Riley's Reviews > Means of Ascent

Means of Ascent by Robert A. Caro
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's review
Feb 20, 2012

really liked it
Read in February, 2012

This book is part of Robert Caro's soaring series on Lyndon Johnson's life, covering his successful 1948 campaign for the Senate. Caro appears to conclusively show how much Johnson stole that election, and he offers a nice contrast between the modern, unprincipled campaign of Johnson and that of his old-fashioned and upright opponent, "Mr. Texas," Coke Stevenson, whom Caro clearly admires.

The one negative of this book, and what keeps it from being a classic for me: It often borrows, at times heavily, from interviews and passages from Caro's first book on Johnson's life. It's not a big deal if you read either alone, but taken together, it is a demerit.

Here's one section I highlighted, which has what is close to a thesis statement. After summing up other elections Johnson had shown a willingness to cheat to win (at college, as an Congressional employee, when he lost a race for the Senate in 1941), Caro offers this:

"At each previous stage of his career, then, Lyndon Johnson's election tactics had made clear not only his hunger for power but a willingness to take ... whatever political steps were necessary to satisfy that hunger. Over and over again, he had stretched the rules of the game to their breaking point, and then had broken them, pushing deeper into the ethical and legal no-man's-land beyond them than others were willing to go. Now, in 1948, in his dealings with the Valley, he was operating beyond the loosest boundaries of prevailing custom and political morality. What had been demonstrated before was now underlined in the strongest terms: in the context of the politics that was his life, Lyndon Johnson would do whatever was necessary to win. Even in terms of a most elastic morality -- the political morality of 1940s Texas -- his methods were amoral."


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