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UTUSN's Journal
UTUSN's Journal
March 18, 2012

CARO's Vol.4 of his LBJ bio is due 05/2012: an inelegant, diary/e-mail review of Vols 1-3

Robert A. CARO. The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Vol. 1, The Path to Power, 1981. Vol. 2, Means of Ascent, 1990. Vol. 3, Master of the Senate, 2002.

I had stayed away from this biography because my adult life has been dominated by JFK/LBJ/Vietnam, thankfully less and less, and I thought I knew what I needed to know and really didn't want to know more. I was wrong. I thought the "Box 13" theft of the Senate election in Texas was a small story. It was not. It made Shrub vs. GORE look like a cakewalk. Then CARO has long chapters on the history of the Senate, showing the dysfunction (gridlock) built-in; the history of racism as backdrop for why things happened; the incredible intricacies of parliamentarianism in the service of good or evil; innumerable vignettes of known and not known personages strutting their feeble time on the stage. Decent people destroyed (do you know who Leland OLDS was?) . Sorry for how ignorant I'm exposing myself (nothing new) to be, I'll just jump back to the e-mails:

I have finished reading volume 1 of Robert A. CARO’s monumental 3-volumes-going-on-one-more (due in May ‘12) biography of LBJ. Monumental, not (merely) because of its 768 pages, but because the amount of research and detail, not to mention solid writing, is STUPENDOUS. This first was published in 1981-82. The main and shocking impression is what a devious, personally abusive, grasping, voraciously ambitious human LBJ was, which means the fascination is in how that incomplete list of negatives could have been put in the service of GOOD (Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, Medicare/caid, etc. ) .

The 2nd impression is how nothing is new, how today’s antics of gridlock in D.C. and treachery in politics have been played out over and over forever, just that in the particular period of LBJ the characters were FDR, RAYBURN, and scores of other super-sized personalities. In the news this week is how electricity in the Middle East has transformed daily life from crushing labor (refrigeration/food storage) and expanded consciousness by communication with the outside world: Yawn. LBJ brought electricity to the Texas Hill Country, with the same incredible impact on daily life.

His deviousness was, pretending to be a Liberal among Liberals and a Wingnut among Winguts. The “perfect ROOSEVELT man” who on the other hand was a ROOSEVELT-hater in the ROOSEVELT-hater circles of his oilmen fatcats and Confederate boosters. There were NO limits to his treachery, betraying even first RAYBURN and then FDR when it was, uh, CALLED-for, for his ambitions and survival to further.

And the 3rd impression is that, after Mr CARO has totally exposed the thievery, chicanery, class and racial/ethnic hatred, and hypocrisy in American politics, it makes his comments about the “Mexican” politics of South Texas as beyond the pale BY AMERICAN/superior STANDARDS -- this would be a “Huh?” moment, like, did the author forget what he just said about the STUPENDOUS bribery and theft by the supposedly superior Anglos LBJ and Brown & Root (now named “Halliburton“), the millions in cash that Herman and George BROWN dumped down LBJ’s gullet all his political life, not to mention the other uber-fatcats chipping in on all other sides and geography of the American political spectrum: buying federal contracts, favorable legislation, and repressive legislation from compliant Congress critters and Presidents. When Mr CARO refers to the Hispanics in Texas residents has having COME FROM Mexico, he appears to forget that they were probably here for a few centuries, that THIS is their homeland. Plus, while describing the boss system as “Mexican“, he skips over the tiny detail that most and the most powerful political bosses he named were ANGLOS. Uh, WHO said, “La tierra es de quien la trabaja” (The land belongs to who works it)? It was Mexican (in Mexico) Emiliano ZAPATA, not the King Ranch BOYS of Texas. B&R poured cash into LBJ for a couple of scores of years. And got it back exponentially in his bought-and-paid-for legislation.

Last night I finished reading the second volume of CARO’s biography of LBJ. I thought I had done something as a schoolboy when I read, outside of school assignments, a 7 volumes bio of Woodrow WILSON, one of the old fashioned ones that didn’t tell the dirt (a.k.a., “truth”) such that I idolized him for a couple of decades without knowing (remembering?) that he was a racist and a colonialist (but also an idealist). But those 7 volumes were LIGHT in all ways, actual weight and in content, by comparison with this.

The LBJ volume 1 was 700+ pp and dreary and shocking and monumental. I thought #2 would be easy in its JUST 412 pp. Well, it was BAD (good), dreary, covering in the last few LONG chapters, the THEFT of the 1948 senate election by LBJ, the infamous Box 13, the ugly campaign before it, and that campaign and election theft made the GORE vs Shrub court battle look like a children’s party. It’s clear that GORE and everybody had not read this book or everybody would have known what to do. And it was one Supreme Court justice, the sainted Hugo BLACK who put an end to the battle in LBJ’s favor. I thought I knew who some of these people were, Abe FORTAS, well, they were totally MORE brilliant than I ever knew and more crooked than I could ever imagine. The SAME legal arguments were made about the national government NOT interfering in a state election, and the SAME arguments the other way won. And the national “interests” were the same: TRUMAN needed Texas and LBJ, not the personally honest but Wingnutilly reactionary Coke STEVENSON.

And it is clear that even a personally HONEST wingnut would NEVER have passed the first Civil Rights legislation (1957) or the later things of 1964/5, and that what all this means is that we swallow a terrible human if he gets what we want for us, or as RAYBURN put it, “He‘s a s.o.b., but he‘s OUR s.o.b."

Anyway, with two volumes down, I thought it was downhill sledding with the 3rd one, although you can see its like a HUMONGOUS BRICK. Oh. My. Zeus. It’s ONE THOUSAND FORTY pp, and it’s all about LBJ’s Senate years. I had avoided this biography for years because I lived through a couple of decades of it and thought I knew and certainly didn’t want to hear more about the KENNEDYs vs LBJ, or Vietnam. But this 3rd volume doesn’t even get to the KENNEDYS and Vietnam!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The 1960 campaign and LBJ’s vice presidency would be in volume 4, which is debuting in May of this year.

Last night I finished (reading) Vol. 3. It was TWELVE years in the writing. A whole, long chapter on the History of the Senate, to show how the dysfunction got that way to begin with and how LBJ bent the traditions and the rules to make it work, even if it was for furthering his ambitions, but increasingly to realize the GLEAMING THREADS of humanity and compassion in the tapestry of his character. How the founders thought it necessary to build-in a braking mechanism on mob rule, but how the Southerners with their rock solid seniority kept the public demand for the causes of Labor and Civil Rights broken and shackled for decade after decade, with popular waves of demand for change and reform, one after another, shut down by the niceties of parliamentary rules, all under the genteel drawl of “the scent of magnolias.”

And the personalities I thought I knew: Ha, the supposedly eloquent (by media hype; not *my* hero; of my youth) Everett DIRKSEN, shown to be a gasbag tool. The little engine who could, President TRUMAN, proposing health care and civil rights programs and having to settle against the Congress critters for what he could get by Executive Order, little things like desegregating the military. The FDR crew, like Olympians. Ha, I thought I knew how magnificent Franklin and Eleanor were, HAH. And always the breathtaking TREACHERY of the LBJ morass, the cruelty starting even with his family and Lady Byrd and extending unsurprisingly to his political enemies, but his own craven, pathetic groveling in desperation when he had to save himself. And then, when the GOLD THREADS of (sincere?) compassion showed themselves, it’s almost like too late to make me scramble a portion of admiration?

Increasingly, as his journey passed milestones of power, one name kept creeping past in the background: Tiberius.

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