New York Times Book Review
My Search for Coke Stevenson
By: Robert A. Caro
"Means of Ascent" was published in larch 1990, a number of the articles about t that appeared in magazines and
newspapers made statements about Coke Stevenson Johnson's opponent in the 1948 United
senate campaign, for which I believe there is no factual basis. Some of these articles, no doubt
inadvertently, repeated allegations and rumors circulated in 1948 by Johnson and his followers in their
effort to undermine Stevenson's reputation --allegations and rumors I also believe to be without
factual basis. This note is intended to expand and clarify the record in these areas and to explain the
process by which I learned about Coke Stevenson.
A particularly serious and dramatic allegation concerned Stevenson's personal integrity. An article in the June 4, 1990, issue of The New Republic revived the rumors circulated in 1948 that Stevenson, in exchange for his political influence, had accepted large payoffs from oil companies, which camouflaged the payments by taking leases on Stevenson's ranch although they never had any intention of drilling there. According to a source quoted approvingly by The New Republic -a one-time Stevenson secretary who says he recalls in detail a conversation he overheard during the 1930's that may have been about an oil lease -these leases were patently phony because "the notion that an oil company might actually drill on Stevenson's ranch was ludicrous. 'That was the poorest oil prospecting land in the world.' "
I heard such allegations while I was doing research on my book, and attempted to determine if were true. On June 21, 1977, I drove to the Coke Stevenson Ranch (which after his death in 1975 had divided between his widow and his son) in Kimble County. I am certain that anyone who had been with me on that day would not not believe that "the notion that an oil company might actually drill on Stevenson's ranch was ludicrous." For as I drove down a dirt road on the ranch, I passed trucks and equipment of the Great Western Petroleum Company -which was drilling for oil on Stevenson's ranch.
On that trip, and on others that I made to Kimble County over the next few years, I interviewed ranchers and studied records and maps in the Kimble County Courthouse in Junction. The records showed that oil companies had been leasing the Coke Stevenson Ranch for exploratory drilling for over six decades, including times when Stevenson had no political office or influence. (One lease was made in December 1927 when Stevenson was not in public life; others were made -by two new companies -in 1950 and '54 after Stevenson had left public life forever; another, made in 1972 by still another company, was renewed annually after Stevenson was dead.) In fact, had anyone taken the trouble to telephone Stevenson's widow, Marguerite King Stevenson, at the time my book was published, he would have learned that oil companies were still leasing the Stevenson ranch -15 years after his death; Mrs. Stevenson received her latest annual rental check (for $4,483) last May.
Much of the hearsay and gossip about Stevenson's "phony" oil leases focused on alleged deals with the Magnolia Petroleum Company. According to the rumors, these deals involved large sums of money- figures as high as $75,000 or $100,000 were mentioned to me. The deed records of Kimble County, in the County Courthouse, show that Magnolia took one lease on the Stevenson ranch, a 10- year lease registered on May 10, 1939. It wasn't for $75,000. Stevenson received from it a total of $19,571. His income from the lease therefore averaged $1,957 per year. This lease was one of 16 leases signed by various oil companies with 16 ranches that lay in a line running north-south through the county; all 16 leases were made in that year because a promising geological fault had been discovered along that line (and because in that year a small well came in in Kimble County).
By 1939, in fact, scores of Kimble ranchers - none except Stevenson with a political position - had signed leases with various oil companies, including Magnolia. The $1,957-per-year rental that Stevenson received was consistent with that paid to ranchers without political influence; in fact the Kimble deed records show that a few months before the Stevenson lease was signed, the Humble Oil and Refining Company leased the Louie Bolt Ranch some 10 miles away -at terms considerably higher than Magnolia gave Stevenson. Ramsey Randolph, Kimble County Clerk in 1939 and '40, said: "The Humble lease certainly indicates that the Stevenson lease was legitimate." ("Actually," Mr. Randolph said, compared with the amounts given other ranchers, Stevenson received a "pretty low" rental for his lease.)
Every aspect of the Magnolia lease is consistent with other oil company leases in Kimble County .There is not the slightest reason to believe it was given to buy Stevenson's political influence; in fact, every piece of documentary evidence that I could find suggests it was not. (Exploratory wells have been drilled on the Stevenson ranch for decades; although, as is the case with Kimble County as a whole, little oil has been discovered on it, enough - together with natural gas deposits -has been discovered to encourage oil companies to continue drilling and paying rent.)
I had been told that "everyone knew" about the "phony oil leases." But over and over again during years of research, I have been taught that things that "everyone knew" often turn out, when investigated, to be without factual basis. Investigating the oil lease rumors, I found this to be the case. Not only could I find no evidence to substantiate these rumors, all the evidence I could find contradicted the rumors, and suggested that they were false.
I did further research into Stevenson's financial situation, studying as many of his personal
financial records -including his bank statements
and income tax returns -as I could obtain, and interviewing members of his family and the few elderly Kimble County neighbors who remembered him. From every one of these sources I received a picture of a man who, despite the great power that he held for years in Texas, never had much money. One fact remembered by several people was that when during the late 1930's Stevenson wanted to pay a local man to make wrought-iron railings for the balconies in his house, he had to have the work done piecemeal because he didn't have enough money to pay for all of it at once. His income tax returns for the 1930's and 1940's, the years during which he was Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, Lieutenant Governor and Governor, how that in the 1930's his reported net income, including the income from the Magnolia lease, averaged about $5,200 per year. During the 1940's it averaged about $8,000 per year -and most of this income consisted of his salary from the state; during this decade, in which, according to his opponents, Coke Stevenson's acceptance of huge payoffs was "so well known," the largest income he ever reported in one year was $13,804. (Stevenson's family has given me copies of the personal income tax returns of Stevenson and his first wife for every year between 1927 and 1950.)
Finally, I read the probate records of Stevenson's will and the tax records of his estate. These show that when he died in 1975, Stevenson left an state totaling $708,000. But the bulk of this amount -$639,000 -consisted of the value the Internal Revenue Service placed on the land of his ranch. Most of this land was purchased before Stevenson entered state government, piece by piece as he earned fees as an attorney. Beginning in 1914 he bought it for prices as low as $6 or $8 an acre -and the increase in its value over the 60 years he owned it accounts for most of the estate's total value. Despite his lifelong frugality -so rigid it was a joke among his friends -and despite the fact that his legal expertise made his services as an attorney eagerly sought, Coke Stevenson, for a decade one of the most powerful men in Texas, died with only 59,000 in the bank. That amount, and the land together with a few minor items, constituted his total estate.
The record of Stevenson's life so far as I could determine it is of a man who never had much money; of a man who, so far as his personal honesty was concerned, is as different as can be conceived from the image of a corrupt politician so vividly pictured in 1948 by the Johnson men -and, after publication of "Means of Ascent, " resurrected in some magazine and newspaper articles. (And, indeed, when, over the years I was doing the research on the book, I got to know these Johnson men better, some of them drew a different picture themselves. I will never forget Paul Bolton, one of Johnson's speech writers and the author of some of the harshest attacks on Stevenson during the campaign, saying to me, in connection with another specific charge but in words describing Stevenson generally: "We knew it wasn't true, and I almost felt ashamed of what I was writing sometimes; Coke was so honest, you know .")
No writer can be certain that he knows all the facts about private financial affairs dating back 50 years and more. But I tried to ascertain as many of those facts as possible, and after doing so I was convinced -and am convinced -that Coke Robert Stevenson was a public official of extraordinary personal integrity.
STEVENSON has also recently been portrayed anew in a number of articles as merely a "typical" ("typical" was a word I heard a lot), totally unexceptional Texas right-winger, just another in the long line of the state's extremely conservative public officials - unintelligent, narrow-minded, bigoted, a segregationist and an isolationist.
This, as it happened, was the impression of Stevenson I myself received when I began research on my book in 1975, and for some years thereafter I had no reason to doubt it. By 1975 Stevenson was a forgotten figure, a man all but lost to history. Two biographies -one by an aide, the other by two of Stevenson's Kimble County neighbors -were both so slight, not only in length but in research, as to provide little insight into the man or his career. The literature on Texas history during the era in which Stevenson served in the state government is, as one writer puts it, "notoriously spotty"; moreover, most of it is written from a point of view antithetical to his. In the few books on the era, he was generally given scanty treatment, and even that concentrated on his gubernatorial record, not on his pre-gubernatorial record in government or on the story of his life as a whole.
Apart from these sources, Coke Stevenson had been described -briefly and harshly - primarily in biographies of Lyndon Johnson. Interviews would normally be helpful in learning about a man, but Stevenson was 87 years old when he died. He was almost the last survivor of his generation in Texas politics; only a very few of his friends and political allies -indeed, only a few handfuls of Texas politicians who knew him more than passingly well -were still alive.
When, almost 30 years after the 1948 campaign, I began hearing about it in interviews, the description of Stevenson available to history was very largely a description furnished by a younger generation in Texas politics -the Johnson generation, the bright young Johnson campaign aides who helped him defeat Stevenson in 1948 and thereby rose to power in Texas -as well as by Johnson supporters and allies and by one-time Texas 'Loyalists" (Democrats loyal to Franklin D. Roosevelt, the New Deal and the national Party) and their spiritual descendants in the Texas political, academic, intellectual and journalistic community, a group to whom Stevenson had been a symbol of much of what they hated. It was they who, in interviews with me, in oral history interviews given to representatives of the Lyndon Johnson Library and in opinions repeated in Johnson biographies and other books, described Stevenson as typical, and it was during my interviews with them that I was told that like so many other Texas public officials, Stevenson was just another officeholder on the take (witness those "phony oil leases").
There was, in fact, nothing unusual or significant about the 1948 campaign as a whole, I was told; Johnson had simply made use of the "issues" in the race - these were identified to me as Stevenson's isolationism, his racism, his alleged identification with the ultra-right Texas Regulars -to persuade a majority of the voters to vote for him. That was the accepted image of Coke Stevenson and of his last campaign, and for a long time I had I no reason to think the image incomplete or inaccurate.
I was planning to make the 1948 campaign only a single long chapter in "Means of Ascent" (as I did with Johnson's 1941 campaign in "The Path to Power"), and I wasn't doing extensive research on it or on Johnson's opponent in it. I was learning about Stevenson only incidentally, during the course of inter.. views about other aspects of Johnson's life. Moreover, since these interviews were almost entirely with people who ridiculed and despised Stevenson, they only reinforced the picture of the man that I had obtained from the history texts. (I never interviewed Stevenson. He died in I June 1975, just about the time I was making my first trips to Texas; at the time I had no idea I that he would be a figure of any particular significance in my work, and I had never tried to contact him.)
After a while, however, my circle of interviews about Johnson's life began expanding so that I was talking to political figures from the 1930's and 1940's who had been outside Johnson's orbit. At the time, I wasn't interviewing these people about Stevenson or the 1948 campaign; the necessity of learning about that campaign in detail had still not sunk in on me. But although my interviews were primarily concerned with other subjects, sometimes the person I was interviewing would bring up Stevenson's name -and slowly (very slowly, I must admit) I was beginning to realize that from these new sources the picture I was being given was quite different from the picture I had been given before.
If there was a single decisive moment in this process -a moment in which I finally understood that there might be much more to Stevenson than I had previously believed -that moment occurred during an interview I conducted in 1977 in Bristol, Tenn., with Wingate H. Lucas, Congressman from Fort Worth in the 1940's.
I wasn't interviewing Lucas about the 1948 campaign; at that point, I had no idea that he had had any connection with the 1948 campaign. I had located Lucas in Bristol (he had left Texas almost 20 years before) and had gone there to interview him because I was trying to talk to as many as possible of the surviving members of the Texas delegation in the House of Representatives who had served with Johnson when he was a member, from 1937 to 1948. At one point during two long days of interviews, however, Lucas began attempting to explain the sources of Johnson's unusual power within the Texas delegation. He said that part of that power was based on Johnson's entree to Roosevelt's White House, which enabled Johnson to obtain favors for influential Texans outside his own constituency.
In his own Fort Worth, for example, Lucas said, Johnson had through such favors cemented an alliance with several of Lucas's most influential constituents, notably the publisher Amon Carter and the oil man Sid Richardson. He himself, Lucas said, was therefore afraid of Johnson's power, although he personally detested him. And then Lucas said, "Why, I even had to support him in 1948. And that was really hard for me. I was a Stevenson man. Coke Stevenson lived by the code of honesty."
During those two days of talking to Lucas, I had found him to be an extremely pragmatic and cynical politician -as pragmatic and cynical, I think, as any I have ever encountered -and rather bitter about politics and politicians as well. His use of such a phrase about another politician was therefore striking to me. The moment was decisive, moreover, not merely because Lucas used such a phrase but because when he used it I realized that I had heard similar phrases before. At that moment it dawned on me that I had been hearing testimony to Stevenson's honesty and personal and political integrity for months -ever since I had begun interviewing outside the Johnson-Loyalist circle. The Johnson people said Stevenson was dishonest, a typical venal Texas pol. Others -almost all the others outside that circle, I suddenly realized - had been telling me that Stevenson was a singularly incorruptible public official. It was at this point that I began to do more intensive research into the campaign and into Johnson's opponent in it.
AS for other assertions repeated after the publication of "Means of Ascent" -for example, that Stevenson had often stolen votes in elections, just as so many other Texas politicians had (and indeed stolen the 1948 election as well) -my education about these matters followed the pattern of my education about the oil lease "deals." The vote-stealing allegations were repeated to me by Johnson aides and by members of the Loyalist circle and their intellectual and journalistic heirs. I feel that most of these people were not deliberately misleading me, that they had been repeating these stories for so long that they themselves believed them. Listening to them, one hears a convincing case for Stevenson's transgressions in this area, and I was at first convinced.
But I subsequently found that while most of the younger members of the Johnson circle claimed that Stevenson had frequently stolen votes in those elections, most of the politicians outside that circle who were old enough to be Stevenson's contemporaries said he had never stolen votes, and considerable research showed that the allegations about Stevenson's political integrity were, like the allegations about his personal integrity, merely gossip and rumors that supposedly "everyone knew" - but for which I was not able to find any factual support. Stevenson certainly received the bloc vote from the Rio Grande Valley several times, but not by purchase. Rather, he received it in most in- stances because his immense popularity made victory a foregone conclusion, and the border bosses preferred being on the winning side. Perhaps a single statement from Edward A. Clark, for 50 years one of the most powerful political figures in Texas and for 20 years not only a key Johnson strategist but also his lawyer, says it all. Mr. Clark is definitely not a Stevenson fan. But when I asked him about allegations that Stevenson's aides stole votes in 1948, he said flatly, "They didn't know how, and Governor Stevenson didn't know how."
The dissimilarities between the Coke Stevenson vividly described by Loyalists and Johnson men and the Coke Stevenson discovered in my research extended to other areas besides his personal and political integrity. There was, for example, the larger question of his place in Texas history. The Johnson-Loyalist circles said he was "typical" -nothing unusual about his career. But I found this description did not take into account Stevenson's popularity -or the reason for that popularity. When, belatedly beginning to research the Coke Stevenson story more thoroughly, I finally looked up the vote totals in Stevenson's previous statewide elections, not only those for governor bur for lieutenant governor, I found that he had achieved the triumphs detailed in "Means of Ascent": for example, that in both his campaigns for governor he received a higher percentage of the vote in the crucial Democratic primary than any gubernatorial candidate before him in the history of Texas, and once carried every one of the state's 254 counties, the only gubernatorial candidate in the state's history who had ever done so in a contested Democratic primary.
Even in his earlier campaigns, his record was striking. In 1940, for example, he ran for lieutenant governor. Liberal journalists assailed his conservative views, and journalists of all political persuasions ridiculed his old-fashioned style of campaigning. He had two opponents. One received 113,000 votes, the other 160,000. Stevenson polled 797,000 carrying all 254 counties. Whatever one's opinion of his record as a public official, obviously a man who in running for office had done, and repeated, what no other candidate had ever done could hardly be described with fairness as merely "typical. " Even beyond the election victories, his entire career -the fact that he held the governorship longer than anyone before him in the history of Texas, the fact that he was the only Speaker in the state's history ever to succeed himself, the fact that he was the first man in the state's history ever to hold all three of its highest offices -Speaker, Lieutenant Governor and Governor -was not only not typical but was, in fact, unique.
His popularity was based on the facts of his life, which held a deep emotional appeal for Texas. By the time I was researching the 1948 election in depth, knowing now that there was far more to it than I had been aware of, I had begun reading weekly and daily newspapers and magazines from the 1930's and 40'5, many of which chronicled the life that seemed like a Western epic and made him seem the archetypal Texan. I couldn't find many individuals personally familiar with his life story (or indeed, with him as a younger man), but I found a few, and their oral description confirmed the written. Looking through smaller, more obscure publications -Sheep and Goat Raiser, Frontier Times and West Texas Today, for example -I found several long articles written by contemporaries, and they too contained the same facts as the newspaper profiles.
The "Story of Coke Stevenson," as I call it, was a very dramatic one. But the story -of the young boy who was a great rider, of the teen-ager starting up the freight line, of the self-education by campfire light, of the founding of the almost mythical ranch, of the reluctance to enter politics, of the refusal to campaign as other politicians campaigned, of the refusal to trim political philosophy to prevailing political winds and of the great political triumphs -was beyond dispute. The drama was rooted in the facts I found.
More important, in reading not later accounts but those newspapers and magazines contemporaneous with Stevenson's tenure in public life, I round that the Stevenson story had already been transmuted into legend, the legend that I summarize in "Means of Ascent" by quoting
excerpts from some of these articles. In discussions about Stevenson, there was a tone -not in the liberal Texas Spectator or The Austin American-Statesman, of course, but in many other publications -of a near-reverence quite unusual in descriptions of a public official The man Lyndon Johnson had to defeat in 1948 was not merely a public official but a folk hero, not just a typical governor but one of the most beloved public figures in Texas history. I considered it essential to show why he was a folk hero.
The image of Coke Stevenson that had come down to history (to the very limited extent that any image of Stevenson had come down to history) was the image the Johnson people painted during the campaign, and that, today, more than 40 years later, the Johnson-Loyalist group still paints for biographers and historians. They were able to paint this image during the campaign for many reasons, one of which was that their target disdained to fight back. They have been able in recent years to paint this image virtually without refutation, for there is almost no one left to dispute them. But the image the Johnson people painted and paint is a strikingly incomplete image. They describe Coke Stevenson as a figure scorned and despised. That is certainly what he was to them. To the overwhelming majority of Texans, he was something quite different. No one could hear old men talk -as I have heard many old men talk -about Coke Stevenson, the Cowboy Governor, "our Cowboy Governor," riding at the head of a rodeo parade; no one could hear them talk, decades later, about "Mr. Texas" riding by as a memorable moment in their lives, and not know he was something quite different.
THIS is not to say that I approve of Coke -Stevenson's record as governor. Indeed, aspects of that record -his refusal to intervene in race riots in Beaumont or to investigate a 1942 lynching in. Texarkana (his segregationist views in general, in fact) and his support of the University of Texas Board of Regents despite the blow they gave to academic freedom by their dismissal of Homer Rainey, the university president -are indefensible. These episodes -and the uncompromising conservative philosophy that ran through his administration as a whole -made him a symbol of all that Austin's liberal academics, intellectuals and journalists opposed, and if I had been in Texas in the 1940's I would have been on their side.
In the era about which I am writing, however, Texas was not a liberal state but an extremely conservative state. The views of the Austin liberals were not the views of the majority of the Texas electorate, and it is important to realize that the 1948 election was not, as several articles published in 1990 would have it, a campaign between a liberal and a conservative.
Race is an example. Texas was a segregationist state in 1948. In that year, President Harry S. Truman submitted a civil rights program -including a proposal for a Federal law against lynching - to Congress, and a poll conducted in March showed that only 14 percent of white Texans favored that program. Certainly Stevenson expressed himself on more than one occasion in decidedly racist terms, but those who claim that his segregationist attitude was an issue in the campaign choose not to remember that both candidates -not just Stevenson -opposed Truman's program. Lyndon Johnson used the opening speech of his 1948 campaign to make an all-out attack on that program. "The Civil Rights program is a farce and a sham -an effort to set up a police state," he said.
"I am opposed to that program," Johnson continued. "I have voted AGAINST the so-called poll tax repeal bill; the poll tax should be repealed by those states which enacted them. I have voted against the so-called anti-lynching bill; the state can, and DOES, enforce the law against murder. I have voted against the FEPC [Fair Employment Practices Commission] ; if a man can tell you whom you must hire, he can tell you whom you can't hire."
And of course for 11 years in Congress Johnson had voted against every civil rights bill, including an anti-lynching bill (as he would, following the 1948 campaign, vote against every civil rights bill for the next nine years). This is not to say that Johnson was a segregationist, just as I do not say that Stevenson was not a segregationist. Stevenson was lone. Nor, of course, is it to condone Stevenson's views. What I am saying is that since Texas was a segregationist state and the public positions of both candidates were the same, civil rights was not an important issue in the campaign. Nor, sadly, did Stevenson's deplorable record and views ever affect his overwhelming popularity. To have given significant emphasis to race in my book would have been to wrench the campaign out of its historical context, to have looked at a 1948 event through a lens ground in 1990.
The Rainey affair, too, despite all the anguish it caused (and still causes) those who love liberty of thought and discussion, was not an important campaign issue in 1948. Stevenson's administration as a whole was not an important issue in the campaign; Johnson did not make it an issue, for he was well aware of the popularity of that administration - and of the political philosophy on which it was based -with the great majority of Texans. As even Stevenson's critics conceded, "He was as liberal as the people." And since I was writing about Stevenson primarily because of his relationship to Lyndon Johnson and the '48 campaign, I dealt only in a summary fashion with aspects of Stevenson's life that had little to do with the campaign. (As I do with aspects of Johnson's life that had little to do with the campaign, such as his stated position on civil rights issues. The evolution of Johnson's views on segregation from his early days in government to. the civil rights acts he championed as Senate majority leader and President will be examined in detail in my next volume, the point at which civil rights becomes a major theme in his career.) Moreover, I was trying to make the reader see events as they unfolded, to make him feel as if he were present when the events described were taking place. If the reader had been in Texas during that hot summer of 1948, watching Lyndon Johnson and Coke Stevenson campaign, he would have heard very little about race or Rainey.
Rather, Stevenson's relation to Johnson and the campaign was that of the folk hero Johnson had to run against, and that is how I portrayed him. The voter's respect for Stevenson was the main obstacle between Johnson and his goal; it was in effect the main "issue" of the campaign. So the reputation (and the life story that was its basis) is presented in detail to show its strength -and to show, as well, the difficulty Johnson faced in wrecking it.
"ISSUES," in the conventional sense of the word, had little to do with the campaign, I found.
This is not at all what I once believed. The Loyalists are an issue-oriented group, and they describe the 1948 campaign as one oriented to issues. In their opinion, Stevenson's views on race were a significant factor in the campaign, as was the question of United States involvement in the postwar world. In the Loyalists' opinion, also, Johnson needed them badly, courted them fervently, and entered into a close alliance with them -an alliance that they contend was crucial to his victory; they feel that only through understanding the fight between Loyalists and Regulars in the 1944 Presidential campaign can one understand the Texas senatorial election of 1948. The Johnson adherents in Austin -a group to some degree synonymous with the old Loyalists -feel, in short, that the 1948 campaign was a campaign in which their participation was vital, a campaign that hinged on the issues that were important to them. In oral histories, books and interviews they convey this view quite persuasively -and for some time I shared this view.
Eventually, however, it became impossible for me to continue to share it -or even to remain convinced of any substantial part of it. For one thing, by this time I was reading the approximately 56,000 pages of documents in the Johnson Library relating to the campaign, as well as the coverage of the campaign in daily and weekly newspapers. The more research I did, the more obvious it became that the Loyalists' view of their significance in the campaign was drastically exaggerated. To the extent that the Johnson campaign had a consistent philosophical thrust at all, it was a drive to obtain not the liberal vote but, as "Means of Ascent" shows in detail, the conservative vote; the alliance between Johnson's men and the Loyalists became significant to the election's outcome only at the convention in Fort Worth after the election. And while considerations of space prevent me from assessing here the significance of the Loyalists' favorite issues that proved exaggerated as well.
(As a matter of fact, while some Johnson men and their Loyalist allies say flatly that Stevenson was a fervent isolationist, that matter becomes somewhat more complicated when one starts reading Stevenson's speeches. In one, for example, Stevenson said: "As I have said before, the time is gone when the United States can isolate itself from the rest of the world. We must be strong enough to face the world without fear. We must be courageous enough to live up fully to our responsibilities to the rest of the world. Our own salvation cannot be separated from theirs." During the campaign he announced his support for the Marshall Plan and for President Truman's foreign policy in general. "I know of no changes that I could suggest in our policy. That policy is going to keep us out of war, and I support it.")
What the evidence does show is that the issue that worked for Johnson was the issue emphasized in "Means of Ascent": the assault on Stevenson's reputation -including Johnson's campaign to persuade the voters of Texas that this Governor who was an adamant foe of organized labor had entered into a "secret deal" with "big city labor racketeers"; and Johnson's campaign to stand the truth on its head yet again by persuading the voters that this extremely conservative Governor might well be a front man for a Communist conspiracy.
In sum, there was really only one issue in the campaign that played a significant role in its
outcome (unless, of course, one includes as an "issue" Johnson's unsuccessful attempt to buy an election, and, when that attempt fell short, his successful attempt to steal it). That issue was Coke
Stevenson's reputation -the basis of that reputation, the strength of that reputation, the destruction of that reputation. Lyndon Johnson did not pioneer the techniques by which that destruction was effected -what we would today call "attack politics" or "negative campaigning" -complete with the
constant scientific Polling, the use of advertising, public relations and media experts, and the use of electronic media. But his instinctive genius in the
art of politics enabled him to raise these techniques to a new, revolutionary level of effectiveness in Texas. Lyndon Johnson's 1948 campaign for junior United States Senator was, in that sense, the first mature flowering of the new politics in Texas. Since Stevenson was the very embodiment of the old Politics, and because Stevenson's campaign was the last campaign of its type ever waged by a major candidate for statewide office in Texas, the 1948 campaign marked the end of an era in politics -as the collision of old and new marked a significant r transformation in American politics. By showing the collision between old and new, by exploring in detail the strength of Stevenson's reputation and the means by which, despite that strength, the reputation was wrecked, I have tried to illustrate the full destructiveness of these techniques on the fundamental concept of free choice by an informed electorate.
This essay is adapted from the afterword to the paperback edition of "Means of Ascent."