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LBJ made ambition his ticket

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In some quarters, “ambition” is a dirty word, but it never was for Lyndon Baines Johnson.

He wanted to do everything possible to succeed, he told his aides, one of whom said Johnson felt that “if you did everything, you would win.”

As a furiously driven 28-year-old Texan running for Congress for the first time, Johnson impressed his campaign workers by being utterly unsparing of himself. Aide Gene Lattimer said, “No matter what anyone said, we felt he had a chance because we knew he would work harder than anyone else.”

Even they were in for a surprise.

After a long day of campaigning, the stars would be out and Johnson’s car would be pointed for home. The driver would be fighting sleep when Johnson, rechecking his voters’ list, would realize that somehow they’d missed one back in the hills. “We would go back,” the driver recalled, “no matter how hungry and tired we were, no matter how far it was. Sometimes I could hardly believe we were going back, but we always did.”

Then an amazing transformation would occur. Dead tired, Johnson never let the voter see his fatigue. When they reached the farm at the end of the road, the farmer would see only “a face—young, eager, enthusiastic— all alight to see him.”

At that moment, the future president of the United States already knew what would govern his life: inflexible will. Pride, embarrassment and gloating were luxuries he’d try to avoid.

“It is ambition,” he wrote in his college newspaper, “that makes of a creature a real man.”

—Adapted from “The Years of Lyndon Johnson,” Robert A. Caro, The Atlantic Monthly.

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