The Years of Lyndon Johnson:nMeans of Ascentnhy Robert A. CawnNew York: Alfred A. Knopf;n506 pp., $24.95nWhen on January 3, 1949, LyndonnBaines Johnson of Texasnwas sworn in as a United States senator,nan era in the politics of his state hadncome to an end, a period that hadnbegun when Reconstruction concluded.nSimilar events occurred in othernSouthern states, as when Harry FloodnByrd retired in Virginia and WalternGeorge no longer filled his seat fromnGeorgia. In retrospect, the process,nthough it took thirty years, seems tonhave been inexorable. Certainly therenare those who would have us think so.nBut such was not the experience ofnthoughtful men who stood in the midstnof the tornado when the modern stylenof campaigning came to Southern politics;nand nowhere was the storm greaternor the destruction of the familiar politicalnlandmarks more widespread thannwhen Lyndon Johnson ran against formerngovernor Coke Stevenson in 1948n—when the largest of the Southernnstates put aside the kind of leadership tonwhich it had been attached since thentime of its separate existence as annindependent republic, sold its soul for anmess of pottage, and embraced as itsnhero a man whose chief distinction wasnnot character but a capacity “to getnthings done.” Robert A. Caro’s ThenYears of Lyndon Johnson: Means ofnAscent is the second volume of whatnwill eventually be a four-part study.nWhen finished, his biography will, Insuspect, turn out to be the most importantnwork of its kind to be written innthis decade. That the biography is bynstages filling out the image of LBJ as anspecial kind of monster, the absolutelynpolitical creature, is already producingnM.E. Bradford is a professor ofnEngUsh at the University of Dallas.nPoisoned at the Sourcenby M.E. Bradfordn”The way to have power is to take it.”n— W.M. Tweednhowls from amongst those politiciansnwho have an investment in the myth ofnthe reformed Southern conservativenwho took advantage of the martyrdomnof his predecessor in using the capacitynof government to promote “good causes.”nBut the reduction of that mythncomes in a later volume and is onlynforeshadowed in these pages, chaptersnthat tell instead of the middle years ofnJohnson’s life following his 1941 defeatnby Governor W. Lee “Pappy”nO’Daniel and his return to the Housenof Representatives. The opportunismnand ambition of this Lyndon Johnsonncorroborate the impression that readersnof Caro’s The Years of Lyndon Johnson:nThe Path to Power (1982) almostninevitably derived from that narrativenof antecedents, boyhood, and earlynnncareer.nThe heart of Caro’s second volumenis not just the race between LBJ andnthe old-fashioned governor from thenHill Country. Nor is it about hownJohnson and his friends unquestionablynstole this election — with the assistancenof Justice Hugo Black and thentacit support of a majority in the UnitednStates Supreme Court. Instead,nCaro’s focus is on the dramatic transformationnof Johnson in that race fromnprotege of Franklin D. Roosevelt intonpragmatic conservative and leader ofnthe Southern bloc in the Congress. Inhave a friend here in Texas who, whennLyndon Johnson, once again a “national”nDemocrat, campaigned to benVice-President or President of thenUnited States, simply distributed tonblack clergymen, journalists, and honestnliberal intellectuals copies of thencandidate’s early segregationist speechesnand of the anti-Union and Redbaitingnoratory that Johnson had employednto discredit one of the mostngenuine conservatives ever to be part ofnthe public life in the Lone Star State.nCaro begins his book with the anomalynof President Johnson’s actions in behalfnof civil rights, and with the singing ofnan anti-war version of “We Shall Overcome”noutside the White House whilenJohnson suffered within. His point innthis early material is that the Presidentntoward whom these lyrics were directednwas never either a liberal or a conservative,nbut rather a man always hungrynfor power and interested in what mightnbe done with it. As President of thenUnited States, he misunderstood bothnof these enterprises, and discoveredninstead that power not connected firmlynto an unshakable set of purposes andna traditional political rectitude, a Constitutionalnmorality, provides only emptyntriumphs. There are never enoughnvotes to shore up the self-respect of thenpolitician who at bottom despises himself—nwhich seems much of the timento have been the case with LyndonnJohnson.nJULY 1990/31n