Graduate of Princeton, Fellow at Harvard University, biographer, Robert A. Caro has written four superb volumes investigating the life of Lyndon Baines Johnson, “…a crooked man who walked a crooked mile.” Caro and wife Ina (a biographer and writer in her own right), traveled to Johnson City, Fredericksburg, Austin, Texas, lived, ate and slept LB Johnson, talked with hundreds of knowledgeable people in state and federal government, retirees, friends and enemies of Lyndon, for several long years, and almost became nuisances at the LBJ library. For this detection, Robert Caro has become “the standard by whom his fellows are measured.” Anyone who expects to be successful in politics can obtain a political science education in Caro’s exposes.
Furthermore, 254 pages of milled political gold lie in a modest paperback written by a cowboy in 1964, graduate of two colleges that include the University of Texas, a historian who detested Lyndon Baines Johnson, and was appalled by the crimes Johnson got away with. The student of political history, even the casual reader of biographies, must, if a rare copy can be had, read A TEXAN LOOKS AT LYNDON: A Study in Illegitimate Power, a condensed jewel, a mesmerizing page-turner. Most of the Johnson derelictions featured by Lone Star State historian J. Evetts Haley are mirrored in Robert Caro’s own majestic works.
Haley’s contemporary acquaintance with South Texas political machinations reveals the down and dirty behavior that made Lyndon Johnson a natural for a Benedict Arnold medallion, robbing his country and the middle-class to enhance LBJ and cronies, while looking down his prominent nose at “the little people.” Lyndon was the supreme ass-kisser, whose cooing inflections of voice were “offers one couldn’t refuse.”
The scope of subornation carried out by Lyndon and cronies against the peace and dignity of the State of Texas and the United States of America, the magnitude of fraud in Johnson’s career is a common web that occurs in both the Caro and Haley books, where senators, representatives, lobbyists and other insiders are treated to piano bars, prostitutes, the finest foods, booze and furnishings by LBJ’s gofer, Bobby Baker. At the center of the web is pure poison, a Brown Recluse spider, Lyndon Johnson, his web-tender, Bobby Gene Baker, and others enamored of, or scared sh—-ss of LBJ, man with the power.
The story of Lyndon, as he becomes U.S. Representative, Senator, Vice President and ultimately President of the United States, is Haley’s story of a shooting star, a shambling juggernaut, “six feet four inches tall, looming threateningly over those who opposed him,” with a Normal School certificate, acidly embarrassed by his father’s financial failures, and his family’s privation. Lyndon becomes well paid, as head of the Texas NYA (National Youth Administration) in 1935, a “Communist ridden” organization of the time.
In his run for Senator, in 1948, Coke Stevenson led 39.7% to Johnson’s 33.7%. Representative Johnson was scared lily-white, squalled like a cub bear, called in some George Parr markers, and when the recount came, “… Parr converted a 12,000 vote Stevenson lead, to a 2000 vote Johnson lead.” In Jim Wells “Precinct #13, ‘a correction was made’ that gave Johnson an extra 87 votes that birthed the frivolous nickname, ‘Landslide Lyndon…’ established LBJ’s illegitimate seat in the Senate.”
Says historian Haley with rage insensate, “It peremptorily denied justice to Governor Stevenson, and nearly half a million Texans who had voted for him. It brazenly abridged the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, especially in their guarantee of States Rights and the limitation on jurisdiction. But, perhaps most terrible of all, it sanctioned corruption as public policy. There is nothing in American history like it.”
Enroute to Washington, D.C. in 1931 with little more than lunch money, LBJ managed to retire from the presidency in 1970 as a multi-millionaire (98% of his earning years spent in public office), assessed by TIME Magazine at $14 million dollars. That included a pilfered Convair, and a 6000 ft. jet-airstrip furnished at the LBJ ranch by taxpayers, some 800 acres of prime land, a beautiful ranch home and swimming pool, ownership of KTBC radio and television, including KANG and KWTX, Waco, TX, KRGV, Weslaco, TX in a monopoly TV market centered around Texas’ Capital at Austin. Owners losing station ownership to the Johnsons learned the FCC had turned down or cancelled their station licenses.
This is why a helpless electorate, daily pursuing jobs for beans and hogback, grievously need a defense against corrupt politicians: term-limits. Too many senators, representatives and presidents arrive hungry in D.C. and retire millionaires after two or more terms. The mechanism is known as quid pro quo, something-for-something, and the longer senators and representatives have been in office, the more arrogant, and the more of America they have stolen and sold under the table to buyers who are willing to pay enormous bribes for preferential treatment. Fraudulent and corrupt, the system is a disgrace, brazen theft from trusting taxpayers who put them into office.
With a devious mind that rivaled Machiavelli, LBJ was a political genius, an “intuitive salesman,” who “could read people almost on sight (‘Look at their eyes, their hands’),” but to whom the future was occasionally veiled in unintended consequences. While Medicare and Medicaid may have been luminaries in Lyndon’s journey, his murder of the 1921 Immigration Act is the salient action that “sounded the death knell” for the United States of America, and its attendant collapse.
With 50,000 dead, and 140,000 wounded, the U.S. swarmed away from Johnson’s Vietnam in the Nixon ‘70s, while leaving multi-billions of your tax dollars in every conceivable nook and cranny of South Vietnam: war machinery, foods, clothing, medical and office supplies, automobile and aircraft instruments and tools, PX goods, motor launches, “Ducks,” trucks, cannon, ammo, rifles, radio and satellite communications, sitting in storage warehouses and on the docks at Camranh Bay, Saigon, DaNang, Qui Nhon, Hue, Cap St. Jacques…America’s economic essence gifted to the enemy.
Parr, Duke of Duval County Texas, was at last enroute to jail, an Al Capone case, based on income tax evasion. Terrorized, “the Duke appealed to old friend, Lyndon Johnson, for help. Lyndon owed Parr, who had gotten him his job as Senator, and he assigned another good friend, lawyer Abe Fortas, to represent Parr pro bono.” Fortas kept Parr out of jail, where the Duke had been headed for a long, long stay, pro bono.
In another unforgivable foray, Lyndon began flying a pilfered half-million dollar Convair. Folks wondered where Johnson got the moola. “Rumor attributed the scratch to contractor H.B. Zachry, to Brown and Root, even to Billie Sol Estes, all favored friends of Lyndon.”
“…airliner was safely parked at Austin Airport, the weather socked in by fog.” Two superior pilots were on call, and Johnson ordered them to fly to the ranch. Johnson’s landing strip was lighted, and there was ground radio, but no electronic glide path. “Pilot Harold Teague consulted the Austin Tower.” It recommended he not fly, and he passed the negative on to Vice President Johnson, who exploded, cursed him, said, “What do you think I’m paying you for…Get that effing plane to the ranch.”
Teague was far more afraid of Johnson, than of fog, and the rest is history. Pilots Teague and Williams were both killed trying to land in the opaque sheen of fog and night shade 60 miles from the Johnson ranch.
A true Sergeant Bilko, LBJ came up with things unobtainable by mere mortals, and he hornswoggled some of the smartest men in America. TIME MAGAZINE probed the lucrative bonanza Johnson shoe-horned from rightful owners. “A syndicate of Texas ‘bidnessmen’ had been trying to buy KTBC long before the Johnson’s arrived, but the FCC refused to approve the sale.”
Lyndon met businessman E.G. Kingsbery, “explained he had gotten Kingsbery’s son an appointment to Annapolis through Johnson’s office… Now, E.G. I understand you’ve bought a radio station. I’d like to go in with you or have the station myself.”
Kingsbery suggested Senator Johnson “make his peace” with heirs of the late Austin publisher, J.M.West. “Lyndon told me he was going up to the West ranch to talk business, and he did, and came away with KTBC.”
To get Robert Byrd’s vote, LBJ wooed the little fiddle player from West Virginia. Author Caro paints a picture of Lyndon literally holding the Senator’s hand, kissing Byrd’s aging knuckles, as he soft-soaped the Senator with his sing-song ardor, begging help for passing a Civil Rights Bill that Byrd detested.
Johnson also spent hours with his fatherly mentor, Texas Representative Sam Rayburn, Speaker of the House, and often kissed the bald-headed Representative pate.
Kennedy Administration lads, bright and creative, composed a “Ratpack Innocente,” called Vice President Johnson, “Rufus cornpone, Little Beagle Johnson, Riverboat,” never realizing the venom of the king piranha lurking in the depths of the Vice President’s psyche.
Viewing the Armageddon that awaits America in 2013, scandal upon scandal, national cynicism, ballooning job layoffs, unsustainable federal debt, manufacturing gifted to China, and the destruction of immigration laws, Americans are crash victims hit by an off-course eighteen-wheeler.
If ever a doubt existed that LBJ operated a fraudulent national cesspool, another priceless link is the UK site called Spartacus Educational that explains more of the magnitude of collapse of America and the Texas Machiavelli who prepared the slide.
One must read J. Evetts Haley’s timeless gem of an expose, A Texan looks at Lyndon, as an appetizing accompaniment to Caro’s fourth volume, Passage of Power, now in paperback. Together, Haley and Caro serve up a repast of political intrigue, deceit, corruption and pure evil genius that was Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Bruce Branick served his nation for over 5 decades at sea. After three years of North Atlantic convoy duty as a Radioman in the U.S. Coast Guard’s Greenland Patrol and a fourth year attached to the Richmond Naval Air Station, a Florida Blimp Base concerned with Anti-submarine Warfare, he spent 50 years in the U.S. Merchant Marine as a Radio Officer, voyaging the world over from the Arctic to Antarctica, from Galveston to Istanbul, from Suez to Hong Kong. Mr. Branick, a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis, is author of Memoirs of a Loose Cannon and Two If By Sea (1970).