Lyndon Johnson Term Paper

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Lyndon Johnson

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We know Lyndon B. Johnson to have been a hard-nosed smooth-operating arm-twisting Senator from Texas who became John Kennedy's Vice President and then a one-term President. What occurred during his administration brought the civil rights movement to its triumphant conclusion and sank us inexorably into Vietnam, he was responsible for the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, and for initiating the war on poverty. Johnson's bid for a second term collapsed under him amidst the massive social turmoil that scarred the nation during 1968 and from there he slid into private life to publish his memoirs, and to finish his life on his ranch in Texas where he died in 1973. Scholarly work centering on Johnson numbers in the hundreds of published books, articles and dissertations. Historians looking at Johnson invariably focus upon his rise to power and the stranglehold he maintained over the Senate prior to his ascension to the White House and the collapse of his effectiveness as the leader of his party just two years after reelection. Two such works, Robert Caro's the Path to Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, and Robert Dallek's Lone Star Rising, present Johnson as a relatively power-mad political genius who manipulated others with great aplomb. In looking at how each of these two authors take on the topic of Johnson, it is significant to note that both authors have created multi-volume works on LBJ, both have spent enormously in terms of time and resources to flesh out their stories and to find insight into the man, and both approach Johnson from a motivational point-of-view (what was Johnson's motivation for functioning within political office in the manner in which he did?). There are marked differences in style, observations, selections of facts, perspectives, and intentions within the works - the result is that these two books create different visions of Johnson while treading the very same ground as the other.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Lyndon Johnson Assignment

Johnson became powerful within the American political scene long before he became President. Unlike many Vice Presidents who are specifically chosen on the basis of their relative weakness when compared to the President (thus the necessity of Dan Quayle and Spiro Agnew), Johnson was selected by Kennedy for his significant and almost unstoppable power held over the Senate. Both Caro and Dallek approach Johnson's rise in this manner - that he was a master of his domain and ruled the Senate through will, force, and sheer domination of personality. It is acknowledged by both authors that Johnson used deception in a manner that was both distasteful and dishonest. Caro's take on Johnson is slightly more gentle than Dallek, who concludes that Johnson's power was held in its manner because "he could not bend the knee to anyone; he could not be under someone else's control," (Dallek, 24). "Lyndon Johnson...has convinced everyone that he really is a political genius... [who] loves to exercise power [where] President Eisenhower does not" (547). Caro uses an example of Lyndon's "testing" of women as a telling point about the man's need for control. While in college, "Lyndon's idea was to get a real nice-looking girl and see if you could control her," for the purposes of getting her elected to the student council and then being able to control her vote (Caro, 182). This kind of manipulation and control carried itself to the Senate.

Both authors assert that LBJ's power derived from an uncommon audacity and will. Johnson would not give up and both authors acknowledge this fact. Caro observes that LBJ's power over others was such that even as a young member of the Texas state legislature, Johnson's ambition "was unencumbered by even the slightest excess weight of ideology, of philosophy, of principles, of beliefs...Lyndon Johnson believed in nothing, nothing but his own ambition. Everything he did - everything - was for his ambition," (Caro, 275). Dallek also comments extensively on Johnson's ambition, "He consumes people, almost without knowing it....people who worked for Johnson became extensions of himself and his ambition," (Dallek, 192). Johnson was so blatant about his personal ambitions that people "distrusted Johnson's professions of public service...[he was seen] as subordinating the interests of his party and country to his personal ambitions," (540). Both authors also pay significant attention to the details of Johnson's greed. At the height of his power in the Senate in 1959, Johnson occupied "twenty palace-size rooms, most of them ornately decorated and thickly carpeted," rooms off of the Senate floor, conference rooms were claimed for his exclusive use, and he made renovations to his various spaces "at a cost of between $100,000 and $200,000 of taxpayers' money," leading to his domain being called the "Taj Mahal," (Dallek, 764). Where Dallek's examples of self-indulgent excesses on the part of Johnson focused on the offices, Caro's examples of Johnson's greed and lust for power is highlighted in a discussion of his willingness to take money from just about anyone. "He gorged on work, women, and food, overbore friend and foe alike, and ravened for both money and power," (Caro, 12). Johnson was greed embodied.

Caro's most significant story about Johnson was about the Senate race of 1948 in which Johnson was accused of committing fraud, exposes Caro's take on Johnson's "utter ruthlessness...and seemingly bottomless capacity for deceit, deception and betrayal," (Caro, Introduction). His choice to use this particular story is significant because it is an event that Dallek does not spend much time with. Caro's depiction of the events surrounding the 1948 Senate run involved the conversion of a 700 vote count into a 900 by the addition of a loop in the 7, thus cheating his way into office. Dallek's take on the fraud issue goes a bit further than Caro's - and quite melodramatically. Dallek spends a significant amount of space in the book to this issue.

Dallek's description of the vote-count fraud committed by Johnson is superior to that of Caro. He explains all of the various elements of the deception, down to the smallest points of warnings by elections officials that to rescind their first count would be seen as an admission of guilt and "expose him to an indictment for perjury or false swearing,." Caro's work makes it beyond question that Johnson's 1948 win was an illegally stolen election (though Caro's total overcount is 202 while Dallek's is 250). He observes that the mutual aid society that Johnson belonged to would go to no limit (even if it meant breaking the law) to take care of its own. Of the entire incident, Caro also chooses to include details of truly corrupt double-dealings that Johnson involved himself in during this period.

The differences between the two authors actually gets in the way of an accurate understanding of some of the major events of Johnson's reign.

Caro's work, though thoroughly researched, is exceptionally simplified - essentially portraying Johnson's moral compass as consisting of an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. The characterizations of Johnson in Caro's work can lead the reader to think of Johnson as being of limited capacity for thoughtful or intellectual accomplishment driven only to succeed through any means possible. We see a Johnson often reduced to a single word descriptor that serves only to simplify Johnson as being two dimensional at times. In his defense, however, Caro's clear purpose is to show Johnson as being controlled by his passions and ambitions, which would naturally reduce a person to a relatively few necessary personality traits. The additional problem facing Caro's work is that he does not have a PhD, and is otherwise academically not qualified to write such an extensive set of texts - at least an academic critic would look at the work through a less forgiving eye. Caro's work is based almost entirely upon massive numbers of interviews he conducted with people directly involved with Johnson at varying points in his career.

Caro's book could easily be criticized for being more frank, crass at times, and irreverent in relation to traditional academic publishing as to be a less-than in quality and impact. The truth, however, is that with the majority of his research being comprised of first-hand accounts, a necessity of contextual accuracy and immediacy is warranted for the purposes of telling the story. In this, Caro succeeds. Dallek, a full professor of history at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), actually credits Caro's work for the overwhelming detail gained from interviews, but cautioned that a false sense of authority could be gained because of the interviews. The truth is that as far as academia is concerned, interviewees can always lie or simply be wrong the way that hard facts cannot. Caro, essentially, wrote a three-volume set of interviews along the lines of a print reporter.

Dallek's book, however, relies upon paper-based research. His book's structure is such that at all times one is aware of that the information is not only trustworthy, but it is accurate. Dallek's resources list at the back of the book include… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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