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The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power Hardcover – Deckle Edge, November 12, 1982
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This book is a two-fer: we learn all about LBJ and his ascent into the Senate as well as a very decent and loved politician, Coke Stevenson. Caro takes us on a scene by scene, minute by minute telling of the two politicians and their teams of lawyers as the showdown of the Senate race lasts well past Election Day. Caro is fascinating in his story telling and this reader was completely engaged.
The beginning of this book shows how much Caro appreciated LJB in his Presidency, but then as the real story unfurls in the 1948 Senate race, one can perceive that the author is disgusted with the manner in which the election was stolen from the rightful winner, Stevenson. It matters not to this reader that some of this "stuffing" occurs in many elections, but even with that knowledge, LBJ was way over the top in his efforts.
Again, Caro has done a tremendous amount of research and I heartedly recommend this volume. But it would be important to read the first one (The Path of Power) first.
Volume 2 of the monumental biography covers LBJ' s career between his 2 Senate election campaigns in the 1940s. He lost in 1941 due to his inexperience. He got robbed of a victory that seemed certain. He came back to win in 1948, having learned his lesson. He stole a victory for himself this time.
In the meantime he continued as representative of his Texas district in the Congress, and he did some phony war 'service'. His 'combat experience' of one bombing raid as an observer earned him a Silver Star, which would be the seed of many a lovely legend.
It was a terrible time for him, those 7 years, without clear sight of his targets, which were the Senate and the Presidency. Both seemed unattainable. So he diverted some of his energies towards getting rich, successfully. He used his influence to buy a Texas radio station cheaply, and from there he built a profitable empire, with his wife as front.
But money alone didn't make him happy. The Truman presidency set him back in his outlook. He just couldn't weasel into the man's inner circle, as he had managed with Roosevelt.
The most remarkable aspect of his victorious 1948 senate campaign, apart from the theft of victory, was LBJ' s innovative use of a copter, the Flying Windmill. That had not been done before. Also, nobody had spent more money on a senate campaign up to then.
The book opens with a look at critical moments in 1965 when President LBJ pushed major civil rights legislation in front of and through the House. The civil rights movement did not quite trust him. His voting and speaking record had been entirely of the opposite brand. Can a man change like that?
And then the temporary ally of protests turned into the foe. He sent bombers and troops into Vietnam. Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?
He acquired a record of lies. Deceiving the public about government activities became business as usual. The standing of the presidency was damaged.
The man achieved some good ends, but could do so only after applying dirty means. This volume of the biography has elements of farce and of white collar crime report. A political thriller and courtroom drama with slapstick elements.
I knew nothing about this election fraud story, that darkened LBJ' s reputation, before I started reading Caro's work.
In volume 1, I was somewhat bothered by the author's insistent negativity about the man's character. In this volume 2, that stalking attitude continues. On top of it, we are served a hagiographical treatment of LBJ's losing 48 opponent, former Texas Governor Coke Stevenson. Much too good to be true.I googled Coke S and found a review of this book from New York Review of Books, which makes exactly this point. Caro doesn't give us a full picture of the man Stevenson, and he continues to point only the worst lights on LBJ.
Don't let this skeptical addendum demotivate you from reading the book. Just take a grain of salt with it.