Robert Caro: 2013 Conarroe Lecture

A sold-out Duke Family Performance Hall audience sat raptly as Robert Caro spoke about the first 47 days of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, as told in his book, The Passage of Power.

Caro has written four books on Lyndon Johnson and has often times been asked, “Why so many? Don’t you get tired?” to which comes a simple reply, “I don’t get tired because I’m always learning something new. And I have never read what the assassination was like from Johnson’s view.”

From the gunshot fatally wounding John F. Kennedy, Caro begins a fact-filled talk on LBJ leading up to how he brought power back to the White House and what he does with that power. He turns JFK’s bills into reality in the first 47 days—the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare—and launches one of his own, the war on poverty. As quoted, “Too many Americans live on the outskirts of hope.”

Caro ended the evening with a question from the audience concerning Charlotte’s hot issue of the moment and in reference to Caro’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York: Is it a good idea for Charlotte wanting to institute a public authority to run the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport?

Caro’s response: “In Robert Moses’ form (of public authority), they were shielded so the minute they were created, the public had nothing to say over them. Today, they are above politics. Political power is supposed to come to us. So when you create a public authority, you are really removing that. Public authorities are not elected officials.”

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