The book tells the story of Lyndon Johnson's life from 1941-1948 when he won a controversial election to the Senate. This is the second volume of Caro's chronicle of the life and times of Lyndon Baines Johnson. It begins after Johnson was defeated by Pass the Biscuits Pappy O'Daniel in a 1941 race for a United States Senate seat from Texas. Johnson was depressed by losing to the popular but downright idiotic Governor. He retained his seat in the House of Representatives but he saw his ambition blocked at every turn. In LBJ's own words, advancement in the House was "too slow."
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When America enters World War II, Johnson is eager to show the home folks that he is a patriotic American anxious to serve his country. He briefly joins the Navy and does a very short stint in the Pacific. Johnson has no intention of putting his political career on hold, so he uses his ties to Speaker Sam Rayburn and President Roosevelt to help initiate a policy whereby members of Congress are declared vital to the war effort. In short, naval service was a box for Johnson to check off as a part of his career plan.
It was during the 1940's that Johnson began to amass his fortune by buying into a government-regulated industry: radio. Johnson and wife Lady Bird purchase a radio station in Austin, which is now known as KLBJ. It was the start of a broadcast empire that would make Johnson a multi-millionaire. He always claimed that it was Lady Bird's business. She was involved but it was the family business, as Caro makes clear in the book.
In 1948, Pappy O'Daniel decided not to run for re-election thereby opening a seat for Johnson. Johnson ran as a semi-liberal New Dealer against former Texas Governor and Conservative Democratic icon, Coke Stevenson. As a popular Speaker of the House and Governor, he was a formidable opponent. Author Caro spends quite a bit of time discussing the life of Stevenson who he finds to be an admirable private citizen with very reactionary political views on the issues of the day including race.
Johnson and Stevenson waged a pitched battle for the Democratic nomination, which was the only election that mattered in that one party state. Johnson poured a record amount of money into the race and used the media of the day extensively. He also took to campaigning in a helicopter. In contrast, Stevenson drove from town to town as he always had.
The race ended in a virtual tie and Stevenson demanded and received a recount. There were allegations of widespread fraud and ballot box tampering in South Texas in areas dominated by bosses who controlled Hispanic votes. The Stevenson camp was convinced that Johnson had stolen the election, which was confirmed by Caro in this book in an interview with an associate of Boss George Parr. It all came down to box 13, which Luis Salinas admitted to stuffing in the 1980's. He denied it at the time, and Johnson was declared the victor by 87 votes.
The book concludes with Johnson's election to the Senate and the story resumes with Master of the Senate, which is the third volume in Caro's massive biography.
Best part of story, including ending:
It was a fascinating tale of American politics in the 1940's.
Best scene in story:
The recount hearings during the tense election of 1948.
Opinion about the main character:
Lyndon Johnson is a hard man to either completely like or dislike. That's why he's so fascinating.