THE POLITICIAN: The Life and Times of Lyndon Johnson by Ronnie Dugger

THE POLITICIAN: The Life and Times of Lyndon Johnson

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Dugger is a liberal Texas newspaper editor, of strong and admirable views, who has what can only be called a fixation on LBS. He thinks that the last five decades should be known as ""the Johnson period"" because ""he adapted himself idealistically, pragmatically, radically, cynically, and above all opportunistically to the New Deal, the War, and the Reaction, he led the Congress into militarizing the Government, he finally seized and worked, all by himself, the levers of national power."" Dugger also thinks that, With Johnson's escalation of the Vietnam War, ""the myth of the American West had become the mission of the American people"": i.e., ""Patriotism, Honor, Courage."" The vehicle for setting forth these ideas is a decidedly odd book--part ruminations on the theme of Lyndon Johnson, part highly selective LBJ vignettes. Dugger peers into every cranny of LBJ's boyhood (the book thins out biographically as it goes on) for those ""Christian pioneering""/""hero Frontiersman"" roots--at the same time looking so hard for signs of the future political opportunist that what might have been a ponderable exploration of the New Frontiersman in Southeast Asia (especially, via LBJ oratory) is plain overwhelmed. ""In his own family the boy associated political idealism with defeat, poverty, and failure,"" Dugger writes after Johnson's small-time populist-politician father slides into alcoholism. ""The men of principles lost, the men of opportunities won."" We then hear much (along familiar lines) about LBJ's youthful hellraising, college politicking, and all-round conniving--up to his departure for Washington, at 22, as secretary to a new congressman. A ruminative interlude next brings, characteristically, a third-hand story of Johnson, as President, telling the then-Austrian ambassador that the Holy Ghost visited him in the White House. Most of the rest of the book is the case against LBJ, power-monger: paying Mexican-American political leaders, in '34; covertly ""raising political money from business interests,"" in '38; the inflated wartime record; the purchase of KTBC; and especially the two best-known LBJ scandals--his mutually beneficial relationship with contractors Brown & Root and the 1948 South Texas ballot-stuffing. Plus: the pre-McCarthyite ""political crucifixion"" of Federal Power Commissioner Leland Olds--an item also brought out (like the foregoing) in Merle Miller's Lyndon. The book ends with Johnson's election as Senate Majority Leader. Some of Dugger's maverick notions have merit; but if there is concrete, untapped evidence of LBJ wrong-doing, we'll have to wait for Robert Caro's forthcoming biography, and see.

Pub Date: May 17th, 1982
Publisher: Norton