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Fareed Zakaria GPS

Interview with Colin Powell; Interview with Robert Caro

Aired August 26, 2012 - 10:00   ET


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: This is GPS, the Global Public Square. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria.

We have a terrific show for you today. I was in London recently where I sat down with Colin Powell, the former Secretary of State, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We talked about Syria, Iran, Romney, Obama, leadership.

Also, one of my favorite interviews of the year, a fascinating conversation with the Pulitzer Prize winning historian, Robert Caro. We talk about the John F. Kennedy assassination, Lyndon Johnson and what politicians today could learn from LBJ.

But, first, here's my take. We're still in August, but it feels like we're entering the election season for real as the conventions have gotten started and everyone is perking up and paying attention.

We're following the story day-by-day, blow-by-blow. We journalists can get wrapped up in the minutia of the moment and lose sight of broader trends sometimes.

So what are the bigger forces that will determine this election? Well, the conventional wisdom is that elections are decided by the state of the economy and there's a lot of truth to this.

But it's not as simple as you might think. First, what do we mean by the economy, GDP growth rates, a rise in disposable income, job growth? Each of these would yield a different prediction.

But it's fair to say that if you look largely at economic data, the picture formed is not great for President Obama. Nate Silver of the New York Times, who does invaluable work crunching the numbers, shows, however, that economic data can usually get you only so far in predicting election results.

The better election models add in things like incumbency and presidential approval ratings and that brightens the picture somewhat for the president.

But there might be another large, structural force that has an effect on elections. Ruy Teixeira, an expert with the Center for American Progress, has been writing for years about the way in which demographics shapes voting.

Simply put, ethnic groups seem to vote in clusters and this favors President Obama mightily. In a fascinating report, "The Path to 270," Teixeira points out that Obama received a staggering 80 percent of the minority vote in 2008 and minorities made up 26 percent of the electorate.

If he receives that same percentage in November, he will win. End of story. But, of course, he won't receive the same percentage because he is less popular with everyone compared with 2008.

But to share points to another trend, minorities are growing as a percentage of the electorate faster than most expected. Americans minority population grew by 30 percent over the last decade while the white population grew by just 1 percent.

Even in the last four years, since 2008, the minority population has grown about 3 percent. So Obama would not need to get as much of the minority vote to still do very well.

In a way, this is a contest between two forces, economics and demographics, but, also, between two theories of voting. There are experts who say we vote rationally based on economic data, facts and calculations.

But, then, there are those who say we vote for people who seem to get us, understand us, inhabit our world. And then we rationalize that decision.

That's why many experts point out working class whites, even those dependent on government programs, consistently vote Republican because they feel more comfortable with conservatives on social issues.

This election might well turn out to be a test of these two approaches. Will people vote from the head or the heart? We'll keep watching as the race unfolds.

A final personal note. As some of you know, two weeks ago, I wrote a column in Time Magazine and neglected to quote a New Yorker essay by Jill Lepore that I drew closely from.

I was not trying to pass the work off as my own. I prominently cited the book, "Gun Fight" by Adam Winkler that contained all the historical data that both Lepore and I wrote about it, but I absolutely should have quote or cited the New Yorker essay as well.

It was a mistake, but an honest one and I apologized. Time and CNN conducted exhaustive investigations looking at over 50 pages of research for that column as well as years of my commentary and found nothing to merit further action.

Time said it was entirely satisfied that this was an unintentional and isolated error. For my part, I just want to say again how sorry I am and let's get started.

Colin Powell, thanks for joining me.

COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Thank you very much, Fareed. Good to be with you.

ZAKARIA: Let's start with the great foreign policy question on everyone's mind. What do you think is happening in Syria right now?

POWELL: I think there's a civil war that's taking place and I think anybody who thought that President Assad would simply say, oh, gee, I'm going to stand down, I don't think had a good understanding of what Syria was like or what the Alawite plan is like.

So I think he is following in the pattern of his father and he will resort to violence as long as he thinks he has a chance of staying in power.

And you have to remember that it's not just him who would have to step down, but that whole clan that essentially represents the leadership of the country.

And even if they were able to be finessed and Assad leave, you have some real concerns to worry about with respect to conflict continuing with the other minorities that are within Syria.

And so it is a very unfortunate situation, a civil war, and it's not clear to me that the outside world can do much more than lend encouragement to his departure, perhaps provide some limited assistance to the free Syrian forces, but recognizing we're not entirely sure who they are and what they are and what they represent.

But, at the moment, those who suggest that maybe military involvement on the part of anybody else outside I think probably is not the solution at the moment.

ZAKARIA: You know there are a lot of people in the United States urging the president and the Obama administration to get much more directly involved. Do you think militarily it is a challenge?

It's quite different from Libya. Libya, you had a long coastline, you had Benghazi, you could resupply. In Syria, a smaller coastline, the Russians control that port. How does it look to you militarily?

POWELL: I think it would be a much more militarily difficult task, but what does get involved mean? It goes everywhere from putting border security around to, you know, keep the foot war inside Syria to no-fly zones.

Or are you talking about military on the ground intervention by the United States or the use of air power against the ground forces of the Assad regime.

So you have to define it before you can say it's something to do or something too hard to do.

ZAKARIA: No-fly zone? Where do you think of a no-fly zone?

POWELL: Well, you know a no-fly zone means you have to constant caps over the area to make sure nobody's flying. You need radar to detect them. And it's something that's doable, but it's not a simple matter, but if it doesn't work, what do you do?

Do you take it up to the next level, well, let's put a few forward air controllers on the ground? And so my only suggestion is if you ever are thinking of the use of military forces to help get rid of Assad, think if through carefully.

And don't just grab slogans and run with it. Think it through carefully. And I think there are other options that might be available to the administration. Humanitarian assistance, safe zones, all that I think could be considered.

And I'm sure the administration is considering it. And the one thing I know the administration is certainly considering is what do we do after Assad departs?

I think he will eventually depart. I don't think history is on his side, but it's going to be ugly for a while until that point is reached.

ZAKARIA: What about Iran? There is increasing pressure coming out of Israel, but also from some in the United States who say Iran is talking down the clock, it is continuing to enrich. All these sanctions have had no effect. How do you read the situation?

POWELL: You know for I don't know how many years, people have been saying to me the Iranians are going to have a nuclear weapon next year and they don't have it yet and our intelligence community is not sure whether they have crossed that line.

My own view is that it would be very difficult to get them stop enriching. We've been trying that for ten years, just stop doing anything and then we'll talk to you. Well, they're not going to do that in my judgment.

Let me see, you want to talk to us, but only if we give you what you want as a result of the talks. We're not going to do that. But have they made a decision to produce a nuclear weapon. Let's assume they have.

Well, what should we do about that? I think we should try to convince them that you don't want to move in that direction. Whether you're thinking about it or planning to do it, it's time to stop now.

You say you're not making a nuclear weapon. Well, let's put you to the test. Let put you under the most severe form of inspections and sanctions and see if you lie within them.

And you can prove to the international community that you are not planning to enrich above 15 percent or 10 or 15 percent for power purposes up to the enrichment level you'd need for a nuclear weapon. Let's put them to the test.

But the international community on our side has been willing to adopt that approach to it. But I think there is a middle zone in there that they should put the Iranians to the test. And, also, I have to make the point you have to think this through now. There is a country that is suffering economically, it's suffering from the sanctions that have been placed upon it.

And even if they had a nuclear weapon sitting there dusting it off and even if they had a means to deliver it, does it make sense knowing, and I would make clear that they knew from our side and from others in the region, that the consequences of them using such a weapon would be cataclysmic.

They are the ones who would lose the next day. The counterargument would be, well, they're crazy. They'll do it. And no they're not. They're very rational and they want to stay in power.

The other argument is that just the existence or possession of such a weapon would give them political leverage that we don't wish them to have. Well, then, let's put them to the test.

See whether or not a solution set lies in if you say you're not making a nuclear weapon, we don't trust you, you've lied repeatedly, prove to us by accepting the most intrusive inspection regime possible and living under the sanctions that we have.

Then, we might believe you and we can talk about what kind of a power program would be appropriate to you with the getting the material recycled out of the country so it couldn't become sources for weapons.

ZAKARIA: We're going to come back with General Colin Powell. I'm going to ask him about Mitt Romney's foreign trip and, also lessons for leadership from his terrific new book when we come back.


ZAKARIA: And we are back with Colin Powell, former Secretary of States, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

General Powell, Mitt Romney made his first foreign trip. There are some who think that there were gaffes galore. There were some that think that it went pretty well. What was your reaction to it?

POWELL: Well, the good thing about a gaffe is you tend to get over it. I don't think these so-called gaffes, whether it's what he said in London or what he said about culture in the Middle East, are lasing problems for him.

He demonstrated that he can participate in foreign relations in a way that is constructive. I think he did fairly well in Poland. And everyone was focusing on the gaffes as opposed to what he actually said.

And so I think it was problematic that these gaffes got such attention, but, at the same time, I think he did himself good by going to these countries.

ZAKARIA: You famously chided him when he said that Russia was the number one geopolitical foe of the United States. You looked at the cameras and said, "Think, Mitt." Do you think he's thought that through?

POWELL: Well, I don't know. I haven't heard any recent statements about the Russian Federation. And, on that morning, I just thought, you know, I know Mr. Romney. I've known him for many, many years. And I consider him a friend.

But, when he said that, I just said, "Think, Mitt." Think, how can this no longer super power country except for its nuclear weapons, it's got its own internal problems. It's not going to be the Soviet Union again.

And so to consider it our major geostrategic foe seemed to me to be something that he needs to think through more carefully. And whether he had or whether it was the advice from some of his advisors, I don't know.

But I think if he really studies that question is Russia a geostrategic foe of the United States, I think the answer is no. It's a problem from time-to-time. We don't like all the policies that Mr. Putin has or some of the actions that he has taken.

And we can debate that with them. We can argue with them. But, I'm sorry, the Russian Federation is not going to be an enemy of the United States in the military sense or a foe in the sense of what one normally considers a foe to be.

ZAKARIA: What do you think of President Obama's foreign policy so far?

POWELL: I think he's done reasonably well. I think he's done rather well in fact. I mean we are out of Iraq, which was a timetable that President Bush had established. And I think we are slowly turning over in Afghanistan in a sensible way.

Sooner or later, the two countries, the two peoples that Afghanistan population and the Iraqi population have to take responsibility for their own destiny and their own future. So I think he's handled that well.

He's not gotten us in any new conflicts. I think he has been vicious on terrorists with drone attacks, getting rid of bin Laden and things like that. I think he's protected the country rather well.

We've had these crazy people who run around trying to be wannabe terrorists, but, other than that, the country has been relatively safe and most of the policies that made us safe in the Bush administration have been carried forward by President Obama.

I think our relations with other countries in the world like China and the Russian Federation and many of our friends and allies, irritations come along, trade irritations more so than any other kinds of irritations these days and I think he's worked his way through that.

ZAKARIA: Has he done well enough for you to endorse them again? You did the first time ...

POWELL: Now, Fareed, you know I'm not here to make an endorsement or to say who I'm going to vote for. In due course -- what I like to do and I've done it in every election season since I was a young man voting for the first time, I like to see the whole picture.

I like to see who the vice presidential candidates are and who's been selected as a candidate for vice president, but the other thing I like to do is not just look at the individual. I want to see what their party stands for, what does it represent, what kind of policies will it be coming for with under this president.

And I want to see the whole picture and then, ultimately, I decide who I'm going to vote for. And if you knew my whole voting life pattern, I voted for Democrats, I voted for Republicans.

Until President Obama, when I voted for him in 2008, I voted 20 straight years for Republicans, but I thought this was a historic time for change.

ZAKARIA: You have this terrific new book out on leadership. When you look around Washington, do you think you see the kind of leadership you talk about in the book?

POWELL: I see some leadership. There are a lot of people in Washington who I think are leading, but it's about life and leadership and it was not for the purpose of identifying one individual.

I wanted to just share with the readers the fact that what a good leader needs to be is someone who can set a direction for a group of human beings, who can be optimistic.

The book is all about optimism and confidence and believing in yourself and inspiring people to follow you. And I think there's still people like that in Washington and throughout our society. I see it.

Now, the essence of your question though has Washington become so trapped in its polemics and in the rigid positions on the right and left that it's hard for a leader to emerge and to sort of force compromise. That is a problem.

It's more and more difficult to break through the chatter that you see on television, to break through the Internet chatter to do something about the fact that people are only listening to similar views to their own on television or only reading things that reinforce their own view, it's hard to lead in that environment.

And a lot of leaders in Congress in recent years who might be called moderate and are willing to compromise, willing to lead, willing to listen to the other side and find common ground, some many of them are leaving because of the frustration.

And so I think there are leaders there, but somehow we have got to get these leaders to realize that you just can't stay on the left and the right constantly. You have to compromise in order to get the consensus to keep our country moving forward.

ZAKARIA: You've been around Washington for 40 years. You've served four administrations. Is the partisanship -- is this problem worse than you've seen it before or is it something we should expect.

POWELL: The country rests on partisanship. You wouldn't have a democracy like ours if you didn't have partisanship. This business about let's be nonpartisan, I never quite used that term.

We expect people to come and argue and fight and have different beliefs. That's what the system is all about. We expect the party out of power to oppose the party in power. That's part of our system.

But, at the same time, you have to do it on the basis of comity, you know, c-o-m-i-t-y, not c-o-m-e-d-y and you have to do it on the basis of mutual respect. I may disagree with you, but I'm not out to destroy you. We've got to find a way.

And, yes, I think what I'm seeing now in the last few years is perhaps the worst I've seen in the 40 years I've been hanging around Washington.

ZAKARIA: On that somber note, Colin Powell, pleasure to have you on.

POWELL: I'm still optimistic.

ZAKARIA: That was Colin Powell speaking to me earlier in London. Up next, WHAT IN THE WORLD, some required reading for all Americans courtesy Beijing.


ZAKARIA: Now, for our WHAT IN THE WORLD segment. The U.S. Department of State released its annual report on human rights around the world. It covers nearly 200 countries, from Tunisia and Egypt and their uprisings, to North Korea and Cuba and the repression in those nations.

The report is an annual State Department tradition, going back nearly four decades. And for the last 13 years, it has been followed immediately by another tradition: a rebuttal.

China has released its own report on America. It says Washington is full of "overcritical" remarks about the world, but it "turns a blind eye to its own woeful human rights situation." So let's flip through the two reports.

The China section of Washington's publication begins by listing state-sponsored killings, political arrests, known cases of torture and disappearances. The State Department's report says Beijing does not respect civil liberties. It documents known restrictions on freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and censorship.

Beijing's report, by contrast, talks about the Occupy Wall Street movement - that its protesters were treated in a "rude and violent" way. OK, not sure how that's a human rights violation. Beijing's report points to the homicide rate in the U.S., going into great length about how the U.S. is a world leader in gun violence.

Again, that's not really a violation of human rights - that's what human beings sometimes do with rights. It may be bad public policy, but it's not tyranny. But let's not simply dismiss Beijing's report.

On the contrary, I think it would make fascinating reading for Americans, because a lot of the problems the Chinese point out are indeed real problems, whether or not they are violations of human rights.

The report points out, for example, that with 5 percent of the world's population, we own between 35 percent and 50 percent of civilian-owned guns. That's crazy and should make us all pause.

The report says the U.S. has the largest prison population in the world per capita, and the highest rate of incarceration. One out of every 132 Americans is behind bars. This is true and it's a terrible indictment for our justice system. One we should fix.

The Chinese report criticizes us for high unemployment, for widening the gap between rich and poor. Again, not a human rights issue, but an important critique of American society. The report goes on to criticize our health care system. It says 50 million Americans lack insurance.

It reports we've cut spending on education. School budgets in New York City have been cut an average of 14 percent a year for the last five years. The Chinese say minorities suffer disproportionately in America: 11 percent of Hispanics are unemployed, 16 percent of African Americans are jobless.

The report cites inequalities between the sexes, saying women get paid 77 cents on average for every dollar paid for men. These are all issues worth examining, discussing, and, when possible, improving. America has many problems it needs to fix.

We've put a link to the Chinese report on our website so you can read what it has to say.

Of course, it would be equally important for the Chinese public to read the State Department report on China. Now, could a Chinese news network put it on its website maybe? No, of course not. T

The report is banned in China, and any website that would dare to publish it would be censored and punished. Now that is an abridgment of freedom of expression and this is a message to the Chinese authors of that report on American, that is what a human rights violation looks like.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jim Spellman in Key West, Florida, tracking Tropical Storm Isaac as it makes its way past Cuba and towards Florida. It's expected to bring high winds and heavy rains here in Key West later this afternoon. The main concern -- possible storm surge and inland flooding. The main preparation has been to try to get as many people as possible off of the keys. There's only a two-lane road, 120 miles long that goes from Key West to Florida. They want that road open by the time the storm actually gets here. If people haven't evacuated yet, they're telling people to stay in their homes here to try to get as many people off of the island as possible. They added extra flights, they moved all the cruise ships out. All the rental cars are now taken, and the airport is closed. If you're here in Key West , they want you to stay indoors. For people who live here, they've opened shelters. They especially want people who live in trailer homes or live on their boats out of the water and into the shelters. At this point only about 100 people are staying in the shelters. More of those could happen as the day goes on. But many people come to Key West to party. They're not going to let this stop them. They are planning having their hurricane parties. To track the rest of the storm with us here on CNN. Now back to Fareed Zakaria GPS.

ZAKARIA: 35 years. That's how long two-time Pulitzer prize- winning author Robert Caro has spent researching, thinking about and writing about the life of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. The result of that extraordinary toil other than two Pulitzer prizes, 3,388 pages so far. Caro has just published "The Passage of Power," the fourth volume of his LBJ biography. And the 76-year old Caro is far from done. He says he will move to Vietnam to write the next volume on the war years. Before he does that, Robert Caro joins me today.

ROBERT CARO, AUTHOR: Great to be back.

ZAKARIA: So, in the last volume, you had gotten to the point where Lyndon Johnson through this extraordinary skill he had at running the Senate had passed the most -- the most important civil right legislation since reconstruction, perhaps one of the most important pieces of legislation in American history.

CARO: Yes.

ZAKARIA: Then he begins his years as vice president.

CARO: Yes.

ZAKARIA: Which is a huge letdown for a man ...

CARO: Yes.

ZAKARIA: ... who had really run Washington.

CARO: Yes. And he's humiliated by the Kennedys. You know, they look down on him, and they're afraid of him. They're afraid to let him off the leash. So, they keep him on a very short leash. He's, as you say, probably the greatest legislator in American history. Certainly in the 20th Century. They don't ask him for any advice on legislation. When he's invited to parties like at Bobby Kennedy's Hickory Hill House, he's put at what Ethel Kennedy, Robert's wife, calls the losers table and he knows it's the losers table. They have a nickname for him in the Kennedy White House, Rufus Cornpone or Uncle Rufus. So, he's humiliated and cut out of power completely for almost three years.

ZAKARIA: And he and Bobby Kennedy, particularly, really hate each other. Describe the first time -- the meeting you describe.

CARO: You say why did -- you know, as a historian you hate to use words as strong as hate. But it's not too strong to describe the feeling between Lyndon Johnson and Bobby Kennedy. And there was - there are other reasons for it, but part of it was just chemistry.

ZAKARIA: And then Bobby Kennedy becomes the second-most powerful man in America and is -- is treating Lyndon Johnson, the vice president, as a nothing.

CARO: As a nothing. Johnson literally has to ask Kennedy's permission every time he wants to use a plane for a trip. Every word in every speech that he gives has to be cleared by the White House, really by Robert Kennedy. He's -- you know, one of his secretaries said, the Kennedys, they made you feel that they were in and you weren't. So, in many ways, Johnson is just -- these are the terrible years of his life, you know. Someone said it was like a great bull being put out to pasture late in his career.

ZAKARIA: Was part of it class? That the Kennedys were seen as this kind of upper-class, Harvard-educated and Johnson was not?

CARO: Well, in Johnson's mind -- you know, there's a reality to it also. Jack Kennedy went to Harvard. A lot of the Kennedy people went to Harvard. Lyndon Johnson went to Southwest Texas State Teachers College. He describes that as the poor boys' school. I went to the poor boys' school. You went to the Southwest Teachers College because you couldn't afford to go to the University of Texas. And he knew that. All his life, he knew he had been cheated out of an education. And he was -- he was ashamed of it.

ZAKARIA: When you get to the assassination, take us through -- what was it like for Johnson? We - you know, we understand so much about it, but give us the perspective from the guy who suddenly realizes with all the tragedy that he's just gone from being a nobody to being the most powerful man in the world.

CARO: Well, I'll start in the very moment. He's riding in the third car behind President Kennedy. There is the crack of the gunshot. Most of the people think it's a backfire from a motorcycle or a firecracker going on. But the Secret Service agent who's sitting in the front seat of Johnson's car, by the name of Rufus Youngblood, knows in the instant that it's a hunting rifle. He whirls around and grabs Johnson's right shoulder -- Johnson's sitting on the right side of the back seat, and throws Johnson on the floor, leaps over the front seat, sprawls on top of Johnson, and Johnson -- and lays there shielding Johnson's body with his own while the cars speed off to Parkland Hospital. Johnson was later to say, I would never forget his knees in my back and his elbows in my back. He says to Johnson as they pull in to Parkland Hospital, "We are not - when we stop, get out of this car. We're not stopping for anybody. Don't look around. We're going to get you to a secure place."

They yanked Johnson out of the car -- he doesn't even have time to see what's in Jack Kennedy's car, which is actually the president's body. Still lying there on Jackie's lap. Four agents run him through the corridors looking for a secure place. Johnson, you know, Fareed, doesn't know -- he stands there for 40 minutes. No one gives him word. He tries to find out what's President Kennedy's condition is, and they just say the doctors are working on him. After 40 minutes, Kenny O'Donnell who is a Kennedy aide who loved Jack Kennedy, comes through the door, and Lady Bird Johnson was to recall in her diary that seeing the stricken face of Kenny O'Donnell who loved him, we knew. A moment later another Kennedy aide comes into the room and says to Johnson, "Mr. President." It's the first time anyone's ever called him Mr. President. So you say for 40 minutes, the man who actually probably is already president of the United States is standing -- the thing about him is, he stands almost motionless, standing against this wall. Lady Bird is sitting beside him. No one knows what he's thinking. But when he is addressed as "Mr. President," he starts immediately giving decisive orders.

ZAKARIA: And he -- orchestrates the famous photograph that we have all seen because he wants Jackie Kennedy to be on that plane flying back to Washington. He wants the world to see that this was a peaceful transfer of power, but with the consent and in a sense the buy-in of the Kennedys.

CARO: Well, he takes steps to do that. You also have to say, however, with Lyndon Johnson, nothing is simple. And you have to say there is another motive that he says is the motive -- I'm not leaving her. They tell him, the secret service says, we're getting you on the plane and we're taking you off immediately for Washington. Because the White House, we can make secure. Johnson says, no, you're not. I'm not leaving Mrs. Kennedy here. And they say to him, well, she won't leave without the -- her husband's body. He says, then we'll wait on the plane for her and the coffin to come aboard. It's also true that he wants Jackie Kennedy beside him when he's taking the oath to show just as you say, the continuity. And she realizes this, too. You know, when O'Donnell says Lyndon Johnson wants you beside him, she says something -- I don't -- the exact quote is in the book, for history's sake, that's what I should do.

ZAKARIA: When we come back, we will ask Robert Caro what Johnson was like as president. How he was able to pass more significant legislation in his first few years in office than perhaps any president had been able to in history and whether one can wield that kind of power in Washington today. When we come back.


ZAKARIA: And we are back with Robert Caro, the author of the monumental magisterial biography of Lyndon Johnson. Talking to him about how to make - how to wield power in Washington today. So Johnson becomes president, and you point out that he picks a small bill ...

CARO: Yes.

ZAKARIA: That he wants to pass because he wants a clear victory. Explain that.

CARO: Well, you know, Congress has stopped presidents. And after the Supreme Court packing fight of 1937, Franklin Roosevelt is never able to get a major piece of domestic social welfare legislation through Congress. Neither is Truman. Congress has stopped presidents. Johnson picks -- when he comes in, he says, what -- the Kennedys haven't really taken him, even let him know what's going on in the legislative process about Kennedy's Civil Rights bill. He has to say to Ted Sorensen, Kennedy's aide, I don't know what's in the bill. I have to read it in "The New York Times." But he says, what's on the agenda? And the Republican conservatives have introduced the bill that would limit the president's authority on a minor thing, a wheat -- a wheat deal with Russia. Johnson doesn't see it as minor because Lyndon Johnson is a legislative genius. He wants to teach Congress a lesson that there's a new man in charge now. And he says, I want to murder this bill. And what he means by murder is, he doesn't want to just beat it, he wants to beat it by such a majority that they know, and he does that, although he gets the majority, he stays up most of one night, making telephone calls, cajoling, threatening, bullying, getting the more votes until he does win by an overwhelming margin. The headlines say, "Johnson Defeats Congress." And Johnson says in his memoir, and this a correct statement in my opinion, at that moment, the power in Washington began flowing from Congress back to the White House.

ZAKARIA: Now contrast the style of Lyndon Johnson with this enormous legislative accomplishment with the style of Barack Obama as you have seen him.

CARO: Well, I know I'm supposed to say that there's this great contrast and Obama hasn't done enough. But I don't happen -- I feel Obama was faced with some real problems that we hardly remember anymore. The extent of the financial crisis. I happen to think he's made great strides. You know, people find a lot wrong with health care legislation, Fareed. As do I, the bill that's passed. But I keep remembering something that Lyndon Johnson said. Once we pass it, we can always go back and amend it. And I feel it was an accomplishment to get a health care bill through Congress.

ZAKARIA: But what about the issue that people raise about just the style, which is he delegated too much of the stimulus or even health care to Congress? Do you think he should have been more active, or I mean, the alternative view is, look, the Republicans are strong ...

CARO: Right.

ZAKARIA: ... the important thing is to get something done. What would Johnson have taken a more activist role?

CARO: Well, you can answer that definitely. Johnson would have been on the phone every minute with the leaders of Congress. To watch him work on people -- you know, everybody says Johnson was always talking, not so. You listen to him on it -- when he wants somebody, when he wants something from somebody, he'll let the senator talk and he'll let the senator talk. And all you hear from Johnson sometimes is uh-huh, uh-huh. Until he hears what he wants to hear. What's the lever he can push with this guy? What does he want? You know, and then Johnson starts speaking. You know, in this book, Kennedy has a tax cut bill. It's snarled in the finance committee. Someone calls him at like 12:00, the exact -- and says they just broke in for lunch and we're three votes short. We're not going to get the bill through. Johnson says, who are they? And the guy names the three senators.

Johnson says to his secretary, get them on the phone for me, one after the other. One is Abe Ribicoff. He says, you know, Abe, I put you on whatever committee he put you on, he says, I want you to help me. Ribicoff says, well, I've already persuaded my constituents. I'll lose face. Lyndon Johnson says to him, you save my face today, I'll save your face tomorrow. And Ribicoff knows that Johnson is a bad man to cross, but a good man to have on your side. One of the other senators I can't -- wants something, it has to do with the mineral bill. Johnson says he'll give it to him. In 14 minutes, if I have that right, the exact time it s in my book, he has turned these three senators around. So if you want to know a contrast in style, I mean, Lyndon Johnson was a contrast with everyone else. He was the greatest legislator certainly since Roosevelt and perhaps even including Roosevelt. He was a legislative genius. It seems impossible to pass a Voting Rights Act in 1965. He does it vote by vote. And it's almost -- you know, if you care about -- my books are really about political power. If you care about political power, you say, there never was a man with a talent, a talent that is beyond a talent. A gift that's beyond a gift. There never was anyone who could do this like Johnson.

ZAKARIA: Robert Caro, fascinating as always.

And we will be back.


ZAKARIA: On this day 73 years ago, a Major League Baseball game was televised for the first time in history. It brings me to my question of the week -- how many U.S. households have TVs? Is it a, 57 million? B, 107 million? C, 114 million? Or D, 145 million? Stay tuned and we'll tell you the correct answer. Go to for more of the "GPS Challenge" and lots of insight and analysis. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Also remember if you miss a show or a special, you can buy them from iTunes. Go to

This week's book of the week is Walter Isaacson's "Einstein: His Life And Universe." I missed the book when it first came out I finally gotten around to it. It is a fascinating biography of this most brilliant of all men really worth reading. Now, for the last look: Fidel Castro is not a man known for his brevity. He once delivered a speech that clocked in at seven hours and ten minutes. He has a Guinness record for the longest speech at the U.N., four hours and 29 minutes. His opinion pieces have often filled whole pages of the state-run newspaper, "Gramma." Lately his pieces have been very short like this one, consisting of just 35 words, not exalting communism or denouncing capitalism but praising the power of yoga. He said, "Yoga does things with the human body that defy our imagination. There before our eyes is imagery that arrives instantly from enormous distances through the passage to the unknown." Deep.

The correct answer to our "GPS Challenge" question was "C", 114 million. That's about 97 percent of U.S. households, so if you had that number at the tip of your fingertips, you probably worked this out. Thanks to all of you for being part of my program this week. I will see you next week. Stay tuned for "Reliable Sources."