Russell and Duenes

Power Is Where Power Goes

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LBJLyndon Johnson once said: “Power is where power goes.” He meant that it was not particular political jobs or offices that brought power to men, but rather, certain men gained power by what they themselves brought to any particular political job or office. Power followed such men, and Johnson had a master’s gift for drawing power to himself wherever he went. Indeed, as Robert Caro remarks, “All his life, Lyndon Johnson had been taking nothing jobs and turning them into something, something big.” Johnson went to a small college in the hill country of Texas, where student government meant virtually nothing, and became the most powerful student on campus, determining which students would and would not get jobs to help pay for their tuition. Once in Washington D.C., Johnson again took a “small potatoes” position and made it a powerful one, making himself the political conduit between oil money in Texas and northeastern political influencers. Same story in the Senate, where Johnson angled for and got the Majority Leader position, where he ruled the Senate with a powerful hand.

As with so many other things in Johnson’s life, there is the complexity of human nature here. There is something inspiring and compelling about Johnson’s ability to take seemingly meaningless positions or institutions, see the possibilities for power and influence, select and develop the key relationships and turn those positions and institutions into sources of influence. If done for the right reasons, toward the right ends, with proper accountability, I cannot see anything wrong with this. For some people simply must be in power. It’s not a question of “whether” some will be in power, but “who.” Indeed, I believe, along with Dallas Willard, that men and women whose character has been significantly formed by Christ are best positioned to engage in such a course. And Lyndon Johnson was not entirely without virtue in the power he sought and wielded.

But Johnson also sought power because he liked power. He wanted power, and according to Caro, used it sometimes just because he could. He brown-nosed the key people who could help him get power, and then once the power was obtained, he lorded it over those same people. Such self-aggrandizing hunger for power could not help but have harmful consequences for our nation, some of which are likely well-known, and some of which may not be known to this day, at least to their full extent. I don’t believe this was a case of power corrupting Johnson, but rather, the corruption already in Johnson’s heart marred what he did when he got power.

Thus, I find myself desiring to emulate Johnson in seeing possibilities for influence where others may not see such possibilities, and then taking those opportunities, particularly when it comes to advancing God’s purposes in this world. But I find that I must also note well my own penchant for pride and self-assertion, of which Christ so often warns, and not assume that my own desires for power and influence are pure and noble. The pursuit of influence must be carried out in humility, in submission to godly authority and wisdom coming from others in Christ’s body. It must surely be a difficult road to travel, pointing up the importance of character and spiritual formation.


Written by Michael Duenes

February 28, 2015 at 12:02 pm

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