AFTERWORD Artxan Looked at Lyndon The Late and Unrepentant Nemesis of LBJ BY BILL ADLER THIS STRANGER IN THE CROWD called me a paid propagandist of the Republicans, and I called him a God damned liar.” The speaker was ultraconservative J. Evetts Haley, who nearly came to blows with a liberal disputant on the courthouse lawn in Amarillo in 1946. For Haley, who died in Midland on October 9th at the age of ninety-four, the pugnacious moment foreshadowed the rancher-historian’s most notorious battle. That occurred almost two decades later, with the publication of his book A Texan Looks at Lyndon, the most controversial book ever written about a Texan. Before it fell into obscurity, it became a cause celebre of the 1964 presidential election. Subtitled “A Study in Illegitimate Power,” the two hundred and fifty-four page selfpublished paperbackHaley said no publishing house would touch itportrayed Lyndon B. Johnson as a vain and vicious man whose ascent to the presidency was wrought with malevolence on every rung of the ladder. In bellicose terms, Haley described the National Youth Administration, of which Johnson had been state director, as’ “a disloyal, subversive organization, under the domination of Russia”; he claimed Johnson was a congressman who supported farm programs “conceived by the communist cell in agriculture”; a senator,. who stole an election, Haley alleged; and a vice president who “accepted second place for money.” The problem was that Haley’s polemic maintained only intermittent touch with reality. While he made some good points about Johnson’s shadowy dealingssuch as the peculiarity of two hundred and two of his South Texas supporters voting in alphabetical , order in the 1948 Senate race they were buried waist deep in rumor-mongering and mad-dog ruminations. Controversy swirled around the book even before the first copies rolled off the press. A typesetter at the Dallas print shop Bill Adler, in true freelance fashion, dusted off a similar version of this article that first appeared in the September 1987 Texas Monthly. J. Evens Haley to which Haley took the manuscript apparently refused to continue when she reached the author’s insinuations that Johnson was involved in the Kennedy assassination. Company officials declined to finish the job, so Haley demanded they melt the type and hired an Ohio firm to print the book. The initial press run of a hundred thousand copies caused little hubbub. But as the presidential campaign heated up during the summer, sales skyrocketed. By the time of the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City in late August, sales averaged fifty thousand copies a day, mostly in bulk orders of one hundred to ten thousand copies from the John Birch Society and Goldwater for President clubs, which hoped the book would swing close states to Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, Johnson’s Republican opponent. At almost seven and a half million copies, A Texan Looks at Lyndon had become the best-selling book of any kind in the country, and the most successful political book of all time. In the campaign’s final weeks, counterattacks on Haley and his book began in earnest, many of them penned by Johnson’s supporters, such as special assistant Bill Moyers and nationally syndicated columnist Drew Pearson. Some of these adversaries offered choice diagnoses of the author’s problem. “A case of unhospitalized paranoia,” declared A.C. Greene in the Dallas Times Herald. Jim Mathis, a volunteer for the Democratic National Committee, wrote a widely reprinted article that spoke of “the festering climax of Haley’s fantasies.” \(Mathis, incidentally, was the son-in-law of George Brown, a co-founder of the giant construction company Brown and Root. The firm’s unwholesome financial relationship with Johnson had been As the backlash peaked, newsstands around the country refused to carry the book, airport authorities ordered it removed from terminals, and even the Republican National Committee publicly rebuked it. In the end, the tract caused Johnson little political damage; his election captured what was at the time the greatest popular majority in history. Historians today dismiss the polemic as a venomous propaganda piece, an eruption of the old renegade streak in Haley’s nature that got him leveraged off the University of Texas faculty in 1936 for being, in essence, too outspoken and too rightTwing. The book tarnished his well-regard41 reputation as the author of many frontier histories and biographies, including the classic Charles Goodnight: Cowman and Plainsman. Haley divided his time between ranching and writing. He worked cattle on horseback well into his eighties, and wrote from his office in a fourteen-thousand-volume library of Texana he established in Midland in 1976. He was unrepentant until the end. In a conversation not long ago, he maintained that his book’s allegations must have been true or he would have been sued for libel. And he resented that he was seldom cited in the dozens of Johnson biographies that have appeared since 1964. “‘Course,” he told me with a sharp-edged cackle, “everybody wants to write about the sonofabitch now that he’s dead.” NITA STEWART HALEY MEMORIAL LIBRARY THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23
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