Thursday, May 31, 2007 05/31/07-LBJ

In today's encore excerpt--in one of our favorite passages, Robert Caro describes former U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson's genius at "reading" others. Though ultimately disgraced as president due to his conduct of the Vietnam War, Johnson was regarded one of the most adroit and effective leaders of the U.S. Senate in American history:

"While Lyndon Johnson was not, as his two assistants knew, a reader of books, he was, they knew, a reader of men--a great reader of men. He had a genius for studying a man and learning his strengths and weaknesses and hopes and fears, his deepest strengths and weaknesses: what it was that the man wanted--not what he said he wanted but what he really wanted--and what it was that the man feared, really feared.

"He tried to teach his young assistants to read men--'Watch their hands, watch their eyes' he told them. 'Read eyes. No matter what a man is saying to you, it's not as important as what you can read in his eyes'--and to read between the lines: he was more interested in men's weaknesses than in their strengths because it was weakness that could be exploited, he tried to teach his assistants how to learn a man's weakness. 'The most important thing a man has to tell you is what he isn't telling you,' he said. 'The most important thing a man has to say is what he's trying not to say.' For that reason, he told them, it was important to keep the man talking; the longer he talked, the more likely he was to let slip a hint of that vulnerability he was so anxious to conceal. 'That's why he wouldn't let a conversation end.' Busby explains. 'If he saw the other fellow was trying not to say something, he wouldn't let it (the conversation) end until he got it out of him.' And Lyndon Johnson himself read with a genius that couldn't be taught, with a gift that was so instinctive that a close observer of his reading habits, Robert G. (Bobby) Baker, calls it a 'sense;' 'He seemed to sense each man's individual price and the commodity he preferred as coin.' He read with a novelist's sensitivity, with an insight that was unerring, with an ability, shocking in the depth of its penetration and perception, to look into a man's heart and know his innermost worries and desires.'

Robert A. Caro, Master of the Senate, Alfred A. Knopf, 2002, p. 136.


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