t .”. Iv, IC Melissa Grimes 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 8/2102 FEATURE Master , or Puppet? LBJ as Yanker of Chains, Kisser of Butts BY ROBERT SHERRILL The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate By Robert A. Caro Alfred A. Knopf 1,167 pages. $35. In this, the third portion of Robert Caro’s seemingly endless recreation of Lyndon Johnson’s life, we get a uniquely intimate lesson in how one senator can manipulate what is supposed to be our most deliberative branch of Congress. How did Johnson do it? “Utter ruthlessness,” is part of Caro’s explanation, and the reader of these thou sand pages will see that by ruthlessness he means an enormous talent for getting his way through treachery, corruption, deceit, and just plain meanness. Caro ranks Johnson as “the greatest Senate leader in America’s history.” If by “greatest” he means the most powerful, Caro’s own examples of some other leaders weaken that claim. There was, for instance, Majority Leader Henry Cabot Lodge, who virtually single-handedly killed our chances of joining the League of Nations, an alliance which, if we had supported it, just might have prevented World War II. And before Lodge there were those rogues of the “Gilded Age,” William Allison of Iowa and Nelson Aldrich of Rhode Island, who for 30 years raped the federal government on behalf of banks, railroads, oil companies, and the sugar, steel, and copper trusts. But Johnson’s power was certainly equal to theirs, and like them he mainly used it negatively. And since devils are always more interesting than saints, that’s what makes this biography so hypnotically fascinating. Sometimes Johnson used his power to help his rich Texas patrons screw consumers and workers but more devastatingly he used it for many years to frustrate any solution to this country’s most persistent and heartbreaking problem: racial injustice. Caro writes that Johnson’s “rise was financed by men so bigoted that to talk to them when their guard was down was to encounter a racism whose viciousness had no limits.” He was speaking of those immortal enemies of Texas liberals, George . and Herman Brown of Brown & Root, the major financiers of Johnson’s rise; Ed Clark, Johnson’s chief attorney, sometimes known as the “Secret Boss ofTexas;” and Austin attorney Alvin Wirtz, the crafty political “string-puller who was the single most powerful figure in Johnson’s congressional district, an attorney for Brown & Root and a number of oil companies, and a key figure in Johnson’s career.” When talking with liberals and moderates, Johnson watched
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