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191 Lloyd Bentsen CHAPTER 13 A POLITICAL MASTER’S DEGREE 192 Lloyd Bentsen 193 The insightful letter reproduced above was written in 1944 by a young US Army Air Corps officer and pilot, Lloyd M. Bentsen Jr. Writing about a bombing run over the Mediterranean, he mentions the things most important to him, then and throughout his life: God, family, country, and duty, and he does so with clarity and simplicity that is almost poetic. Later in life, during his years as a congressman, business leader, US senator, and secretary of the treasury, many would sometimes miss this side of Bentsen. What they saw was a public figure of great depth, exceptional ability, and courage, but one who could be guarded, reserved, and patrician. Lloyd Bentsen was all that and more. He was among the most qualified and gifted public servants and he should have been president of the United States. It was not to be, due to the times, his moderate political philosophy, and his state of origin, Texas. Coming to the Senate and national prominence in 1970, so soon after Lyndon Johnson’s tumultuous reign, punctuated by the Vietnam War and shortly before John Connally’s switch to the Republican Party in 1972, being a Texan carried too much baggage. That was particularly true for a party that was anti-Nixon, left of center, and antiwar. Furthermore, he’d not been in the Senate long enough to develop a national following or to allow his gifts of leadership to become more apparent. A POLITICAL MASTER’S DEGREE 194 I would not come to know Bentsen until after his 1970 election to the Senate, but I knew of him because of his primary and general election campaigns. I had grown to like him from what I had read and heard. I quietly toured the old Tenth District in the early spring of 1970 for Bob Strauss and others in Washington, to gauge the race between Bentsen and Senator Yarborough there. Due to family politics and personal friendships I was for Yarborough, but I kept that to myself so as to get an accurate read. What I found was that Yarborough was in deep trouble. Yarborough had over the years ignored some and angered many. He no longer had the protective umbrella of Lyndon Johnson that he’d had in 1964. I reported that Lloyd Bentsen would carry or break even in most of the counties outside of Austin. That was big news because the Tenth was for the most part still New Deal populist, but Yarborough had for too long taken support there for granted. Bentsen redoubled his efforts and did carry a large portion of the district, and won the primary. Then he went on to beat George H. W. Bush in November. This was a shock for the Republicans, who quickly tried to recover, claiming through a misguided Vice President Spiro Agnew that Bentsen would be part of the “Silent Majority” supporting Nixon. They were wrong. Bentsen’s first vote set them and Washington straight. Lloyd Bentsen never liked to be painted into a box by others or taken for granted. Yes, he would and often did work on both sides of the aisle, but it was on equal standing, without rancor or ballyhoo. He would compromise , but he would also draw the line. In the fall of 1973 Senator Bentsen asked me to organize a statewide fundraising dinner for him in Houston. I still didn’t know the senator well, but I was indebted to him. In 1972 my brother-in-law got into a trumped-up jam in the military. I talked with Strauss about it and he called Bentsen. Then I went to see Bentsen to explain the situation. Without hesitating, the senator picked up the phone and called a World War II pilot friend who by then was high up in the Pentagon. All Bentsen asked was that the matter be looked into. From then on, Senator Bentsen had my support and that of my entire family. So the decision to organize the dinner was an easy one. And everything went very well: we raised a great deal of money. Shortly before the event, Bentsen and his wife, B.A., invited me to dinner. He made a pitch that I come to work for him, running his statewide offices but also preparing for his reelection run for the Senate in 1976, and, by the way, for a run for the...


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