The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on April 18, 2001 · Page 26
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 26

Salina, Kansas
Issue Date:
Wednesday, April 18, 2001
Page 26
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2 WEDNESDAY, APRIL 18, 2001 APPLAUSE THE SALINA JOURNAL Robert Caro prepares the next volume of his LBJ epic By HILLELITALIE Associated Press Writer NEW YORK (AP) — On the desk of Robert Caro lie 2,007 typewritten pages about the Senate years of Lyndon Baines Johnson. The pages are stacked nearly 7 inches high, more than twice as thick as the Manhattan phone book. The biography is called "Master of the Senate," the long-awaited sequel to Caro's award-winning, controversial "Means of Ascent," which ended with Johnson's notorious 1948 Senate campaign. "I get letters all the time asking when the next book will come out," Caro says during a recent interview at his midtown office. "I had a 77-year-old man wanting to know if it would come out in his lifetime." "Master of the Senate" is Volume in of Caro's planned four-part Johnson epic. When the book does arrive, in early 2002, it is expected to attract a large readership. It wiH likely run about 1,000 pages (Caro's manuscript pages hold less than a finished page). Hundreds of thousands expect to read it; not all expect to like it. Caro had plenty of negative things to say about Johnson in his previous hook and some Johnson supporters felt the same about "Means of Ascent." Among them is Jack Valenti, a former Johnson aide who closely read the first two books and plans on doing the same with the third volvune. "My take on Robert Caro is that he is an immensely gifted writer and very readable," says Valenti, now president of the Motion Picture Association of America. "My only question is why such a talented writer would want to spend 15-20 years of his life writing about a man he thoroughly despises?" Caro has heard this before. A former investigative journalist, he says he's simply reporting what some people don't want to hear. "Of course, I don't despise Lyndon Johnson," he responds, "and no. one who reads the books honestly would ever think that. "The reason I take so long is that I'm not just looking at RNs ARE you earning $24 per hour? Want more freedom, flexibility and sincere appreciation? Then call 1-877-445-0286 today. "MAYBE I CAN HELP YOU SAVE MONEY ON IT." SEE US ABOUT A NEW HOME DISCOUNT ON YOUR INSURANCE. Dianne Carter Erica Revell Charles Carter & Associates 80' E.Crawford Salina, KS 67401 785-825-4241 )/lllstate. You're In good hands. i3on't think you're a hero? She does. March o/Dimes* WalkAmerica Saving babies, together Call your local March of Dimes or visit 825-7476 Lyndon Johnson. I hope my books are a picture of America and the transformation of political power during the life of Lyndon Johnson," he says. "Means of Ascent," published in 1990, began with Johnson's narrow defeat for the U.S. Senate in 1941. It ended in 1948 when Johnson barely beat former Texas Gov. Coke Stevenson m a Senate race many suspected of having been stolen. Caro presented Johnson as a boorish egomaniac willing to do anything — steal an election, lie about his war record, even risk his life — to advance himself. He wrote that Johnson frequently humiliated his wife. Lady Bird, and had a lengthy extramarital affair. While "bright and dark" threads run through most of Johnson's life, Caro wrote in "Means of Ascent," no bright thread is visible in a period when Johnson "was all but totally consumed by his need for power and by his efforts to obtain it." Caro in turn was accused both of demonizing Johnson and romanticizing Stevenson, a segregatiorust. Valenti thought Caro was "passionately bent on destroying" the late president's reputation. Sidney Blumenthal, later an aide to President Clinton, wrote in The New Republic that Caro's reporting was badly flawed and that he simplistically viewed "almost every transaction among poUti- cal actors as intrinsically venal." He also was praised. The Boston Sunday Globe said Caro was the standard by which other biographers should be measured. And The New York Times called him "an indefatigable investigative reporter and a skillful historian." Caro, who spent seven years on "Means of Ascent," defended the integrity of his book; many readers and reviewers seemed to agree. "Means of Ascent" was a best seller — about 300,000 copies are in print — and won the National Book Critics Circle prize. For the next volume. which covers the years 194960, Caro says a more constructive side of Johnson will emerge. Once Johnson gets power, he will pass legislation on the minimum wage and other liberal causes. In 1957, he wiU defy all wisdom by pushing through the first civil rights bill since Reconstruction. "You wiU see more of that bright thread," Caro says. "He was bom to be in the Senate, to deal with people one on one. The Senate was created by the founding fathers to really be something special, but it hadn't been that way for over a century and seemed like it would never be again. Johnson changed that." Caro has been working on the Johnson books since the mid-1970s and has interviewed more than 1,000 people, including httle-known Senate aides, former Texas Gov. John Con- naUy and former Senators such as Edmund Muskie and J. WiUiam Fulbright. Caro's research fills three large, oak file cabinets in his office. "I found myself racing against death with a lot of people," Caro says. "Two of my main sources (Johnson aides) George Reedy and Horace Busby were both getting old and both wanted to do a lot of interviews. I have letters here from Busby. He had gone blind and taught himself to touch- type.'' And m fact, all of these men — ConnaUy, Muskie, Fulbright, Reedy and Busby — have died since they were interviewed. Caro, 65, is a New York City native who graduated from Princeton Uiuversity in 1957 and later worked as an investigative reporter for News- day. Never at ease with the limited time and space of journalism, he left the newspaper in the mid-1960s. For seven years, he worked on "The Power Broker," a highly critical biography of Robert Moses, New York's mighty public works builder. Pubhshed in 1974, the book was long (more than 1,200 pages), controversial (Moses responded with a 3,500- word denunciation) and praised (it won the Pulitzer Prize and is now standard reading for urban studies courses). Moses h£id granted several long interviews to Caro, but eventually cut him off. For the Johnson books, Lady Bird Johnson did the same. "She started out being very cooperative," Caro says. "Long before anything was published, she stopped cooperating. "There were two camps. Some of the Johnson people would talk to me over and over, some wouldn't. I felt it was because they were comparing notes and realizing that at last someone was not merely accepting the view of his life as he had put out." "I think that with both the Moses and Johnson books, his initial assmnption was innocence until proven guilty," says Caro's friend, Ron Chemow, author of "Titan," the acclaimed biography of John D. Rockefeller. "I think in both men he shows a peculiar intermingling of idealism with vanity and lust for power." Caro spent another seven years on the first Johnson book, "Path to Power," which came out in 1982 and also won the book critics prize. Caro has said he began his research believing the late president was motivated to help people, but then decided his real passion was power. He holds up a page that includes the epigraph for "Master of the Senate," a quote from Johnson: "I do imder- stand power, whatever else may be said about me. I knew where to look for it, and how to use it." A registered independent, Caro thinks of his books less as portraits of people than as dramatizations of power — how it's acquired, how it's used. He calls "The Power Broker" an examination of municipal power. His first Johnson book was an examination of poUtical power in rural areas; the second, an examination of power and electoral politics. His new Johnson voliune will look at legislative power. "In England, people study the great parliamentary leaders: Disraeli, Gladstone. But in this country, power is usually thought of in terms of presidential power," Caro says. "I wanted to show how the Senate actually works." Johnson's rise in the Senate seems unthinkable now, and seemed unthinkable then. In early 1949, he was a firesh- man Senator coming off a badly tainted election, in a legislative body so hierarchical that it didn't even want newcomers to speak. . But by 1953, he was the floor leader for Senate Democrats. The following year, he became majority leader. How he accomplished this can parfly be illustrated by a stoiy Caro tells about Johnson and the Republicans' Senate leader, Robert Taft of Ohio. The biographer, seated in a swivel chair in a large, open space in the middle of his office, points to a bulletin board on the wall to the left of his door. There's a picture of an empty Senate chamber, including two desks, front and center, where Johnson and Taft sat across firom each other. "Taft wouldn't even talk to members of the other party, so Johnson had to figure out a way to get friendly with him," Caro says. "Johnson wore glasses, although he didn't put them on for photos, and one day he deliberately forgot to bring them in. So he leans across lus desk and says to Taft, 'Bob, I've got to say something about this bill here, but I can't read what it says here.' Taft, of course, had to speak to him. "ff you multiply that story by 100, you get an idea of what the book is about." Caro says he writes extensively about Johnson's relationship with, and manipulation of, such key Senate colleagues as the Northern liberal Hubert Humphrey, who eventually became his vice president, and Southern conservative Richard Russell, the seemingly unstoppable opponent of integration. A major section of Caro's book, more than 300 pages, will be about the 1957 civil rights legislation. The bill's actual contents had minor impact, but its passage was extraordinary. The Senate was dominated by the Southern caucus, which controlled most of the key committees. One opponent, RepubUcan Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, filibustered for more than 24 hours. "That bill broke the logjam," Caro says. "It led the way for aU the civil rights legislation Johnson got through as president." Caro's research methods suggest a journalist as much as a scholar. He moved to Texas while writing about Johnson's early years and for the fourth and final volmne plans to spend time in a Vietnamese village, looking into the impact of Johnson's war policy. For "Master of the Senate," the biographer rented an apartment in Washington, D.C., and over a period of several years sat in the gallery. above the Senate chamber, watching how the legislators work. E. Crawford Street Bistro & Cafe 1 For ^l""' 2For^lO"" Customized Catering! Pork Chops Sunday Buffet 11-2 1200 E. Crawford • 827-2728 Water Well prilling Services , •Residential Supply •Lawn & Garden •Livestock •Pump Soles & Installation -Geothermal Heat Pump Wells -Professional iSeological Services 785-826-1616 Salina, K the whole story... St a two second headline. jna Journal for complete coverage tional news, weather, and sports. 23-6363 or 1 -800-827-6363 to subscribe today to Salina Journal S to the Make someone's graduation even more special- include them in our Class of2001 Graduation Ad on Sunday, May 20th. Class of 2001 i4 95 I Your Name. Address Order Form I j Phone Number— I Graduate's Name. I School Please be sure to complete a separate form for each graduate you are honorina. I Orders cannot be taken over ttie phone. Enclose a check, money order, or credit card number & the expiration date. Send your form, the photo(s) and payment to: I Salina Journal I Connecting camvmnities vtiUi ivfamalim 333 S. Fourth, Salina, KS 67401 • 785-823-6363 • fax 823-3207 V« _ — _ <_ smail: j Includes photo, graduate name and school name. To include a message, add 10(t per word. Use this handy form and mail or bring your ad to the Salina Journal^ 333 S. 4th St., by Friday, May 11 that 5:00 p.m. to include your graduate. *All graduate ads require prepayment. Photo may be picked up at the Salina Journal after Sunday, May 20. iSdlillO ToUrflOl If photo is to be returned by mail, please include a self-adaressed, stamped envelope with your order. . »f > r r J Conrwctirw communities with information J

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