The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 107, July 2003 - April, 2004

Book Reviews

marketing, racism, class struggles, aggressive use of radio, and clumsy counter-
ing by organized medicine. Juhnke concludes with a cautionary chapter about
the current push for alternative treatments, against the pressure of organized
medicine, and the vicissitudes of laws and deregulation.
Temple, Texas PATRICIA K. BENOIT
Alvin Wirtz: The Senator, LBJ, and LCRA. By Ken Kesselus. (Austin: Eakin Press,
2002. Pp. ix+296. Preface, introduction, endnotes, index. ISBN 1-57168-
688-6. $32.95, paper.)
Historian Evan Anders in a 1991 essay for this publication alleged that many stu-
dents of Lyndon Johnson have unfairly colored the events and people in his life
from simplistic interpretational perspectives. The career of Alvin Wirtz is one such
example. Ken Kesselus in Alvin Wirtz: The Senator, LBJ, and LCRA contributes a
detailed, dense, and understated biography of LBJ's most important mentor that,
in the process, sheds a necessary, but different kind of light on the Johnson story.
Kesselus investigates Wirtz's relationship with Harry Wurzbach, his Seguin law
partner and noted Republican Congressman of the 192os. Despite having briefly
been a Republican, Wirtz in 1923 was elected as a Democrat to the Texas State
Senate, where he consistently opposed taxes, public school expenditures, the
Klan, and prohibition, usually leaving him in the minority. Wirtz championed the
construction of dams to control flooding and generate hydroelectric power,
becoming lead attorney for the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) after
abandoning electoral office in the early 1930s. Kesselus writes of the underpaid
Wirtz that "his passion for the LCRA and his pride in its accomplishments com-
pensated for any deficiency in monetary reward" (p.147). The former senator was
a loyal Roosevelt lieutenant in the increasingly conservative Texas Democratic
Party as well as Undersecretary of the Interior in 1940-41. Wirtz advocated the
fight against worldwide fascism to LBJ, whose foreign policy ideas were still for-
mative: "On the matter of war, he had sparred with Johnson and grew frustrated
when he had trouble converting him to an activist position" (p.2oo). Alvin Wirtz
ends with LBJ's 1948 United States Senate victory, Wirtz's "final major political
accomplishment" (p. 235).
This book is somewhat limited. On the whole, Kesselus is too reticent in inter-
pretation. For example, the issue of race comes up often with Wirtz regularly sup-
porting Jim Crow, sometimes harshly, against African Americans (p. 13-14, 36,
54, 70-71, 185). Kesselus, however, does not comprehensively discuss the matter
other than to imply that Wirtz's racism was only a matter of political pragmatism.
The impact of the Great Depression is largely missing. Wirtz seemingly goes from
an opponent of taxes and school expenditures in his senatorial years to a liberal
New Dealer overnight. Other than casually mentioning that "Wirtz appears to
have caught the Rooseveltian spirit and to have become converted, at least as a
practical consideration, to the philosophy of the New Deal," exactly how the
Depression affected his prior beliefs in "limited government" is curiously absent
(p. 80, 101). Despite such imperfections, the book nevertheless succeeds. The

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 107, July 2003 - April, 2004. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101224/. Accessed April 24, 2014.