The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 94, July 1990 - April, 1991 Page: 472
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
the bitter divisions within the Texas Democratic party between 1940
Means of Ascent is another act in the morality play that Caro began in
Path to Power in which Lyndon Johnson represents all that is wrong with
American politics. In the first volume, Sam Rayburn was cast as
Johnson's opposite. Now the hero is former Texas governor Coke Ste-
venson, who is portrayed as the embodiment of all that is noble in the
old West and who is the victim in 1948 of Johnson's ingenious but un-
scrupulous tactics. While Caro ruthlessly examines and finds impure
Johnson's every move and motive, Stevenson's significant faults-his
racism, his assault on academic freedom, his reactionary view of gov-
ernment-are either not mentioned by Caro or glossed over.
Problems with method plague the book as well. Caro relies on oral
interviews for major interpretations of Johnson's political and personal
life. The biographer who makes use of oral history must be aware that
any man as successful as Lyndon Johnson left behind resentful people
who will remember events selectively. If authors rely on their memory
alone, a distorted picture of their subject emerges. In Caro's work, this
problem is compounded by his refusal to make his interviews available
to other Johnson researchers. In my own research, I have come across
two oral histories in the LBJ Library in Austin that were done after
publication of The Path to Power in which the interviewees stated, "It
wasn't like Caro said," and "A lot of what Caro said was pure baloney"
(Emmett Shelton and George Brown). In light of such discrepancies in
available interviews, Caro's excessive use of his own "shadow inter-
views" for major interpretations in his work is troubling.
Lyndon Johnson had faults aplenty, and they have been exhaustively
analyzed by Robert Caro in the first two volumes of his biography. But
if Caro sincerely wants to help us understand the man, he must aban-
don his crusade against Lyndon Johnson's personality and pragmatism.
After all, it was Lyndon Johnson's pragmatic approach during his con-
gressional years, that helped build the dams to generate the electricity
that brought Texas into the twentieth century. And Lyndon Johnson's
pragmatism played a significant role in aiding black Americans in their
quest to finally gain the rights promised them by the Constitution. It is
difficult to reconcile the man who did so much good with the thor-
oughly ruthless and amoral figure that Caro has presented us. It will be
interesting to see how Lyndon Johnson's undeniably positive civil rights
record fares under Caro's pen. Will he rise, phoenix-like from the
ashes of amorality? Or will he simply do right for all the wrong
Unzverszty of Texas at Austzn
CHRISTIE L. BOURGEOIS
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 94, July 1990 - April, 1991, periodical, 1991; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101214/m1/536/: accessed October 16, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.