The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 96, July 1992 - April, 1993 Page: 622
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
ing schedules of their multivolume projects, and the publicity which the dueling
biographies have received. Caro writes with the literary skill necessary to bring a
historical figure to life. His descriptions of Lyndon Johnson working himself and
his aides to the verge of physical collapse as they conducted political campaigns
or wrestled with constituent complaints are unforgettable. Even by academic
standards, Dallek's prose is merely serviceable. Despite the vividness of his writ-
ing, however, Caro reduces Johnson to a one-dimensional villain with an all-pur-
pose motivation: the self-interested pursuit of political advantage and material
wealth. Dallek, on the other hand, creates a balanced portrait of a complex
politician whose motives are as mixed as his deeds. Caro ignores the changing
political environment in which Johnson operated and offers instead idealized,
and often false, characterizations of Johnson's political opponents and col-
leagues, to whom Johnson is compared in the most unflattering terms. Dallek
meticulously explains the issues that Johnson addressed and the political circum-
stances that encouraged and constrained his actions. Caro's depiction of John-
son is more memorable; Dallek's is more reliable.
The principal challenge facing any biographer of Lyndon Johnson is to ex-
plain the contradictions in Johnson's personality and public record. Both Caro
and Dallek cite many of the same qualities in describing Johnson's childhood
behavior: his desperate craving for attention, his will to dominate, his ingratiat-
ing manner with certain adults, and his defiance of parental authority. For Caro,
these traits suggest the emergence of an amoral, manipulative, perhaps even so-
ciopathic adult personality. Dallek's assessment is far less lurid. While acknowl-
edging that "Lyndon's childhood difficulties dogged him all his life," Dallek
emphasizes "the extent to which [Johnson] identified with and drew strength
from his parents and managed to convert his problems into effective means of
accomplishing exceptional things ..." (p. 45). His mother's "conditional or un-
dependable love" (p. 38) aroused feelings of insecurity and frustration in John-
son, but she also "endowed him with the belief that he could do anything, that
nothing was too hard for him . . ." (p. 45). From his father, Johnson received
both abuse and warm encouragement. In many ways, Johnson's mercurial tem-
perament as an adult was a reflection of these conflicting parental influences, as
he vacillated dramatically between displays of insecurity and self-confidence,
ruthlessness and compassion, caution and recklessness. In a desperate election
campaign, with his career hanging in the balance, his determination to win rec-
ognized few limits. In the clubbish setting of the U.S. Senate, where his sense of
mastery grew especially after he assumed the position of majority leader, John-
son evinced a spirit of compromise, consensus, and reconciliation. Often times
his disposition appeared to hinge on how much control he exercised, or be-
lieved he exercised, over his political fortunes.
Johnson's political commitments were as complicated as his shifting moods.
He entered the U.S. House of Representatives in 1937 as a staunch New Dealer,
moved to the right after World War II in response to the increasingly conserva-
tive political climate in Texas, and oversaw the passage of moderate reform as
the Senate majority leader during the Eisenhower administration. Throughout
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 96, July 1992 - April, 1993, periodical, 1993; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101215/m1/692/: accessed May 25, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.