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A Texan Looks at Lyndon

By September 1987Comments

Photograph by Wyatt McSpadden

The battle over the recently passed Texas budget was one of the fiercest political fights in memory, replete with name calling and bitter accusations. But when it comes to feuds, no Texas political figure carried a vendetta further than J. Evetts Haley, a conservative Democrat of the old school who took on no less a personage than Lyndon B. Johnson. Eight years after Haley ran for governor (and lost) in 1956, Johnson was running for president, and Haley used the occasion to publish an incendiary book attacking Johnson. It was the most controversial book ever written about a Texan, and although it fell quickly into obscurity, it became a cause célèbre of the 1964 election

Titled A Texan Looks at Lyndon: A Study in Illegitimate Power, the 254-page self-published paperback–Haley says no publishing house would touch it–portrayed Johnson as a vain and vicious man whose climb to the presidency was wrought with malevolence on every rung of the ladder. Haley quoted with obvious relish a description of the National Youth Administration, of which Johnson had been a state director, as “a disloyal, subversive organization, under the domination of Russia.” He contended that Johnson was a congressman who supported farm programs “conceived by the Communist cell in agriculture.” He alleged that as vice president, Johnson “accepted second place for money.” In his most outrageous claim, Haley insinuated that Johnson was involved with the Kennedy assassination. The problem was that Haley’s polemic lost touch with reality. While he made some good points about Johnson’s shadowy dealings–such as the peculiarity of 202 of his South Texas supporters voting in alphabetical order in the 1948 Senate race–they were buried waist deep in rumormongering and mad-dog ruminations.

The initial press run of 100,000 copies caused little hubbub. But as the presidential campaign heated up, sales skyrocketed. By the time of the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City in late August, sales were averaging 50,000 a day, mostly in bulk orders–at thirty to fifty cents a book–from the John Birch Society and the Goldwater for President clubs, which hoped the book would swing close states to Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, Johnson’s Republican opponent. At almost 7.5 million copies, A Texan Looks at Lyndon had become the best-selling book of any kind in the country and the most successful political book of all time.

In the campaign’s final weeks counter-attacks on Haley and his book began in earnest, many of them written by Johnson’s supporters, such as his special assistant Bill Moyers, and nationally syndicated columnist Drew Pearson. Some of these adversaries offered choice diagnoses of the author’s problem. “A case of unhospitalized paranoia,” declared A.C. Greene in the Dallas Times Herald. Jim Mathis, a volunteer for the Democratic National Committee, wrote a widely reprinted article that spoke of “the festering climax of Haley’s fantasies.” (Mathis, incidentally, was the son-in-law of George Brown, a co-founder of the giant construction company Brown and Root. The firm’s unwholesome financial relationship with Johnson had been chronicled by Haley in some detail.)

As the backlash peaked, newsstands around the country refused to carry the book, airport authorities ordered it removed from terminals, and even the Republican National Committee publicly rebuked it. In the end, the tract caused Johnson little political damage; his election captured what was at the time the greatest popular majority in history.

Historians today dismiss the polemic as a venomous propaganda piece, an eruption of the old renegade streak in Haley’s nature that got him leveraged off the University of Texas staff in 1936 for being, in essence, too outspoken and too right wing. The book tarnished his well-regarded reputation as the author of many frontier histories and biographies, including the classic Charles Goodnight: Cowman and Plainsman

Haley is now 86 and unrepentant. When he’s not tending his ranch, he spends most of his time in his Midland office and library. He maintains that the book’s allegations must have been true or he would have been sued for libel. And he resents that he is seldom cited in the dozens of Johnson biographies that have appeared since 1964. “‘Course,” he says with a sharp-edged crackle, “everybody wants to write about the sonofabitch now that he’s dead.”

William A. Adler is a freelance writer who lives in Austin.

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  • JC Willliams

    I have always believed that LBJ was either involved or knew more about who was involved other than L.H. Oswald. Footage exists that shows Jack Ruby telling a reporter in 1966 that it ( the JFK Assassination) had to do with the man in office now, meaning LBJ. 1969 Footage of LBJ speaking with Walter Cronkite about other elements, maybe foreign or who knows who else, being involved also exists. Why do we find it hard to believe that America has corrupt politicians capable of removing obstacles or opposition? Maybe power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely everywhere except here in the USA. Read Barr McClellan’s Blood, Money and Power.

    • JC Williams

      Furthermore, why would the records supporting the Warren Report be initially sealed for 75 years? Some records have been released over the years but not all. Likewise, why would Lois Lerner plead the 5th if she had done nothing wrong. The truth shall set you free but at first it’ll make you miserable.

      • BludBaut

        “why would the records supporting the Warren Report be initially sealed for 75 years?” To give the lying criminals the time to die and not be prosecuted and so that all would have any memory of the facts would all be dead.

        Every man on the Warren Commission compromised so greatly that to say he “compromised his integrity” is laughable. The men on the Warren Commission proved to the world their LACK of integrity.

        Just as everyone knows where they were when they heard the the Twin Towers were hit, so every adult knows where they were when they heard of JFK’s assassination, which was MORE impacting then than the news of the Twin Towers was.

        Yet, George Bush *still* claims he doesn’t remember where he was on 9-11. Yeah, right. That claim is more than enough to make people say “Why is he lying?”

    • BludBaut

      The evidence incriminating LBJ is more plentiful (and all over the Internet, easily accessible through the prudent use of keywords [mostly the names of the many involved with “jfk” added the search]) than most people have time to thoroughly investigate or assimilate and much of is second, third, fourth, etc., witness to the facts and truth. It’s to Texas’ shame that the leaders of Texas don’t “burn in effigy” LBJ and every aspect of every honor shown to him in the entire state, remove his despicable name from every place of honor and mock and scorn every person who speaks well of the murdering criminal. Honoring LBJ is honoring criminality because there was never a more despicable criminal in any government.

      The murder by sacrifice of 59,000 Americans in Vietnam is *wholly* attributable to LBJ’s greed and love of money. Anyone who questions that hasn’t done their homework.

      That he was involved in the murder and cover-up of JFK is beyond dispute or doubt and Texas Monthly’s refusal to have *long ago* acknowledged that is just one of the many evidences that this publication is the evil that I represent it to be.

      I repeat what I said earlier: If you want to be lied to and have facts misrepresented, read Texas Monthly.

  • BludBaut

    This article proves what I’ve known for a very long time–if you want to be deceived and lied to, believe Texas Monthly. It represents the evil of those who hate freedom of the people, the real values for which Texas was once proud, and truth.

    Let me put it another way. Go to Texas Monthly to find what the liars are saying.

  • Apachejim

    Read “A study in Illegitimate Power”again,Mr. Adler.
    Sit alone quietly and consider the Vietnam War, the quotes of Johnson including his “Memorial to God” and your LBJ association with the criminals of his time.
    Now look closely at the condition of the War on Poverty, the prison system of urban Democratic Party voters, the wealthy union bosses, the elite society who profited so well from Johnsons concept of governing and see what you really know about the Godfather of Imperial Presidency.
    Elected by Duval County. That alone should be enough to make any honest person give credence to ANY of J. Evetts Haleys statements. There is no “conspiracy theory”, the conspiracy wasn’t and isn’t a theory,