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August 15, 2005


I really enjoyed that profile, especially his speech years later to his law school, in which he excoriated those who didn;t believe in him and failed to help him when things went bad. In light of his childhood, his Mormonism and resulting positions are more understandable.

Of course, there is another "leader" who came from an aristocratic or quasi-aristocratic background and had a tempestupus relationship with his father, but never had to overcome adversity, never had to take charge of his family or even his own life, showed no adventurism except in a self-destructive sense. He grew up to be a pseudo leader who mistakes intransigence and a lack of self-reflection for leadership.

Interestingly, Reagan might fit the LBJ/Clinton model as well, in many ways.

As I think abiout this further, it is ironic that the commonality seems to be having to overcome setbacks and adversity and taking charge of ones life, while so many of today's upper middle class parents try to shield their children from those very factors, perhaps ensuring their ultimate mediocrity.

Hey, DH. I think I know the reasons you say Reid is more like LBJ than everyone else. But my understanding of LBJ comes from Vietnam histories (which portray him as a caricature) or through his old personal assistant (who only wanted to talk about his Texan gentility, kid you not). Care to explain why you say that?

DH, thanks for thoughts on this. Read the piece a week or two ago and was hoping to see it incite some discussion online. Not knowing much about Reid, I found it illuminating. The "triumph over adversity" card is overplayed in American politics: with all respect to Barak Obama and John "millworkers son" Edwards, not every candidate can be the embodiment of the American dream. For Reid to go from that background to Senate leader is poignant, and the fact that [in my little knowledge of him I'm not aware that] he overplays it or tried to make hay from it makes him seem all the more bona fide.

Great leaders without fathers: this is for the global class, or even the single-domain leaders? Seems superficially like I can think of single-domain leaders with strong families, who were excellent students; is this right?

emptywheel, don't know much 'bout LBJ myself but heard tapes of some of his oval office phone calls played on radio after they were recently released (I think). The ones that made an impression were him speaking with Dr. King, I believe. The impression I got of the man from that fits more with the impression I have now of Reid. Try here to search the archive; looks like you can listen to some of them online at cspan; try here for starters if you're interested... looks like much of the recordings are just coming online now & still getting organized into a clean central store.

'pockets: Have you read Gardner? If not, your question was incredibly insightful, because your distinction about intact families is a point Gardner makes. Prior to Leading Minds, he did work on creative geniuses (with his focus on Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, T.S. Eliot and Martha Graham), and found that they came from intact bourgeois families. They may or may not have had loving relationships with their parents, but their families were stable, and there was great emphasis on following some kind of pursuit. By contrast, many of the leaders (who didn't develop expertise in some structured domain, like Oppenheimer, Mead, George C. Marshall or Harvard Pres Hutchins) had fairly chaotic or underprivileged early lives (again, with exceptions such as Lenin and DeGaulle).

DHinMI, Haven't read Gardner but I will now. I just asked because, while I had a fairly advantaged upbringing, I am also clearly a single-domain creative genius. :) Though by no means a great leader. I'll put him on my reading list.

Mimikatz: Reagan absolutely fits the model. Dole sorta also, especially in terms of having to take control of his life in unexpected ways (i.e. recovering from his war wounds and living without the use of his arm).

And I think you're right, that so much emphasis today is on sheltering kids from adversity and challenge. Churchill (like TR) came out of that strain of though in the late 19th-early 20th century that emphasized self-improvement and triumph over barriers preventing the full flowering of one's capabilities. It was in part this movement (along with the less positive influences of nationalism and aristocratic privilege) that helped lead to the creation of the modern Olympic games. And I thought of that some years back when I coached track and cross country in two different upper middle class school districts. Some of the parents "got it" that what I was doing was pushing the kids hard to they would change their own standards of what they could and couldn't achieve, independent of where they finished an event compared to the other kids. However, I also emphasized that competeting against others was how one was likely to achieve one's full potential. But lots of other parents were too concerned about pushing little Billy or Susie. The funny thing was, though, that those complaints from the parents tended to happen all at the beginning of the season, and only for a short time, because unlike the parents, typically the kids started to understand what it was all about, and they thrived from learning how to respond to challenges, pressure, pain and adversity, and not be overwhelmed by it all.

It was, and probably always will be, the most rewarding job I've ever had.

This recalls to mind a distinction I once heard made between the pre- and post-WWII male mentality but I think it is a useful metaphor and both types coexist today.

The pre-WWII mentality, like the technology of the time, was like a compass -- aligned to some vague general magnetic field but essentially self-contained: where the individual was in absolute terms, on a coordinate grid.

The post-WWII mentality, like the technology of its time, was like radar -- directed outward, describing the individual solely in terms of where he was in relative terms, compared to his neighbors, on a social platform.

Perhaps the loss of a father and social chaos generally in youth, by depriving one of the objects to "ping" and orient oneself to, pushes one toward developing a strong inner compass and absolute values.

Side note, DHinMI, apropos of coaching track & the spirit that led to the Olympic movement, I have a movie rec for you: "State of Mind," a BBC documentary out now following two North Korean girls in training for the Mass Games (80,000+ person gymnastic exhibitions put on for the appreciation of Dear Leader, and to train the youth in the ideals of communism like performing a small part perfectly for the benefit of a team and glory of the state). Won't go into more here because it's worth a thread of its own (maybe I'll post one over at dKos later) but if it's showing near any of you, I'd be interested in your thoughts on it.

emptywheel: I was trying to find some photographic evidence of my point about Reid being more like LBJ than the author grants. There's a really famous series of photos of LBJ as Senate leader in the late 50's intimidating a fellow Senator, I think John Pastore of RI. There are either 4 or 5 photos, and it starts out with them standing perpindicular to each other, with each photo showing the much taller LBJ leaning closer in to the other Senator; the the final photo, LBJ is bent forward at the waste at about a 50-60 degree angle, and the other senator is bend backward at the waste at about the same angle, and only an inch or so separates their faces. I can't remember, but I seem to think that LBJ may even have his hands on him by the end of the series.

I've never seen such an amazing series of photos of somebody using their greater height to so intimidate somebody in a supposedly non-confrontational setting. LBJ grew up dirt poor in the Southwest, was a self-made man, and benefited from the patronage of older mentors, all like Reid. But it was the part about him always sizing people up to “disarm, to endear, to threaten, but most of all to instill fear” that made me think of LBJ. That's not Frist, or Dole, or Mithchell or Daschle or Byrd or Baker. That's LBJ.

One of my favorite Reid stories:

On meeting his wife, [Reid] once told the Las Vegas Review Journal, "The first time I saw her, she was washing her parents' car. She was wearing short shorts."

He's so cool. He's like that kick-ass uncle who commonly pops up in movies.

emptypockets, Robert Caro's massive series on LBJ may tell you more than you want to know, but they're great books. I read Master of the Senate, the second volume, and a long excerpt from the first in the New Yorker, on the 1948 Senate race Johnson stole. DHinMI, your post sounds as if you've read both Carol volumes so far; have you?

Sorry, I should have been directing my comment at emptywheel. Oh, hell, anyone who wants to know more about LBJ!

The volumes that are already out are especially useful for me because they cover the pre-presidential years; during LBJ's time in the White House years I was old enough to follow along pretty closely. Still, I'm looking forward to the next volume because Caro brings in so much detail that even plugged-in Washington types who were around then are bound to learn new things.

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