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Author Topic: The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power  (Read 10057 times)
Beet
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« on: October 30, 2005, 04:42:56 pm »



Author Robert Caro

Though perhaps one of its most prolific legislators, a pivotal player in civil rights and Vietnam controversies that defined a generation, and seeing through the last great national liberal triumph of the 20th century and the fall of the Democratic party, Lyndon Johnson is not the most interesting president to come out of the 20th century. His contemporary Richard Nixon arguably led a more dramatic and intriguing life, with greater twists and turns, and perhaps a more complicated, mysterious character. Yet, in art it is not the subject but the artist that creates greatness, and there is perhaps little better illustration than here, for Lyndon Johnson is the subject of perhaps one of the most brilliant biographers to come out of his century: Robert Caro.

In this first volume of Caro's four-party biography of Lyndon Johnson, for which Caro has dedicated over a quarter century of his life, moving his family to Johnson's home town in Texas's Hill Country to be closer to his subject of research, Caro covers a narrative of colossal ambition beginning with the settlement of the first whites in Texas in the 1830s, up through Lyndon Johnson's election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1937. Caro shows the desperate, cruel struggle against the land fought by the first Hill Country settlers, a land more indefatigable than the most skilled Indian fighters; he shows the idealism and dreams of empire of Johnson's cowboy grandparents, and how idealism ruined Johnson's father's career as state senator, driving him into poverty and ridicule. It was in this hard and cruel crucible of poverty and humiliation, where dreams were broken, that Caro's subject was melded, creating that human blend of deep compassion and even deeper pragmatism that the biographer, who is drawn to study in the acquisition and use of power, of the relationship between means and ends, is so intrigued by.

Indeed, central to this book is the relationship between biographer and subject, a relationship that the biographer makes little effort to hide, characterized by a mixture of love and hate, but mostly a deep upset of the means employed in Johnson's rise of influence. Behind the story is a rich social history of the first one hundred years of Texas state history, especially of the impoverished Hill Country, of the relationship between government and business, between Sam Rayburn and the House of Representatives, between Congress and the presidency.

Moral, historical, and personal forces combine to shape this work and Caro's approach to it. His writing quality is top notch. Highly recommended.
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« Reply #1 on: October 30, 2005, 04:53:00 pm »
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Sounds interesting; is it in print over here or not?
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« Reply #2 on: October 30, 2005, 05:00:36 pm »

Sounds interesting; is it in print over here or not?

Probably, as it's a Pulitzer winner so it should be.

(It should be warned that in general Caro is extremely negative towards Johnson, which has led to some complaints against him (most notably by fmr governor John Connally) but I think there's a not so obvious but strong undercurrent of admiration alongside that beneath the surface.)
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« Reply #3 on: November 22, 2005, 11:10:07 pm »
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Sounds interesting; is it in print over here or not?

Probably, as it's a Pulitzer winner so it should be.

(It should be warned that in general Caro is extremely negative towards Johnson, which has led to some complaints against him (most notably by fmr governor John Connally) but I think there's a not so obvious but strong undercurrent of admiration alongside that beneath the surface.)

Caro tends to write negative books.  He also wrote a highly negative book about Robert Moses, essentially blaming him for everything that went wrong with some parts of New York, like the South Bronx.
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« Reply #4 on: November 22, 2005, 11:27:11 pm »

Sounds interesting; is it in print over here or not?

Probably, as it's a Pulitzer winner so it should be.

(It should be warned that in general Caro is extremely negative towards Johnson, which has led to some complaints against him (most notably by fmr governor John Connally) but I think there's a not so obvious but strong undercurrent of admiration alongside that beneath the surface.)

Caro tends to write negative books.  He also wrote a highly negative book about Robert Moses, essentially blaming him for everything that went wrong with some parts of New York, like the South Bronx.

Yes, and it deals with similiar themes: the acquisition, use, and (supposed) abuse of power. Yet with Johnson, Caro while attacking the means is generally far more positive about the ends, while from what I have heard about The Power Broker, he is equally devastating on the results of Moses's work.
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« Reply #5 on: November 22, 2005, 11:39:22 pm »
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Sounds interesting; is it in print over here or not?

Probably, as it's a Pulitzer winner so it should be.

(It should be warned that in general Caro is extremely negative towards Johnson, which has led to some complaints against him (most notably by fmr governor John Connally) but I think there's a not so obvious but strong undercurrent of admiration alongside that beneath the surface.)

Caro tends to write negative books.  He also wrote a highly negative book about Robert Moses, essentially blaming him for everything that went wrong with some parts of New York, like the South Bronx.

Yes, and it deals with similiar themes: the acquisition, use, and (supposed) abuse of power. Yet with Johnson, Caro while attacking the means is generally far more positive about the ends, while from what I have heard about The Power Broker, he is equally devastating on the results of Moses's work.

...although one of Caro's lines from his book about Johnson is that Johnson's Great Society "exacerbated, at great cost, the problems it was intended to solve."  I always remembered that line, because it is so true.
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« Reply #6 on: November 22, 2005, 11:45:09 pm »

Sounds interesting; is it in print over here or not?

Probably, as it's a Pulitzer winner so it should be.

(It should be warned that in general Caro is extremely negative towards Johnson, which has led to some complaints against him (most notably by fmr governor John Connally) but I think there's a not so obvious but strong undercurrent of admiration alongside that beneath the surface.)

Caro tends to write negative books.  He also wrote a highly negative book about Robert Moses, essentially blaming him for everything that went wrong with some parts of New York, like the South Bronx.

Yes, and it deals with similiar themes: the acquisition, use, and (supposed) abuse of power. Yet with Johnson, Caro while attacking the means is generally far more positive about the ends, while from what I have heard about The Power Broker, he is equally devastating on the results of Moses's work.

...although one of Caro's lines from his book about Johnson is that Johnson's Great Society "exacerbated, at great cost, the problems it was intended to solve."  I always remembered that line, because it is so true.

Hmm. Perhaps I see in Caro what I want to see, given that I so admire his writing, but the main ends discussed in this particular work has to do with Rural Electrification, and Johnson's work teaching at the Cotulla school, which are some of the two most moving parts of any recent history I have read.

As for the Great Society, certain parts of it, though not all, fit that description, yet the fact that it was possible to enact such a program in the first place was and is a tremendous testament to the wonders of Keynesian economics.
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« Reply #7 on: November 22, 2005, 11:48:45 pm »
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Hmm. Perhaps I see in Caro what I want to see, given that I so admire his writing, but the main ends discussed in this particular work has to do with Rural Electrification, and Johnson's work teaching at the Cotulla school, which are some of the two most moving parts of any recent history I have read.

As for the Great Society, certain parts of it, though not all, fit that description, yet the fact that it was possible to enact such a program in the first place was and is a tremendous testament to the wonders of Keynesian economics.

Those are things that took place long before he was president.  If what you say is true, then the wonders of Keynesian economics were squandered on a bunch of mostly ill-conceived programs.  We are stuck with the negative results to this day, and the public cynicism about those programs precludes any real new effort to reduce poverty or close the racial divide.
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« Reply #8 on: November 23, 2005, 12:01:39 am »


Hmm. Perhaps I see in Caro what I want to see, given that I so admire his writing, but the main ends discussed in this particular work has to do with Rural Electrification, and Johnson's work teaching at the Cotulla school, which are some of the two most moving parts of any recent history I have read.

As for the Great Society, certain parts of it, though not all, fit that description, yet the fact that it was possible to enact such a program in the first place was and is a tremendous testament to the wonders of Keynesian economics.

Those are things that took place long before he was president.  If what you say is true, then the wonders of Keynesian economics were squandered on a bunch of mostly ill-conceived programs.  We are stuck with the negative results to this day, and the public cynicism about those programs precludes any real new effort to reduce poverty or close the racial divide.

The achievements of Keynesianism were not destroyed by the negative aspects of the Great Society, though they were deferred for a segment of the poor representing a small fraction of the population. For the middle class, the vast surges in wealth created between the 1930s and the 1960s have been with us ever since then and they were never really threatened even in the darkest days of 'stagflation'; though in terms of closing the racial divide, the failed portions of the Great Society probably disproportionately hurt blacks, because they were among the last to remain in poverty in large numbers.

In retrospect I believe the 2000 campaign will be seen as the turning point in terms of public cynicism about government programs. Relatively late in the cycle Al Gore, who had been running on a Third Way platform, concluded from his internal polling that he was going to lose nonetheless and turned to a more populist, "people against the powerful" message. At the same time, during the first television debate the issue over social security privatization and the social security "lockbox" exploded into the electorate. The result was a sharp closing of the gap in the polls during September, resulting in a final near-upset by Gore. Gore's turn toward economic populism, ironically, helped him. 2000 was also the high tide of neoliberal economic ideas: school vouchers, electricity privatization, social security privatization, and the height of the stock market boom.

Right now I feel there could be a political earthquake coming, if not soon then eventually, over a particular landmark issue, Proposition 13 property tax cap in California. I believe this proposition is inflating a massive property bubble in the state, creating problematic imbalances in the state economy that, once recognized, could lead to a large backlash against this proposition.
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« Reply #9 on: November 23, 2005, 08:07:21 pm »
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Though I support in general forcing taxes down, I think Proposition 13 was ill-conceived because it leads to very unfair results, since home assessments, which determine tax amounts, can only rise at a pre-set rate unless the house is sold, at which time there is a market adjustment.  Since market values have historically risen more quickly than the pre-set rates at which the assessments are allowed to rise, this means that the person who lives in his/her house for a long time will effectively end up paying far less in property taxes than a recent purchaser for a house with the same market value.  This is the same flawed concept on which rent control is based, and is really just a form of rent control for owners.  In that sense, it is really not conservative.

But I don't see Proposition 13 in California having much of a national effect.

I think the Democrats at this point are restrained from adopting a more populist economic method by their need for huge contributions of soft money from extremely wealthy individuals.  Economically, the line between the parties has significantly blurred, with Democrats having attracted a lot more upper income people and Republicans having attracted a lot more lower middle class people than was the case in the past.  This is the foundation of Democratic successes in the northeast and the west coast, as an example.  What I see happening potentially, if the economy gets bad and both parties are perceived to be callous to the plight of average people in favor of the rich, is a third party challenge that is more populist.

I have never been much of a fan of populism, though I think it has its good elements.  I think a lot of it sounds much better in theory than it actually works in reality.  But still, pressure is needed to keep wealthy interests from having too much of a free hand, in either party.  I think that anything taken too far is bad, whether it be conservative or liberal, and there needs to be a countervailing pressure to keep that from happening.
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« Reply #10 on: December 15, 2005, 03:04:19 pm »
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...[T]he fact that it was possible to enact such a program [as the Great Society] in the first place was and is a tremendous testament to the wonders of Keynesian economics.

What 'wonders?'

It was possible because of massive Democratic pickups in 1958 due a severe economic downturn, coupled with Kennedy's assassination and the 1964 landslide.

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At the same time, during the first television debate the issue over social security privatization and the social security "lockbox" exploded into the electorate. The result was a sharp closing of the gap in the polls during September, resulting in a final near-upset by Gore.

That doesn't sound right. Social Security privatization was popular until after the 2004 election.
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« Reply #11 on: December 15, 2005, 03:22:41 pm »

...[T]he fact that it was possible to enact such a program [as the Great Society] in the first place was and is a tremendous testament to the wonders of Keynesian economics.

What 'wonders?'

The enormous growth of the US economy from 1935 to 1965 was truly wonderful and is what allowed a massive tax cut in 1964 followed by a massive surge in social spending plus a massive escalation of the Vietnam War all at the same time, while the budget deficit was insignificant by today's standards, even as a percentage of GDP. The very generousness of the Great Society was a testament to the wealth of the economy that could afford such a thing-- like Rome giving out free bread.

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That doesn't sound right. Social Security privatization was popular until after the 2004 election.

Social Security privatization was never very popular, and to the extent that it was popular had to do with the stock market boom of the late 1990s making people think that everything was going to be up all the time and all they had to do was get in on it. Even so, once social security became a big issue after that debate and the flood of SS-related ads following it Gore did improve in the polls. In 2000 the strongest argument for social security reform was the statistic that "stocks on average had 7% returns on investment while SS has a much lower return." This was what was repeated constantly as the pro-SS privatization mantra. Fiscal crises, real or imagined, were only a secondary argument. As the stock market has had negative real returns in the past five years, this argument was pretty much dropped in the 2004-05 cycle, the attention shifted to imagined fiscal crises 30 years down the road.
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« Reply #12 on: December 15, 2005, 03:27:52 pm »
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And you attribute that to Keynesianism? The free market has always gone through periods of rapid economic growth. Easiest examples are the Industrial Revolution and the Roaring Twenties. That doesn't mean mercantilism causes economic expansion.

Social Security privatization had as much as two-thirds support.
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« Reply #13 on: December 15, 2005, 03:45:19 pm »

And you attribute that to Keynesianism? The free market has always gone through periods of rapid economic growth. Easiest examples are the Industrial Revolution and the Roaring Twenties. That doesn't mean mercantilism causes economic expansion.

Yes the the Great Depression exposed serious flaws in the pre-Keynesian economic system, notably the lack of demand generated by the pre-Keynesian economy. With reliance on the free market this problem would have taken much, much longer to overcome.

Edit- Misread how you used mercantilism. Actually I'm not so sure that high tariffs didn't contribute to America's expansion in the late 19th century. Free trade is theoretically best for all, but there's the issue of infant industries and path dependency to consider. The world economy was much less integrated then and had much less need for integration.

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Social Security privatization had as much as two-thirds support.

Looking at some polls, it seems heavily based on question wording, with the premise usually being allowing a portion of the funds to be invested in financial markets than outright privatization. But the only I saw one showing that much support for even this measure was a May 2000 poll showing 64% support from WashPost, from then till March 2001 it dropped to 52%, which suggests support for the idea that it is influenced by stock market performance.
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« Reply #14 on: December 15, 2005, 03:53:56 pm »
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I wasn't equating Keynesianism with mercantilism. I was merely pointing out that economic growth isn't necessarily caused by the prevailing policies of the era.

Keynesianism doesn't really "generate" demand. It just shifts it from the investment sector to the consumer sector. "Saving" is just another form of spending.
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« Reply #15 on: December 15, 2005, 04:06:17 pm »

Keynesianism doesn't really "generate" demand. It just shifts it from the investment sector to the consumer sector. "Saving" is just another form of spending.

I'm not sure what you mean. How do you explain something like the Great Depression? The capital stock did not simply vanish, it can only be explained by people who stopped spending.
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« Reply #16 on: December 15, 2005, 04:30:04 pm »
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If one person is saving, he's investing (either directly or indirectly), and another is spending the money.
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« Reply #17 on: December 15, 2005, 04:32:17 pm »

If one person is saving, he's investing (either directly or indirectly), and another is spending the money.

Not necessarily.
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« Reply #18 on: August 02, 2008, 08:34:52 pm »
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I read this book about a month ago. Very good, like all of Caro's work.
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« Reply #19 on: June 27, 2011, 11:24:49 pm »
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I don't understand why Caro is so negative on Johnson.  He spends most of his second volume on LBJ, entitled "Means of Ascent," going on and on about how "amoral" Johnson's use of vote fraud in his Texas elections was, particularly his successful Senate campaign of 1948.  I find it very difficult to be troubled about this.  Vote fraud, while obviously far from an ideal thing, was commonplace in elections in Texas (and much of the rest of the country) at that time.  There were whole regions where the votes were basically up for sale to the highest bidder.  What was LBJ supposed to do, not go into politics at all in order to be some sort of saint?  I don't think it would be reasonable to ask him or someone in a similar situation to do this.

I often think that if we took the DeLorean (the time machine from the movie "Back To The Future") back in time and persuaded Johnson to be the kind of man Caro seems to think he should have been, when we returned to our present time we'd not only find that Johnson failed to be elected to anything, we'd also find that as a result the South still had Jim Crow segregation.

If Caro has a specific gripe with LBJ, he should just come out and say it rather than unfairly condemning him for one thing after another.
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