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The Making of LBJ; A review of Caro's The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate
Claremont Review of Books ^
| September 9, 2002
| Steven F. Hayward
Posted on 11/28/2002 12:37:04 PM PST by Torie
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I agree with this review only in part. Johnson was not that Left Wing in his Senate years, in part because his power was derived from Richard Russell and the Southern Caucus, and in part because he decided to align himself with Eisenhower to point up the tensions between Senate Republicans and the President on many matters. In addition, the Senate was a largely dysfunctional body after the civil war, that was usually in gridlock, and that is not always a good thing. LBJ transformed the place, and made it work more effectively. But the man was a sociopath, and would eschew nothing, no matter how tawdy, illegal, and/or immoral to further his power. He was also a paradigm of Churchill's description of the Germans: he was either at your throat or at your feet, and rarely anything inbetween. And that is an understandment. When he was at your feet, he was prostrate and sucking your toe. When he was at your throat, he preferred simply knawing at your neck with sharp teeth until decapitation, the greater was his pleasure for it. He also enjoyed humiliating his staff at every opportunity, and therefore had great trouble retaining anyone of any talent. He had John Connelly for awhile, but he got out early on.
The review also does not adequately cover the dynamics of the 1957 Civil Rights battle. The play on the ground was that the Republicans wanted a tough bill in order to continue their inroads on the black vote in the North that Eisenhower had cut deeply into in 1956. They wanted the Southerners to filibuster it, and kill it, and then use it as an issue. Nixon was the major force behind this strategy. Johnson wanted to get a bill passed, to burnish his credentials in the North for a presidential run, and foil Nixon's strategy, but to do that he needed to eviscerate it, to get Southern support (the Southerns were willing to go for a fig leaf in order to assist Johnson's presidential ambitions). Johnson accomplished both: the evisceration and then its passage. TO get his toothless Civil Right's Bill passed, be blackmailed or bought off a few Pubbies, and bought off Western state Democrats (who had almost no black voters to contend with and were thus malliable) by giving them a subsidized public power bill. That got liberal icons like Franch Church and Mike Mansfield on board. He also had Hubert Humphrey in his pocket when he needed him, a chap whom he had long since castrated and tamed into a creature of his will.
And there you have it.
posted on 11/28/2002 12:37:04 PM PST
To: jwalsh07; sinkspur; x; deport; Dog Gone; Bigun; Texasforever; Nonstatist; crasher; AntiGuv; ...
For your reading pleasure John, regarding a president about whom we are both not indifferent. Ping to the others who might be interested.
posted on 11/28/2002 12:40:36 PM PST
"With Johnson, you never quite knew if he was out to lift your heart or your wallet."
He would manipulate both to his advantage.
posted on 11/28/2002 12:54:57 PM PST
I think it is best to fully judge Caro's biographies of Johnson after his fourth and final volume about LBJ's presidency is published. I do note that Johnson cooperated quite a bit with Eisenhower since he realized that Ike was popular with the public. Daschle is so clueless that he couldn't figure this out even though he supposedly read Master of The Senate.
posted on 11/28/2002 12:56:40 PM PST
bump for later reading.
I think Caro took a more sympathic look at LBJ in the 3rd book as in the 2nd you walked away thinking LBJ was nothing more than a vote stealing scroundel.
When he came to talk here in Seattle some months ago on part of a book tour (and since winning a Book Award I believe he'll be on tour again) he brought up on the radio twice and in his talk again LBJ's helping out of the Mexican janitor down in Patula (Cotula?) when Johnson was a teacher. The "he just wants to help out" became really thin the 3rd time I heard it -- if Caro himself can't find another compassionate moment in LBJ's life then who can?
posted on 11/28/2002 12:58:21 PM PST
... a man for whom politics is merely a nihilistic series of deals, utterly without any principled ground.
And that is the essence of Lyndon Johnson, probably the worst, and most unprincipled, president of the United States ... his evil legacy lives on after him to this very day.
posted on 11/28/2002 1:03:56 PM PST
Ronald Reagan received hundreds of lettersa a day, and answered his mail. In fact, I have a letter from him.
He received a letter from a soldier in Viet Nam during the war asking Reagan to tell his wife he loved her. Several days later Reagan showed up in front of his wife's door. When she opened it he said, "Hello, I'm Ronald Reagan. Your husband loves you." He gave her a dozen roses, smiled, and walked off. Almost nobody knew about it until publication of of the Schweizer book.
posted on 11/28/2002 1:19:40 PM PST
LBJ is a real toughie for the liberals to deal with.
Most of his legacy is an unmitigated disaster: Viet Nam, the War on Poverty, the much overlooked budget unification act -- when the Social Security budget was consolidated with the government operating budget, so that we could "afford" both a War in Viet Nam and a War on Poverty. All illustrate the utter failure of "good intentions".
Meanwhile, all the positive parts of his legacy (the Civil Rights Act, e.g.) were fostered by cynical, self-serving political calculation -- i.e., "bad intentions".
As a nation, and on balance, we would be better off without LBJ and his dubious works.
posted on 11/28/2002 2:38:44 PM PST
Good review. Caro has a lot of the 1950s or 1960s liberal in his make-up. It's hard to be that naive about political "compassion" today, but that was the religion of liberals forty years ago.
It's striking but not surprising that Johnson wanted to maintain his Senate leadership position as Vice President. One would have thought that LBJ would rig things so as to keep the power and exercise it behind the scenes after he left the Senate. But I guess he wasn't quite as clever as he liked to think himself.
But really, starting the list of his offenses with public urination is hardly fair. For those were different times with different manners, indeed. Another review (continued here} has a more entertaining -- or repellent -- story about Johnson's, er ... Johnson, whom he apparently called "Jumbo."
posted on 11/28/2002 2:46:05 PM PST
"Lyndon Johnson, probably the worst, and most unprincipled, president of the United States"
No. Close perhaps, but not quite.
But really, starting the list of his offenses with public urination is hardly fair. For those were different times with different manners, indeed.
Perhaps, but I'm not so sure about that. After all, we do have the more recent evidence regarding the public urination of James Carville that would lead one to conclude that bird of a feather, meaning Carville and Johnson, undoubtedly do flock ... and most certainly without regard to either public manners or mores.
posted on 11/28/2002 4:17:51 PM PST
Yes I thought it was rude of Caro to mention LBJ's public urination, unless he did it in the WH flowerbeds. Men raised in the country think nothing of urinating out doors on their own property.
posted on 11/28/2002 4:23:07 PM PST
Bumping myself for a later read.
To: Savage Beast
We, of the Bill-Clinton-is-the-Antichrist Society, thank you for your support!
In all likelihood his reference to "urinating in public" was a typo. What he meant was that LBJ urinated on urban America and American fighting men.
posted on 11/28/2002 5:39:25 PM PST
He was also another RAT prez that enriched himself through corrupt "donations" he got in exchange for favors to the donors. He made Klintoon look look a piker at taking graft. He was nothing more than an impoverished Texan school teacher at the start and ended up a multi-millionnaire, like the Felon, but LBJ was a better thief.
LBJ was also an immoralist, like JFK and the Felon, using WH secretaries as his personal concubines. RATS are all scum, but put them in the Oval Office and they become sewer scum.
To: Paulus Invictus
"He [LBJ] made Klintoon look look a piker at taking graft."
He was corrupt. Very, very corrupt. He would do almost anything for almost anybody, so long as it enriched and/or empowered him.
But LBJ had some standards. I don't think he ever sold out his country for campaign cash.
posted on 11/28/2002 6:03:25 PM PST
It amazes me that Caro could come to love Johnson, a man of very dubious accomplishments who represents everything evil in American politics. Then take a look at Caro's seminal work, "The Power Broker." In that work he obviously despises Robert Moses and casts doubt on all of his accomplishments. Moses' list of accomplishments was completely brushed over, Jones Beach, L.I Expressway, Northern State Pkway, The Triboro, Throgs Neck, Whitestone, Verrazano bridges to name a few. The UN, The Westside Hway and the list goes on and on.
He created the modern suburb and so much of the way we live and work today is a result of his genius. Yet Caro comes to hate Moses and all he stands for.
posted on 11/28/2002 6:07:08 PM PST
Caro did not, and does not, love Johnson. He was/is a persona non gratia among true blue Johnson loyalists, including Lady Bird. He views him as a man of enormous weaknesses and strengths, very flawed but not evil. I take a harsher view, but then Caro is indeed more of a liberal than I, and more generous, and less bothered perhaps by the way one uses means of questionable propriety to achieve ends. But he is fair, and his point of view does not detract from the narrative of this marvelous book. Caro is simply a superb writer and story teller, who has obviously expended enormous effort to create a fascinating tapestry. The book is a must read.
posted on 11/28/2002 6:28:06 PM PST
I don't mean to say that he came to love the man, but rather that his accomplishment towards "social justice" somehow made up for the man's evils. I just saw Caro on TV talking about the book and he was just so proud of Johnson's civil rights accomplishments that they were somehow the result of some compassionate core of the man. But the fact is civil rights was all part of Johnson's grand scheme to become president.
posted on 11/28/2002 6:41:07 PM PST
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