Saturday, October 8, 2022

Caro again

I've written before of the lapses in description and reasoning in Robert Caro's multi-volume biography of Lyndon B. Johnson, and I've just found another one. I only found it, though, because Caro is such an entertaining writer that I got down Master of the Senate, his volume covering 1949-57, for dinner-table re-reading.

I was reading the chapter on LBJ's futile attempt to position himself as a fallback candidate for the presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention of 1956. Caro says that LBJ's big mistake was to assume that his Senate colleagues, big shots in the Capitol, were equally powerful in control of their state convention delegations. But that wasn't so, Caro says, and quotes a reporter as writing that for "control of delegations ... the big men at conventions are governors and municipal leaders" (p. 807). Why Johnson - depicted elsewhere in the book as the supreme political genius - didn't know that is left unexplained. Except that he did control his own Texas delegation, so there is that.

But Caro says that he depended for his support in other states on "senators, or former senators." And Caro names seven men, five of whom were current senators (p. 806).

But what Caro doesn't say is that when this is taking place, in 1956, the other two, the former senators - Bob McFarland of Arizona and Ed Johnson of Colorado - were the Governors of their states. After having lost his Senate seat in 1952 to an obscure opponent named Barry Goldwater, McFarland had been elected Governor in 1954 and was right now engaging in what would be a successful re-election campaign (Governors of Arizona then served a 2-year term), so if governors can be powers in their states, he surely was one. (I don't know why Ed Johnson didn't run for re-election in 1956.)

Yet McFarland was unsuccessful in persuading the Arizona delegates to vote for LBJ (p. 818), so again things are more complicated than Caro would like to tell us.

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