Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Means of Ascent by, Robert A. Caro

Means of Ascent is the second book in Robert Caro's extensive biography of the 36th President of the United States. This volume picks up where the Path to Power left off and takes us through the 1948 Senate campaign that saw LBJ become the junior Senator from Texas.

As in the first book, Johnson's character is put under a spotlight. He remains abusive to his staff and wife. He's an outright lair. He spread falsehoods about his opponent Coke Stevenson in an effort to destroy his reputation. He lied about his wartime record, which amounted to flying an observer for 10 minutes on a single bombing mission over Japan.

Johnson pioneered many modern campaign techniques in his 1948 campaign. While his opponent traveled via car, LBJ traveled across Texas in a helicopter, allowing him personal contact with many more potential voters. He outspent his opponent nearly 10 to 1, shattering records for the most expensive Texas campaign ever. And he blanketed the state with radio broadcasts three times a day, fake newspapers with negative stories about his opponent, and used the modern technique of repetition to drive his points home and make people believe his lies. And this all that, he still had to resort to stealing the election by stuffing ballot boxes and modifying already filed returns.

Means of Ascent has the same strengths and weaknesses as Path. It is deeply researched. It also suffers from lots of repetition. The long biographical digressions remain. The first volume contained a complete biography of Sam Rayburn before he met Johnson and this one contains a full biography of former Texas governor Coke Stevenson. They're both interesting and could be books on their own, but I'm not sure if that much detail is necessary here.

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