Two unrelated (except that they’re comments about American poltiicians) excerpts from articles that jumped out at me recently. As they do.

First, from What if he’d made it earlier?  David Runciman’s (London Review of Books) review of the latest instalment in Robert Caro’s epic record of LBJ  The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Vol. IV: The Passage of Power

…. In late 1963 Johnson held court at his ranch in Texas, where he invited West Germany’s new chancellor, Ludwig Erhard, for a state visit. It was a triumphant success. The Washington press corps, which had spent the previous years mocking Johnson’s down-home corniness, now revelled in it (it’s amazing what power will do to journalists as well). Johnson was relaxed and welcoming, holding informal press conferences on his front lawn. One of these took place on Christmas Day, when Johnson introduced all 27 members of his extended family who had come for Christmas dinner. These included his two daughters, Lucy and Lynda. ‘Lynda was wearing her Christmas gift from her father,’ Caro writes, ‘a loose-fitting red shift; [Johnson] reached out and bundled up the fabric, to prove, he said with a smile, that she wasn’t in a family way.’ Lynda was 19 at the time. How the journalists laughed.

While he was charming the press corps that Christmas, he was also turning the screws on their bosses. Johnson was determined to get the Texas newspapers that had criticised him in the past to come back on board. He wanted their pledges to support him put in writing. And if they didn’t deliver, he warned them that he would use his power as president to ruin them. He told the publishers of the Houston Chronicle that he required a signed letter promising to support him so long as he remained in office. If he didn’t get that letter he would block a planned bank merger that the owners of the newspaper were depending on. Johnson’s advisers warned him that now he was president this sort of brazen horse-trading might not be wise. Did he really have to get the quid pro quo in writing? Yes, Johnson said, he did. And anyway, the letter need only specify the quo, not the quid: the promise of support, not the reward. But without it, the bank deal was off. Johnson got his letter. He locked it in a drawer. And the Houston Chronicle never wavered in its support throughout his presidency.

Wow. Pledges of support from his critics. Johnson knew how to put people under pressure.

They say NZ PM Robert Muldoon had a signed, undated letter of resignation from each one his cabinet ministers locked in a drawer. (Might just be a legend.)

Second, this assessment of Mitt Romney from Howard Fineman ‘Mitt Romney Taxes Controversy Shows He’s Still A Tough Sell‘…

… That [Romney’s ‘inevitability’ as GOP candidate] is the real, unspoken political meaning behind the remarkable, rising chorus of voices calling on the presumptive party nominee to release more of his federal tax returns to the public.

“The fact is, no one likes the guy or believes in him,” said the campaign manager for a former Romney rival, who declined to be quoted by name because his former boss is on record supporting Romney’s campaign against incumbent President Barack Obama.

“Look back at our 2008 primaries,” he said. “Who did all the other candidates dislike? Romney. Look at this year. Who did all the other candidates dislike? Romney. No one wants Obama to win, but no one likes the guy who is running against him.”

Republican leaders, especially conservatives, see Romney as a malleable, cynical power-grabber without principle or compass. They warned voters that Romney would be unable to take the fight to Obama on health care because he had fostered a similar program as governor of Massachusetts, and they argued that a wealthy, well-connected son of privilege was not a good spokesman for selling free-market ideas to the middle-class.

Gosh. “a malleable, cynical power-grabber without principle or compass” — that’s as damning as anything I’ve read about him. About any politician. And I’ve read a bit.

– P