I’m almost ready to say that when it comes to achieving a goal — especially an ambitious one — I believe your outcome isn’t so much determined by what you do, but who you do it with. Outcomes, like math problems, are determined by a factorization of known quantities. Math is never magic. There is an inescapable fatalism in it. Embrace it, because you cannot outwit it or outrun it. Make the absolute most of every piece you’ve got on the board, and remember what every good chess player knows: pawns win games. Spend no time mourning the weakness of your fellow cast. Improve it whenever you can, but if you make an enemy, never let it be by accident. After all, in real life pawns don’t wear pawn costumes and queens wear no crowns.
Who are my allies and who are my enemies? LBJ was my introduction to the algebraic equation of influence. For LBJ everything was a pissing contest. He took up space – all of it – with pure brute force. But once I realized that identifying a viper in the grass wasn’t a moral failing, LBJ was a good starting point in my attempt to develop a philosophy for choosing teams.
I have always believed that JFK could never have passed any significant Civil Rights legislation. LBJ was, perhaps, the only human in American politics at that time who could have. Despite all the backroom trading and arm-twisting, he managed to pass The Civil Rights Act and The Voting Rights Act. He was impure, but effective.