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Book Review of: Indomitable Will
LBJ In the Presidency
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Indomitable Will, by Author (Softcover, 2012)|
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This book, while biased (see comments later in this review), serves as a valuable reference on LBJ. It has certainly expanded my knowledge and understanding of LBJ the man and LBJ the President. That's saying a lot, I think, because I've already listened to a compilation of "the LBJ tapes" and have read a fair amount about him. I've even seen LBJ in the flesh.
That Updegrove is the director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library Museum should come as no surprise, if you discover that after reading this book. The bias is obvious, and there's nary a negative comment about LBJ in the book. The author's basic premise is flawed (see comments below), though understandable given the work the author does.
The book does contain quite a bit of factual material. It's just cherry-picked and packaged to put a real shine on its subject, namely LBJ. But at least the author had plenty of accurate positive material to do that with. Such would not be the case with, say, Barrack Obama, Richard Nixon, or Woodrow Wilson.
How do I know the information is accurate? Because the book consists mostly of short interview clips, plus some transcripts from the LBJ tapes. The author didn't do all that much writing per se (though the writing he did was done well). That is, this isn't a 316-page work consisting of the author's writings. It's a 316-page collection of interview clips with some commentary by the author.
Also, it is heavily researched. The bibliography runs almost 50 pages.
The interview clips are arranged into twelve chapters (thematically), with commentary by the author interspersed. Unfortunately, it is not easy to see where the quote ends and the commentary begins; that's a layout problem, probably a consequence of ever-diminishing resources for publishers to work with. Or maybe it's because I reviewed the uncorrected proof (pre-lease of the book) and this problem wasn't addressed at that stage. I also didn't get to see any photo captions in this version and there's no book index.
The book begins with an "Index of Voices," which I read with some interest. It was a listing of people whose interviews appeared in the book. With each name was a short tag that usually was the person's job title. As LBJ was the third POTUS from the day I started life, many of these names were familiar to me. For the same reason, many were not. I was just at that age where the really big names get imprinted and others get lost in the haze of youth. Some are names I became familiar with later.
I was pleased to see some interview clips from Barry Goldwater, another grossly misunderstood and media-vilified person of the era. Updegrove noted that Goldwater killed a particular campaign ad. He did that on moral grounds; the ad was unfair and too ad hominem. The author (surprisingly) does not say it, but if the shoe had been on the other foot then LBJ would have done the same thing. Nixon, on the other hand, probably would have let the ad run.
Goldwater, like LBJ, was a patriot. Many people do not know that, at the end of World War II, Barry Goldwater was a Brigadier General. He was also a graduate of the Senior Officer Extension of the Air War College. Like Ike, he was a man of character. Like Ike and LBJ, he did not like Nixon. In fact, it was Goldwater who met with Nixon and gave him the Party's ultimatum that he must resign. While LBJ and Goldwater had different political ideologies, they agreed on core values and treated each other with respect (at least, that's how I remember it and that's what I've read).
The point of all this is that LBJ had respect from people other than "money grows on trees" types. And contrary to what many "historians" say, most liberals attacked Johnson mercilessly. It was those attacks, more than anything else (IMO), that drove him out of office. His own presumed base just could not get the big picture and stand by their man. Even Dr. King became an LBJ detractor. On the other hand, LBJ got respect from ideological opponents. Goldwater, who bore the title "Mr. Conservative" was among those who respected LBJ despite some serious disagreements.
LBJ was a schemer. He twisted people's arms, bribed people, and was often less than above board in getting things done. If the ends justifies the means, then he was entirely justified in terms of some of the ends he achieved. However, some of the ends he achieved were less than benign. Probably with good intention, but the effect analysis was sorely lacking. And we are paying for that even today.
The author's basic premise is that LBJ did a wonderful job domestically, but the Vietnam War he inherited from Kennedy tarnished his image. The author completely ignores the fact that LBJ's domestic policies caused an expansion of government that we cannot afford. No matter how well-intended, the resources to support it just do not exist.
In addition to the monetary costs, there are such things as the "single black mom" phenomena due to the public assistance program rule that requires the absence of a father in the home. I don't know if the latter was an LBJ item, or something inserted by the idiots in Congress (as Twain said, "Ah, but I repeat myself). But the rule has caused a multi-generation problem that has further disadvantaged millions of black people. On Vietnam, it's also true that a hugely disproportionate number of blacks went over there to get shot up. These two facts greatly undermine the image of Johnson as being good for black people, though from the LBJ tapes one must necessarily conclude helping all minorities achieve equal footing was his intention. The two negatives were surely unintended.
Between LBJ's expensive domestic programs and the Vietnam War, the nation racked up huge debt. And government debt always fuels economic decline, because all debts have carrying costs and because government debt is overhead. The higher the overhead, the sicker the economy becomes. This economic drag, also, has gone badly for black people. Disproportionately so.
Think of the economy as a runner and each unit of debt as a brick tossed into a basket on his back. He's going to slow down, and at some point collapse. Johnson and good economic policy were mutually exclusive.
In the mid-1960s, the response to Johnson's bad economic policies was to tax via inflation. So the inappropriately named Federal Reserve (which is not federal and does not reserve anything) counterfeited huge sums of money just as it is doing today. This debases the currency, effectively providing a tax on all dollar-based assets in the world. The "pay for LBJ" inflation persisted throughout the Nixon years, and was followed by the stagflation of Ford and the national malaise of Carter. The inflation tax is highly regressive, and there's yet another negative consequence for blacks.
Since we have had inflation ever since Johnson really got that ball rolling, it follows that persistent inflation is the enduring legacy of LBJ. The author did not address this or its deleterious effects on minorities. Giving people the right to vote in ballot-controlled "elections" does not make up for robbing them blind via debt slavery and inflation. Nor does ensuring they have a "minimum wage," which promptly gets inflated away to the status of a bad joke.
Nor did the author note, except in passing, that LBJ was a proponent of the idea that violent criminals should be protected from their intended victims rather than the other way around. Any politician who backs such an idea wipes out any good will he or she might have otherwise generated. I've never seen the data supporting a shortage of violent criminals, so I question the need to protect them from harm. Especially when it's an either/or choice between criminals and law-abiding potential victims.
The author also tried to polish LBJ's image by saying LBJ's hero was FDR. If you look at the facts and ignore the lies and propaganda, you discover that FDR was our third worst President of all time. He turned a recession into a permanent Depression (we had a respite after WWII, because our competitors bombed each others' factories) due to the unsustainable bloating of government and he did many other things that damaged the country. The author did make a nod to this, noting FDR's penchant for lying. But he didn't note FDR's blatant disregard for the laws under which the President must operate or of how FDR plunged millions of Americans into the economic cellar.
Based on the evidence, comparing any President other than Wilson (signed the Federal Reserve Act and did many other reprehensible things) or Obama (created more fiefdoms and agencies in 3 years than FDR did in 12, and has greatly exacerbated the Depression by fueling the national debt which is the underlying cause of the Depression in the first place) is an insult. Maybe the author really meant this insult, once we consider the economic fallout that is the LBJ legacy.
What LBJ accomplished in civil rights legislation was amazing, to say the least. If you look at the long list of civil rights legislation LBJ pushed through (in the face of strong opposition), you can see why. But the author, like most everyone else, fails to connect the dots regarding the cost of all the government programs LBJ got started. It's worth noting that most of those programs are, despite being well-intended, illegal (see the 10th Amendment).
The press have a penchant for ignoring real news and real issues. I was still a kid during Nixon's wage and price controls. This lunacy was touted by the press as, by some stretch of the imagination, actually helping. But young as I was, I had enough common sense to understand it was stupid. It was also during this time I first heard, "The President is an idiot" but not from the press.
So I can understand the author's own bias in response to the media bias, the bias shown by mainstream "historians," and the general indifference Americans today have for the great deeds accomplished by LBJ. It's certain that Nixon would not have produced the civil rights legislation that LBJ did. Ford wasn't noted for anything other than his idiotic WIN buttons, pardoning Nixon, and participating in the Warren Commission fraud. Carter would not have had the cooperation of CONgress.
So at the very earliest, this legislation might have been passed by Ronald Reagan some 20 years later. And if he'd have missed the window, it still would not have been passed yet today. In fact, the rights of all Americans have been severely curtailed by the past two (mis)administrations. The anti-Patriot Act suspends the Bill of Rights. The GW Bush (mis)administration inflicted us with that, and Obama gave us no hope of change by signing its renewal. So really, the last POTUS who did anything for liberty was LBJ. Unfortunately, he doomed us to economic slavery by failing to do the math before signing bills into law. Every POTUS since him has also assumed money grows on trees, which of course it does not, so we are robbed by the Federal Reserve's aggressive counterfeiting.
If you want "the other side" of LBJ, this book is indispensible. But you will have to supplement it with the missing pieces, and those are pieces which neither the statist media nor this book provide.