Never mind the allegations about Gordon Brown — he is a mouse compared with Lyndon Johnson, the king of political bullies. If you’ve not read it, I urge you to pick up Robert Caro’s Master of the Senate, surely the best political biography ever written.
In one chapter, Caro describes LBJ interviewing staff while perched on the toilet, urinating in front of secretaries and occasionally unzipping “Jumbo” in front of his senate colleagues and hollering “have you ever seen anything as big as this?”
Brown himself hailed the book as “quite breathtaking”. I wanted to quote some Caro passages on LBJs abuse of junior staff, but sadly I’ve misplaced my copy at home. Instead I’ve harvested some choice extracts from the web, mainly relating to how he used to manhandle his fellow senators into submission.
This is from the NY Times lede blog:
[H]e filled himself to overflowing, as if the body, big as it was, could not contain the emotions, and they blazed out of his eyes, made one of his arms grab his listener’s lapel to hold the man close, while he tried to persuade him, made a forefinger jab into the man’s chest, made his face push into his auditor’s, forcing the other man’s head back, as if to physically insert the arguments into it — getting closer also to ascertain if the arguments were working. “I want to see ‘em, feel ‘em, smell ‘em,” he said — he wanted his hands on them as he spoke to them.
More on the brute force of the man:
Even standing still, Lyndon Johnson was somehow always in motion, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet, restlessly shifting his shoulders, one big hand plunging into a pants pocket to jingle coins or the keys on his big key ring, the other scratching his back—or scratching other parts of his body, too, for some of the motions Lyndon Johnson made front-row center on the great stage of the Senate floor were those intimate motions that embarrassed other men even in the relative privacy of Johnson’s office.
The reporters in the Press Gallery would nudge each other and giggle when, jamming a hand into a side pocket of his pants, the Leader quite openly scratched his crotch, bending one leg and leaning far over as he did so, one shoulder much lower than the other, the better to reach hard-to-reach recesses of his body; sometimes, taking out his inhaler, he would tilt his head so far back that he was staring straight up at the ceiling, and shoving the inhaler far up his nose, he would snort so vigorously as he inhaled that the snorts were clearly audible up in the Gallery. Sometimes, standing there, he might jam both hands into his pockets and rise up on his toes as he glanced around the Chamber with that air of command.
As the day wore on and the routine business was disposed of, and the crucial votes began to loom closer, his conversations would take on more intensity. Grasping a senator’s arm, he would take him off to the side of the Chamber for a quiet talk. One of his arms would be firmly around his colleague’s shoulders, and after a while, his other hand would begin to jab, jab toward the other senator as he made his points. The jabs would no longer stop in midair; Lyndon Johnson’s long forefinger would begin to poke into the other senator’s chest. Or that hand—the other arm would still be around the shoulders, lest the senator try to get away—would reach out and take the senator’s lapel, gently at first, but then harder, grabbing the lapel, pulling the senator closer or pushing him back. And Lyndon Johnson’s big head would be down in the other senator’s face, or, twisting and cocking, coming up into that face from below.
And the LBJ lock:
Approaching the senator, Johnson would lean over him, perhaps chatting amiably for a moment or two about inconsequential matters, but with his weight resting on one hand that had been placed on the back of the couch, close by the senator’s shoulder. Then, switching to the real subject of the conversation, Johnson would sit down beside him.
The hand would remain on the back of the couch, so that when Johnson, continuing to talk, leaned forward to look the senator more directly in the face, his arm would be stretched out beside the other man’s head. In the urgency of his appeal, Johnson would lean further forward, sliding to the edge of his seat, and twist his body so it was more in front of the senator. Then he would cross the leg furthest from the senator over the knee closest to the other man. Already faced with the difficulty of pushing up from those deep, soft cushions, the senator would find the difficulty increased by the fact that not only was there a big arm like a bar on one side of him, but also a big leg like a bar in front of him. If the senator exhibited signs of restlessness, Johnson would grab the ankle of that leg with his free hand, so that there were in effect two bars in front of the senator, not to mention a size 11 shoe in front of his face; “the poor guy,” the clerk notes, “couldn’t get out.”
With the senator’s continued presence thus assured, the first Johnson arm, the one that had been resting on the back of the couch, would stretch along it, so that the senator was almost completely surrounded. And the trap would be tightened. As Johnson talked faster and faster, that heavy arm would come down around the senator’s shoulders, hugging them. His hand would grasp the senator’s shoulder firmly. He would lean further and further into him, the hand that had been on his own ankle now on the senator’s knee or thigh. “I can still see those big meaty hands,” the clerk would recall decades later. “One would be massaging the poor guy’s shoulder, and the other one would be grabbing his leg. I can still see Johnson leaning into him.” His face would be very close to the senator’s now, pushing closer and closer, his head coming up under his companion’s so that the senator’s head was often forced back against the back of the couch. No matter how much he may have wanted to retreat further, he couldn’t, and as he was held helpless, Johnson would talk faster and faster, pleading, cajoling, threatening.
Finally a recording of the president ordering some trousers from his tailor.
LBJ: But, uh when I gain a little weight they cut me under there. So, leave me , you never do have much of margin there. See if you can’t leave me an inch from where the zipper (burps) ends, round, under my, back to my bunghole, so I can let it out there if I need to.