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Wills On Means of Ascent

[ 60 ] May 21, 2012 |

I’ve been withholding further discussion of the second volume of Caro’s LBJ biography hoping that the New Republic would put Blumenthal’s review online.   That doesn’t seem to be happening, but even better I noticed that the NYRB has made Garry Wills’s review available.   As you would expect it’s a wonderful piece of writing in itself.   The review uses telling examples to demonstrate that Means of Ascent is a hatchet job — the whitewash of Coke Stevenson, the withholding or emphasis of Lady Bird’s intense fear of flying depending on whether it’s needed to make LBJ look bad, the meaninglessness of saying that the 1948 Democratic primary was “stolen.”   Even better, it does so with even more wonderful turns of phrase than one expects from Wills, which is saying something.  “One finishes this long volume with the fear, page by page, that Bambi will show up in the final paragraph to lick Coke’s cheek.”   “Those who decide they are too good for politics may be right, but they are often the least qualified judges, either of their own virtue or the system’s viciousness.”  And my personal favorite:

One reason for Caro’s deep belief that no one of any discernment or importance liked Johnson is his own inability to like anything about him…Caro’s imperviousness to Johnson’s weirder charms shows in many little ways as well as large ones. His evidence for the contempt students felt for him is their open use of the nickname Bull (for Bullshit) to his face. But there is bullshit and bullshit. “Bull sessions” is a neutral term—Johnson would later ask if he had to give a set speech at a political meeting or just bullshit. Bullshitting can be a skill, and even an art, not least in Texas. Caro has no critical ear in this regard, on the evidence of his unremittingly humorless pages. To write of Lyndon Johnson without a sense of humor is like setting a tone-deaf man to write about Mozart.

And yet, and yet, even at his worst I’m not immune to Caro either. Means of Ascent is a train wreck, far below the standards of Caro’s other four books, but it’s still an oddly fascinating train wreck. Once you can start to half-ignore the ridiculous framing, he still uncovers a lot of good stories about a political figure who’s worthy of extensive attention. And as I’ve said, it’s also interesting to me in terms of what it says about a certain generation of liberals, when (understandably) Vietnam loomed large while the Great Society could be seen as the emergence of a consensus. Means of Ascent seems to be working within the framework that caused a lot of people on the left to hold Hubert Humphrey — very possibly the most liberal major party nominee of the 20th century — in contempt. (For me, always symbolized by Mailer saying that if forced to choose he would prefer Nixon in Miami and the Siege of Chicago.) And as Tom Carson’s excellent review of Passages of Power points out, Caro reflects a particular variant of this — the patrician variant rather than the radical variant. Caro seems to find Jeffersonian leadership norms where politicians shouldn’t explicitly seek power very attractive, an ethos that Adlai Stevenson reflected. LBJ’s transparency was the opposite of this, which is part of what explains how Caro analyzes the 1948 Democratic primary.

But by Master of the Senate, Caro has changed. Part of this, I’m sure, is that he was stung by the criticism of Means of Ascent, and his clear-eyed view of Richard Russell (as compared to his embarrassing canonization of Stevenson in particular reflects this. But I don’t think it’s just that. The last two volumes pass the “Tyrone Guthrie” test. The third volume has — and should — a lot of critical material, but Caro no longer seems entirely immune to LBJ’s charms. And this is more pronounced in Passages of Power. As a longtime Camelot skeptic I’m not surprised to find “Rufus Cornpone” a more sympathetic figure that Bobby Kennedy and many of his associates, but I am surprised to find that at times this seems to be Caro’s view as well. I’m guessing that the evolution of Caro’s views about LBJ is shared by a lot of liberals of his era.

Comments (60)

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  1. Jim Lynch says:

    “Means of Ascent seems to be working within the framework that caused a lot of people on the left to hold Hubert Humphrey — very possibly the most liberal major party nominee of the 20th century — in contempt”.

    It was the Vietnam War that wrecked HHH’s reputation with huge numbers of democrats, and properly so. Like those gutless democrats that supported the Bush administration during the Iraq War, Humphrey swallowed Big Lies whole, regurgitated them, and made them his own.

    • howard says:

      we’ve talked about before, but as someone old enough to remember the passions of the moment well, i regard humphrey’s vice presidency as a gigantic tragedy. i’ve long felt (and said in this space before) that had humphrey resigned the vice presidency in december, 1967, with a “i’ve been on the inside and there’s no there there on vietnam,” i strongly believe the whole course of the last 44 years would have been different.

      but there’s no getting away from it: the humphrey of 1948 was not the humphrey of 1968, and i still find it hard, even knowing what we know now of how history actually unfolded, to support the idea of voting for humphrey in ’68 (i was a teenager, but i strongly urged my parents, who were very early anti-war people in their social and parental circle, to not vote for humphrey – although they didn’t listen!).

      p.s. kudos for bring up miami and the siege of chicago, which i have long felt was an under-appreciated piece of mailer’s journalistic career.

      • John says:

        Hating Humphrey seems to be a really strong visceral emotion with older boomers, to a degree that it’s really hard for me, as someone on the cusp between Gen X and Gen Y, to grasp even on an intellectual level. My parents have basically said the same thing about Humphrey as you do.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          I can definitely believe that I would have felt the same way about HHH in 1968. But to try to argue in retrospect that he wasn’t worth supporting seems crazy to me. Could he have been any worse than Nixon on Vietnam? And that was a window where a real progressive on domestic policy really could have accomplished something.

          • Bill Murray says:

            what could HHH have accomplished that the Congress of Nixon didn’t? You usually argue, IIRC, that Nixon signed off on the Dems domestic agenda to free himself in other areas.

            • Hogan says:

              We don’t get the New Federalism; maybe we don’t get the same War on Drugs.

              • Lee says:

                Humphrey would have gotten us a more liberal Supreme Court. All of Nixon’s appointees would have been moderate or liberal Democratic judges probably.

                While Humphrey would have continued with Vietnam, it is highly unlikely that he would have expanded it in away that led to the Khmer Rogue.

                Finally, Humphrey would be more devoted to civil right, avoiding resegregation.

            • Scott Lemieux says:

              Yeah, but that’s exactly the point; Nixon was willing to sign bills put on his desk, but he wasn’t using his agenda-setting powers to push for liberal legislation either.

              • Erik Loomis says:

                And to be clear, Nixon only signed those bills on his desk because he felt he didn’t have much of a choice given the support he needed to muster to punch hippies and kill Cambodians, the two things that really mattered to him. Had Nixon been able to veto all that enviro legislation, he gladly would have done so.

                • howard says:

                  can you back that up, erik? after all, in 1968, the environment was not coded purely as a liberal, democratic issue and i’ve never seen anything to suggest that nixon (like many traditional republicans, including his key fundraiser walter annenberg) was opposed to any form of environmental legislation: that was a different republican party then.

        • Halloween Jack says:

          Part of that may have to do with his behavior in ’72, such as pledging to honor the winner-take-all system of the California primary, then challenging it after McGovern won it. Hunter S. Thompson was particularly merciless toward “the Hube” in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, IIRC.

      • efgoldman says:

        Humphrey had no way of foreseeing the events of 1968: (a) that LBJ would decline to run again (b) that RFK was going to run, (c) that RFK would be killed for his trouble, as would MLK, and (d) that the Democratic convention would be the clusterbleep it turned out to be.
        Of course if he had resigned to run, as you suggest, Bobby might have not felt the need to run; on the other hand, LBJ might have become enraged, and felt the need to crush Humphrey and the whole left wing of the party…
        Ifs, buts, unicorns, ponies…

        • efgoldman says:

          Hating Humphrey seems to be a really strong visceral emotion with older boomers…

          …[I] still find it hard, even knowing what we know now of how history actually unfolded, to support the idea of voting for humphrey in ’68…

          I didn’t, annd I don’t. I’m technically a pre-boomer (1945); I could no more have voted for Nixon than cut off my right hand, and ’68 was my first presidential election.

          • howard says:

            let me respond to a few comments at once here.

            i’ll begin with an anecdote: my lithuanian immigrant maternal grandfather spent his early years in the us living in minnesota, and from 1965-68, he easily wrote a letter every 3 months to humphrey expressing how disappointed he was in a fellow minnesotan cheerleading for the disaster that was vietnam.

            i don’t hate humphrey: as i said here, i truly believe that he could have made a difference for the better if he had been willing to face up to the failure of vietnam and his complicity in it, and i think it’s tragic that the same man who was such a dynamo at the 1948 convention and who was such a powerful spokesperson for liberal causes throughout the ’50s and early ’60s could sell his soul to defend the indefensible.

            but he did, and you young folks who thought that dissent was unheard in the early iraq years? well, it was just as true in the vietnam years (yes, there was a loud anti-war “movement,” but the 1960s equivalent of very serious people wanted nothing to do with it or its critique of the war, and as vice president, humphrey transmogrified into a very serious person indeed).

            it’s worth noting, after all, that even before bobby kennedy’s assassination, humphrey had already wrapped up the nomination despite having run in zero primaries: he was the party bosses candidate, the status quo candidate.

            and so to simply vote for him when he was associated with a policy disaster that he refused (until the last couple of weeks of the campaign) to disown, to vote for him when he was the boss candidate, was to say that there should be no accountability for the failure of vietnam and the price that we paid for that policy error.

            and that’s why, even now, it’s hard for me to imagine supporting voting for humphrey (which is not the same, of course, as voting for nixon, although it accepted the possibility that nixon would win).

            that all said, i personally doubt that people of my mindset made the difference in the election: what i believe made the difference was wallace siphoning off votes that historically (meaning fdr through lbj) had gone democratic, foreshadowing the “reagan democrat” voters.

            p.s. just as a thought experiment, imagine, if you will, that the gore-lieberman administration was damn fool enough to invade iraq. and imagine that al gore for whatever reason (he felt he was a divisive figure, for example) dropped out. and imagine that joe lieberman won the nomination without running in a single primary. how many of you were ready to vote for him? (and let’s face it, whatever nixon’s manifold sins, he was massively to the left of whatever republican would have been nominated in 2004.)

            • Scott Lemieux says:

              But for the analogy to work, Gore’s VP would have to have been Wellstone (who would not have crashed on Air Force One) or Feingold or something. Would you have preferred Bush to either under any circumstances?

              • howard says:

                but i’m not creating an analogy out of thin air; i’m talking about the real circumstances that could have existed in 2004, up to and including that lieberman would undoubtedly be marginally preferable to whatever nutcase republican was nominated.

                but fine, let’s use wellstone, and say that wellstone had spent 4 years cheering on the invasion of iraq and not once acknowledged its problematic nature (until, let us say, roughly october 15, when he slightly distinguished himself from the gore administration).

                still feel the same?

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  Yes. A VP isn’t responsible for the policies of the administration, and for obvious reasons isn’t going to attack them.

                  And my insistence on the correct analogy is important to my point. Humphrey was a staunch liberal, not a centrist like Lieberman. I think that matters, and my whole point is that gets airbrushed from history.

        • howard says:

          just to play this particular point out, ef goldman, the reason i emphasize december, 1967, is that that was when eugene mccarthy realized that no one else was going to step up and say “the war is wrong, it’s a disaster, and we need to get out as soon as possible,” he did. he would have preferred it if bobby kennedy had done so; he probably would have preferred it if humphrey had done what i say here.

          but i pick that time very specifically because it was the moment of truth when opposition to the war was either going to be an issue in the democratic nominating process or not, and it was a very closely run thing: had mccarthy been a different and more careerist sort, odds are he wouldn’t have chosen to stand up and say “stop the madness,” at which point, very simply, lbj would have been renominated….

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            But you can’t seriously compare the position Humphrey and McCarthy were in. Cheering the administration’s policies was Humphrey’s job. Particularly given that HHH was otherwise infinitely preferable to McCarthy, this seems important.

            • howard says:

              look, humphrey was a heroic figure in 1948 and that can never be taken away from him. he was a far more liberal figure than mccarthy through 1964, and that can never be taken away from him.

              but at the moment of truth on vietnam, he chose the insider position of vice president over any other option (and for all i know, he believed every word he said about the war – certainly, his 1972 campaign doesn’t fill me with confidence that he was the same hubert humphrey that i just praised).

              and at the moment of truth, mccarthy said, in essence, well, if no one else is going to speak up, i will because this is insane, which means that he was suddenly infinitely preferable to humphrey, who was perfectly content to soldier along.

              (mccarthy would almost certainly have been a lousy president, btw; as i noted above, he’d have been just as happy had bobby kennedy stepped up in the first place. but as i say, accountability is the essential matter here.)

            • howard says:

              just to make one further point: i believe, strongly, that our politics would be better if we had more of a tradition of resigning on principle (and i say that as the only person i know who quit a job on a matter of principle, so i’m not asking politicians to do something i wouldn’t do).

              humphrey fulfilled the vice presidential job description, but as the cliche goes, he had agency in that: he didn’t have to keep the job. he chose to.

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                If hadn’t kept the job, as someone else said, there’s no chance in hell he gets the nomination anyway. It’s not clear what this actually would have accomplished.

                And I don’t mean to entirely deny McCarthy credit for opposing the war. He was right on that issue, and he deserves credit. But it shouldn’t be forgotten that other than that he was also an archetypal narcissistic centrist wanker, while HHH in a comparable position was a very progressive figure.

                • howard says:

                  we’re closing in on repetition here, so let me make a few final points (for the night, at least: tomorrow is another day)

                  first off, it’s neither fair nor accurate to call mccarthy a centrist wanker: he emerged from the dfl when that meant something. yes, he was not as progressive as humphrey, but he was far from a centrist (and, of course, even if he were a centrist, the center in 1968 was considerably left of the center today).

                  second, we’re not debating humphrey’s legacy here: as i’ve noted several times, it’s precisely because of his strong liberal beliefs that his end game is so tragic. we’re debating whether, in historic retrospect, not voting for humphrey in order to insist upon accountability for failed policy is a supportable move. (as a side note, i have no idea, seriously, how american political history of the mid-twentieth century is taught, but it’s hard to believe that humphrey’s liberalism is airbrushed out; if it is, that is, of course, completely wrong.)

                  third, when mccarthy announced in ’67, the very serious people of the day all were sure he had no chance at all; nonetheless, his ragtag supporters and campaign picked up 42% of the vote in new hampshire, for god’s sake.

                  which is to say, yes, as a matter of fact, i do believe that the historic humphrey (if he still existed at that point) would have certainly done as well, and it was his poor performance in new hampshire that drove johnson out of the race.

                  now, who is to say: maybe johnson is so resentful at humphrey that he stays in and wins it. maybe rfk comes out strongly for humphrey and helps him win it, gets the vp slot, and isn’t assassinated. maybe, maybe, maybe.

                  but what’s clear is that there was not going to be a debate on vietnam if someone in the democratic party didn’t step up and demand it: that could (and should, in my estimation) have been humphrey, and the fact that it wasn’t was a choice that humphrey made (if he really were opposed to the war, there was no reason for him to stay as vice president).

                  arod isn’t an all star any more, and it’s entirely possible that by 1968, humphrey wasn’t a liberal lion anymore: given what we know – his hesitancy to criticize vietnam, his inability to connect with the young audience that mccarthy attracted and the multi-racial and strongly blue collar audience that rfk attracted – it may be that his moment had passed.

                  but i don’t know that, and i’m giving him the benefit of the doubt in the sense that i think it was within him to resign and lead the opposition to the war.

                  and for his failure to do that – for whatever set of reasons – and even more so, for his failure until the very end of the campaign to take a clear stand distinct from the johnson administration on vietnam – means that it remains very hard for me to imagine voting for him in 1968, which is the point of the exercise here.

                  and finally, let’s go back to your wellstone analogy, because it takes us to the heart of the matter: if wellstone had spent 4 years carrying water for a misguided gore administration war in iraq and then claimed “hey, really, i’m the same guy i was up until 2000, and trust me, the war in iraq is cool” would you have voted for him unreservedly?

                  because that’s the complete analogy.

          • H-Bob says:

            Wow, an anti-Humphrey rant that doesn’t even acknowledge that we would have avoided Watergate and all its creepy offshoots !

  2. Erik Loomis says:

    I am in the middle of Means of Ascent right now and I have to say that I flat out not enjoying it. Not only do we see the creation of St. Coke that flies in the face of reality, but Caro puts so much emphasis on the 48 election that it really needs to work for the book to fly. And it doesn’t. Page after page about the damn helicopter. Yet another story about LBJ mistreating Lady Bird, etc., etc. Since I don’t buy his analysis of this election, the book just isn’t that interesting.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      And that is indeed a fantastic review.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Yeah, The Path to Power is almost as hostile to LBJ, but is much richer and more interesting. The focus of MOA is so narrow that his erroneous analysis really torpedoes the whole project.

    • Walt says:

      Interesting. I really liked the account of the ’48 election because at some point I started hating Stevenson anyway. I didn’t know anything about him, but it was clear that Caro had fallen in love with him. I found it easy to have critical distance, though, because the things that Caro loved about him were so dull — the cowboy Governer, woo-hoo! — that it was hard not to root for Johnson.

      • Warren Terra says:

        It may have to do with when you first read it. I read Caro’s book around when Master Of The Senate came out – i.e. when Dubya seemingy bestrode the world like a colossus. Under the circumstances it wasn’t terribly difficult too see past Caro’s infatuation and instinctively dislike a folksy fundamentalist anti-intellectual ranch-dwelling Governor of Texas.

        • timb says:

          I think the larger point is when you come to the book at all. I read Master of the Senate first and then Path to Power and then Means of Ascent and I got to say, I came to MOA much less critically than Scott and Erik did. Master of the Senate is a compelling book and showed me, despite the flaws, what he was capable of doing.

          I wasn’t gonna be out-raged by how he got there after already knowing he was going to do good things.

  3. Jess Brown says:

    Means of Ascent was written over 20 years ago. Caro was writing from the perspective of the times when the realities of who was still in power and who had means to retaliate were still very real. That alone should give us pause to judge the work from a different frame of reference and the witnesses who had the most to lose.

    And HHH was a politician who did what he needed to do to stay near power, and that was his undoing.

  4. bemused says:

    I have long given thanks that the not-yet-passed 18 year old vote prevented me from voting for Nixon in 1968. What a year. I said goodbye to my father as he left for Vietnam on the day after MLK was shot, and dropped out of college to “do something” as the cities burned. I went door to door, clean for Gene. I stood dumbfounded as the news of the RFK assassination was broadcast. I watched the horrific Chicago convention unfold, given birth by Mayor Dailey at the behest of LBJ and with the purpose of nominating Humphrey. It is unsurprising that many Democrats were repelled by what they saw and felt even Nixon would be a better choice. I also felt that. But I was wrong, and I devoutly hope the Naderite wing of the progressive movement could perhaps reflect on the lesson 1968 and 2000 teache, as we approach another election without a perfect choice.

    I don’t believe the disappointments felt about Obama’s first term rise anywhere near the level of the issues surrounding the Vietnam War and the riots of 1968, but people don’t seem to learn from history they haven’t experienced. Perhaps this time will be different, and we don’t have to wake up November 7th to the unfortunate aftermath of too many people having to have have it all, and getting less than nothing.

    • howard says:

      bemused, fwiw, i certainly remember (as i noted above) urging my parents not to vote for humphrey, but under no circumstances was that an endorsement to vote for nixon; i’d be curious how many people actually followed that approach.

      • Anonymous says:

        I never gave a thought to voting for Nixon. 1968 was the first presidential election in which I could vote and I strongly supported Bobby in the California primary race against McCarthy (although the majority of my fellow Berkeley undergrads felt otherwise). Did so because I thought Bobby had the best shot of beating Nixon.

        I didn’t like Humphrey at all (not only the support, then equivocation, on Vietnam but the glad handing overly enthusiastic, always talking personality wasn’t at all “cool”, my overwhelming style preference.) But I could overlook that antipathy and realize that a vote for Nixon (or for anybody else) was a huge mistake.

        One of the arguments on the left that year was that if you support Nixon and he wins, the repression comes, the people resist and the revolution happens. (Remember that argument distinctly being made when Reagan ran against Pat Brown in 1966 for governor). I’ve heard that argument my entire adult life. Its never been true and its never happened.

        • Richard says:

          Didn’t mean to post as Anonymous

          • howard says:

            richard, it’s hard to know at this remove, but i’d say that berkeley, being one of the leftest communities in america in 1968, perhaps housed people who believed in the revolution, so to speak, but i’m not sure it was that widespread across the american left.

      • H-Bob says:

        ” i’d be curious how many people actually followed that approach” – what, voting for Wallace ?

    • Hogan says:

      the horrific Chicago convention unfold, given birth by Mayor Dailey at the behest of LBJ

      Wait what?

      • bemused says:

        Chicago’s mayor used the city police and his power as chairman to support LBJ’s wish to stamp out anti-war and Civil Rights dissent at the convention. The TV images of the police beating demonstrators outside the convention and the strong-arm political tactics inside the hall were very shocking at that time. Now we have “free speech zones” to keep dissent out of the media.

        • Hogan says:

          No, I know what happened. I’m just surprised that Daley received any encouragement from LBJ. God knows he didn’t need it.

          • Richard says:

            I’m not aware that Johnson orchestrated what happened in Chicago, that he actively encouraged it or that he had any contact with Daley. Johnson had already bowed out of running again and, as I recall, didn’t make an appearance at the convention.

      • mark f says:

        The convention was a Brussel sprout, an ugly Brussel sprout, that Jumbo had placed inside the mayor’s womb.

  5. Anderson says:

    Looking forward to Caro finishing his LBJ bio and then, age 92 or so, embarking on a massive expose of the sausage industry.

    • pj for la says:

      If he keeps his present writing pace, he shouldn’t be a day over 87. Hope he has good health insurance and a strong will to finish.

      • Warren Terra says:

        Don’t even joke about it. William Manchester falling to dementia with his Churchill saga unfinished was bad enough.

  6. Joe says:

    The Internet skewered my reading habits but even w/o it, there are way too many books out there for the average person (or even not so average) to spend so much time to read tomes of this nature if they are so (I’ll take your word for it) flawed.

    He was on C-SPAN over the weekend. Brian Lamb is starting to look old. No wonder he decided to step down from his full time gig.

    • Warren Terra says:

      Caro’s Robert Moses book is as good as they say, even for people like me who know nothing of New York. And even Means Of Ascent has it’s virtues, and the series is worth reading.

      RE C-SPAN, I support their mission(s) but Lamb is a conservative hack, and in recent years lazy besides – though the network’s other BOOKTV choices lead me to suspect I’ll miss Lamb, that the rest of the programming staff are worse.

      • Joe says:

        I’m talking about this book. There are too many books out there for the average person to spend what can be weeks for the busy person if Scott is correct. I note that some of his criticisms requires you know the history so if you don’t know it (NY), I’m not totally sure if you can judge that angle.

        I don’t quite see how you think he is a “hack” (I don’t see him as “lazy” but that’s more debatable) though he is probably is an old school conservative. The programming staff is mixed though no adequate replacement to Book Notes was found.

        • Warren Terra says:

          It’s about his glib advancing of conservative memes, while pretending impartiality. And I say the rest of the staff is worse because of the awful programming they come up with for the Q&A slot that sort of replaced Booknotes, with its mix of nutbar conservatives and Village centrists.

  7. mattc says:

    Caro’s treatment of Stevenson in MOA is justly vilified, but the blow-by-blow story of the actual vote theft in Jim Wells and Duval counties and the subsequent court battle (at one point, the legendary Texas Ranger Frank Hamer had a high-noon style face off w/ Judge George Parr’s pisteleros over the infamous “Box 13″ of counterfeit ballots) is absolutely riveting, especially since Caro had access to an unpublished account of the election written by one of Parr’s thugs.

  8. James E Powell says:

    When I first read Means of Ascent I was put off more by the villification of LBJ and the sanctification of Coke Stephenson. When I read it again years later, I just accepted that Caro detested LBJ and didn’t mind it anymore. I mean, he hates LBJ and this is what he comes up with? Please!

    When all is said and done, and I do hope that Caro is able to finish, it’s his treatment of Stephenson that will be considered the flaw, no this hatred of LBJ.

    • James E Powell says:

      . . . than the sanctification . . .

    • JoyfulA says:

      When I read Means of Ascent, I wondered how Caro could spend so many years of his life intertwined with someone he so obviously despised. I’ve never read any of Caro’s other books; I don’t trust him to be fair and honest.

  9. Manju says:

    The LBJ who voted against no-hope anti-lynching legislation was the same LBJ as the one who signed the Voting Rights Act

    I didn’t catch this last time around…when I argued that Senate Majority Leader LBJ should be remembered for killing, not credited for passing, Civil Rights legislation in 1957. You can read that here:

    http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2012/05/coke-stevenson-and-political-principle/comment-page-1#comment-263206

    Reasonable people can disagree on that. But to frame anti-lynching bills as “no-hope anti-lynching legislation” strikes me as an unreasonable accommodation to LBJ’s legacy.

    There were a slew of bills at that time precisely because there was so much hope that they could pass. The 1937 bill flew thru the House as did the 1940 one LBJ (and Al Gore) voted against.

    In 1937, Gallup showed a huge majority of American supporting Anti-lynching legislation…including federal intervention. This included a majority in the South.

    By the time LBJ was in Congress, lynching and the KKK was out of bounds. The House was no longer a unsurmountable problem and even some Southern Senators were publicly in favor (though privately opposed). Others, like LBJ, chose to be demagogues.

    The NAACP certainly thought it doable. If anyone’s assessment of LBJ is based on the belief that it wasn’t, I would urge a reconsideration.

  10. HyperIon says:

    A simplistic explanation: Maybe Caro just dislikes those folks he perceives as acting like jerks. And maybe he cannot prevent that from showing in what he writes.

  11. rea says:

    Can’t let a thread on Johnson go by without pointing out this

  12. [...] is that Caro seems to be setting up a Means of Ascent II for the final volume, with RFK donning Coke Stevenson’s white hat.* Now, of course, that would not be nearly as disastrous the second time around. While LBJ’s [...]

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