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If you like Robert Strauss's story, you might also like:
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Robert Strauss
 
Robert Strauss
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Robert Strauss Interview (page: 2 / 7)

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  Robert Strauss

When you were a student, were there any teachers that helped or inspired you?

Robert Strauss: No, I don't think so. I liked most of my teachers, and most of them liked me. I don't think any of them particularly inspired me. I don't think I was inspired.

What about other people, growing up?


Robert Strauss: My mother was the major inspiration in my life, not my father. I got along with him well, but he was not very strong. My mother was strong and kind, and I guess we never had a cross word. She used to worry that I was studying too much, and my father used to say, "Good God Almighty! How can you say he's studying too much? He never does anything but run around, and he makes terrible grades, and you tell him not to study so much." And her answer would be, "Well, you know, if he starts worrying about his grades, he'll get an ulcer, and I don't want him to lose his health. He's got such a long life ahead of him, and he's going into politics and diplomacy." So she had already begun to carve out -- that's the inspiration I had. Instead of a teacher, it was my mother.

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So she saw a talent for politics when you were quite young.

Robert Strauss: Very early.


I came from a Jewish family, and my parents lived, as I said, in West Texas, and I had a grandmother who lived in Forth Worth, and on one of the high holidays in the fall, the family would all come to Fort Worth, and we would spend a day or so with my grandmother, who came from Germany and who was very German -- in fact, we called her grossmama not "grandmother." But when they would gather around there, my mother would always say, "My son Bobby is going to be a diplomat, and he's going into politics, and he'll be the first Jewish Governor of the State of Texas." I can remember being 14 years old, 12, 13 years old maybe, in that age, and walking into the room, and one of my uncles would say, "Well, here comes the Governor," and they would all laugh, and I could have killed the sonofabitches. But my mother ignored them totally. She would just smile. And she wasn't far wrong; I had a successful political career.

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Did she live to see your career blossom?

Robert Strauss: Not near enough, no. My father outlived her. That's one of my great regrets, that they didn't live to see me become Chairman of the Democratic Party, because I was a very successful chairman. She would have liked the publicity I had for rebuilding the Democratic Party after McGovern was defeated so badly. We pulled the party together and elected a president. They didn't see any of that.

That's a shame. You had heard your mother talk about your political talents. Did you feel attracted to politics as soon as you did get involved?

Robert Strauss: Oh, I always knew that I liked politics very much. In my second year at the University of Texas, I worked for a fellow who was running for office.

Who was that?


Robert Strauss: A fellow named Travis B. Dean was running for the world's worst job, that's being a member of the Texas legislature in the '30s. It was not a very distinguished group. But he had about $120 a month in patronage, and he told me he would give me half of it if he got elected, which would be $60 a month. It was a fortune! And he got elected to the legislature, so he had $120 to pass around, and I thought I was going to get 60 of it, but I ended up with a third of the patronage, with $40 of it a month, but that was a lot of money, and I didn't have to do really any work. It was sort of a scam, his patronage to hand out, and I was happy to participate in it. So that $40 a month came in handy. I had that job for two or three years: Committee Clerk in the Texas legislature. You won't see it in my résumés very often, because I'm not quite as proud of that. Maybe I ought to be.


How did you first meet Lyndon Johnson?


Robert Strauss: When I was in the University of Texas in 1937, Lyndon Johnson ran for Congress in the seat of a man named Buchanan, Congressman Buchanan, who died in office, and they had a special election. Roosevelt was president. And I idolized Roosevelt, who I had never met, but I read every word about him, and he captured my imagination. Things were so deplorable, and the Depression was so serious and severe that he came along, and he was about the only light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, to use a cliché. And he captured my imagination, and when Johnson ran for Congress, he had a pretty simple platform: "I'm for Franklin Roosevelt. Whatever he's for, I'm for." There were a bunch of people in that race, and he was not supposed to have too much chance to win it; he was an underdog. But he just ran and ran and ran on Roosevelt and got elected. I was attracted to his campaign then, and I was in the University of Texas undergraduate school -- as a matter of fact, I volunteered to help him one day -- they asked me if I'd take some circulars over to Lockhart from Austin, Texas, about 30 or 40 miles. I drove over to Lockhart, which is the little town I had been born in, and handed out circulars, and those circulars said: "Come hear Lyndon Baines Johnson speak on behalf of his candidacy for Congress," so-and-so and so forth, "Four o'clock p.m., Lockhart Square." And that was my first involvement with Lyndon Johnson.

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This page last revised on Sep 28, 2010 11:13 EDT
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