Poisoned at the Source

"The way to have power is to take it."
—W.M. Tweed

When on January 3, 1949, Lyndon Baines Johnson of Texas was sworn in as a United States senator, an era in the politics of his state had come to an end, a period that had begun when Reconstruction concluded. Similar events occurred in other Southern states, as when Harry Flood Byrd retired in Virginia and Walter George no longer filled his seat from Georgia. In retrospect, the process, though it took thirty years, seems to have been inexorable. Certainly there are those who would have us think so. But such was not the experience of thoughtful men who stood in the midst of the tornado when the modern style of campaigning came to Southern politics; and nowhere was the storm greater or the destruction of the familiar political landmarks more widespread than when Lyndon Johnson ran against former governor Coke Stevenson in 1948—when the largest of the Southern states put aside the kind of leadership to which it had been attached since the time of its separate existence as an independent republic, sold its soul for a mess of pottage, and embraced as its hero a man whose chief distinction was not character but a capacity "to get things done." Robert A. Caro's The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Means of Ascent is the second volume of what will eventually be a four-part study. When finished, his biography will,...

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