Dallek used traditional methods of research and structure making his book a true "history" from a collegiate-academic point-of-view. But this does not invalidate Caro's work. The problem, then, in looking at both of these books to be authorities is to figure out if it really matters if Caro's lack of credentials and traditional (meaning library) method of information gathering actually denote a lesser effect on the overall impact of the work. The problem, then, that Caro faces is the determination if his work actually is quote worthy of other historians quoting / referencing him.
For Dallek, his unwavering adherence to strict academic research leaves the punch out of the story of Johnson. It is one thing to have a series of supported and peer-reviewed facts lined up chapter by chapter, and it is yet another to make those facts sing in an engaging story format. Caro's book is by far the more interesting to read, but Dallek's is the more reliable in terms of historical accuracy. What, then, Caro has created is more akin to a collected and combined oral history of Lyndon Johnson and Dallek's a detailed record of his career. The other problem with Dallek's approach, and even his in-text criticisms of Caro, is that in order to claim moral superiority of research, one must be absolutely sure of the primacy of the work and the quality of the resources found. While Dallek is thorough, he also misses the essential humanity of Johnson that Caro so effectively portrays.
The truth about Caro's work, though, is that even without all the vetting that Dallek's went through prior to publishing, it is absolutely and at times overwhelmingly thorough. Caro is clearly hostile toward Johnson and uses his encyclopedic knowledge of Johnson to portray him in a very negative light (showing his vanity and lack of respect for authorities other than his own by wearing a cowboy hat and loud flowered tie to the hearing relating to the fraud accusation. But at the core, both authors succeed in showing particular elements of truth about Johnson - that he was at once exceptionally compassionate and disturbingly vulgar.
In terms of story telling, the two authors succeed in creating compelling visions of Johnson, but in different ways. For example, Caro's attention to detail includes character descriptions such as, "In obtaining...help, Johnson employed his bluntest weapon. This was [Tommy] Corcoran, the broad-shouldered, bouncy, brash Irishman who in 1937 stood...closer to the throne than nay of the young New Dealers, and who was already a Washington legend for his enthusiasm in using that closeness to bludgeon officials in to compliance with his wishes," (Caro, 476) is a bit over the top - Caro leans often to the semi- or full-blown melodramatic.
Dallek achieves much of the same story-telling sensibility of the use of character descriptions, but he does so more consistently and without the intention of creating a false sense of drama. Dallek references Corcoran more than eighty times in the course of this book but not once describes his physical appearance or personality. What created dramatic context for Caro was clearly not of interest to Dallek. Rather, what Dallek appears to have been seeking was a depiction of these historical figures through their actions.
Caro seeks to understand Johnson through simplification - as has been previously discussed - with the result being that quite often character descriptions are filled with facts, but not with humanity. Dallek, however, often uses too little detail when providing a character description- but he does succeed in providing a richness in less than Caro discovers. For example, on the topic of corruption and the illegal funding of Johnson's campaigns through Brown and Root and Alvin Wirtz are viewed in quite different ways by both authors. Caro's take on Wirtz is that Johnson was seen, in 1937, as a method of rescuing Brown and Root (a construction firm) from financial ruin by being able to potentially secure the pragmatism," while Wirtz actually "shared the views of the reactionary Roosevelt-hating businessmen of whom he was both legal representative and confidant," (411).
Dallek's take on Wirtz and Brown & Root is to recognize the significant and likely illegal role that the two had upon Johnson's career. But Dallek describes Wirtz very differently than Caro. In Dallek's description, Wirtz "loved Roosevelt and the New Deal, and when he acted on his own [meaning separately from Brown & Root] he was a champion of public power and Federal welfare programs," (146). Dallek and Caro both describe Johnson and Wirtz as being self-serving opportunists, but they also represented the new South. Both authors acknowledge that Wirtz and Johnson were shrewd men of vision whose visions included personal advancement in equal parts with social and economic change - all for the greater good.
When it comes to understanding the authors different takes on the Colorado River dam project, in Dallek's account, "Johnson supported conservation and public power through building the dam...in this he joined a group of self-serving altruists who used the dams simultaneously to acquire wealth and power and improve the lives of millions of Texans," (174).
Wirtz' justification for pushing Johnson to pressure Roosevelt to spend money on a series of dams along the Colorado river was, on paper, to create flood protection zones bur, in reality, they were also methods of lining the pockets of his partners - of whom he represented all of the companies with dam-building contracts as part of the deals that he and Johnson brokered. Dallek goes on to show that Johnson's interest in the dam projects reached beyond the simple economic interests of Brown & Root by using the federal government as a tool to secure the development of state and local projects. As a result, Roosevelt was able to access Johnson's interests and political motivations and thus made it possible for nearly all development projects in Texas to be handed off to Johnson or his 'friends'. In fact, Dallek goes on to say that Roosevelt directly instructed Corcoran to help Johnson in any way he could- which led to Brown & Root getting a contract to build the Naval Air Station at Corpus Christi.
In Caro's account of the same events, the revelation that Johnson was manipulating the President for the financial benefit of Brown & Root is representative of the absolute worst kind of revelation. Instead of seeing political opportunism and the standard political give and take that goes with the territory, Caro saw it as further evidence that Johnson was capable of great hypocrisy in order to get things that should have been offered up to a variety of interests rather than just those attached to Johnson. "Johnson's influence over the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station contract had in itself given him a major role in construction in Texas, for so huge was that $100 million piece of work in that state...that Brown & Root put to work on it subcontractors from all over the state," (630). "Lyndon's friends" were to be given Federal contracts in Texas and, "once he could get public money for his friends, he was made." Johnson's importance rose from simple politician to the level of gangster controlling construction within Texas. "Because he possessed that [power], men who wanted those [lucrative government] contracts...had to come to him." (631). And these men were some of the most powerful in Texas. Caro, then, puts a rather darker spin on the same set of events.
Dallek's tone in the books focuses our attention upon the idea that Johnson was more than just a money-/power-hungry goon. Roosevelt perceived Johnson to be an instrument he could use in the South to further his overall agenda - which matched up with Johnson's ideals - to rid the nation of abject poverty. "Lyndon justifiably felt that he had been part of the creation of the new deal," (Dallek, 108). In this, Dallek looks at many of the works of Johnson with a favorable eye. Yes, he may be have been power and money hungry, but he was also effective at furthering the programs that would eventually result in a massive reduction in the number of completely disenfranchised people due to their economic condition.
Caro is definitely anti-Johnson and Dallek, while not necessarily pro-Johnson, chooses not to take the absolutist ground that good deeds tainted with bad are not as good. Interestingly, Caro leaves out much of the fact that even though Johnson stole the 1948 election, he did so at the cost of preventing a racist, reactionary Dixiecrat in the form of Coke Stevenson. Caro acknowledges Johnson's contribution in terms of legislation and the improvement of the overall economies of the South, but he does so with the…
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