paragraphs. Caro also complained that much of his work had been compressed.
If you want a contrarian take read, uh, this Amazon review of The Power Broker.
Johnson, of course, had dropped out of running for re-election after McCarthy almost beat him in New Hampshire. Bobby Kennedy might well have actually won for the progressives had he not been assassinated. Look, the 1968 primary is extremely important, go read about it.