Robert Caro’s The Passage of Power, the latest volume in his acclaimed Lyndon Baines Johnson biography, came out May of last year, but Garry Wills just got around to reviewing it in The New York Review of Books.
The sad thing is that for the first few thousand words, it’s a really interesting review. Caro’s book is about how Johnson’s and Robert F. Kennedy’s mutual hatred for each other drove much of the Johnson’s Presidency. By this point, anyone beyond Democratic hagiographers know that both LBJ and RFK were nasty pieces of work, and it’s no surprise that both of them loathed each other. Caro is a good historian, I’m sure the book is quite fascinating, and the review conveys its central points well.
Then, alas, the Garry Wills kicks in.
For those who can’t lay their hands on The Field Guide to Liberal Fossils, Wills is a historian who started out as a protege of William F. Buckley but then started moving steadily to the left and has kept moving ever since. He came down with a full-blown case of Bush Derangement Syndrome, and penned one of the nastiest hit pieces on Romney after he lost. He has such a bad case of it he can’t resist getting in digs at Bush43 while reviewing a book that takes place 30+ years before he entered office.
“He [LBJ] also tried to work the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, requesting an office in the White House with a bulked-up staff for military and security issues. He was trying, we now see, to have the parallel presidency that Dick Cheney secured for himself under a compliant George Bush.”
This is the sort of wacky “Cheney is the puppetmaster” conspiracism that had the nutroots convinced that “Fitzmas” was going to result the wholesale indictment of the Bush Administration for treason before The Great Fizzle. A professional historian believing in it is akin to treating The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a real document rather than a Czarist fake.
Honorable mention goes to the line “Americans hated communism so much that they thought every Russian was a threat.” Yeah, funny what an ideology killing 100 million people and having some 5,000 nuclear warheads pointed at you by an evil empire will dampen your enthusiasm.
At some indefinite point in the future, I hope to read all of Caro’s volumes on LBJ. But I see no need to read anything by Garry Wills ever again.