While hunting for housing back in 2009-10, I always took time to look at the book shelves. There were not many. This is not a reading culture. But there were some, and it was not unusual to see the name Doris Kearns Goodwin on those shelves. She’s a prominent and very poor historian.
In the Empire of Lies, real historians won’t have much traction. Major publishing houses avoid them, and the New York Times does not review them. A smart woman, and DKG is smart, knows to avoid touchy topics while at the same time generating some false controversy around matters no one should really give a shit about. In her Team of Rivals, she made much talk show rain talking about how Lincoln brought in prominent enemies to his cabinet, thereby offering political cover to Barack Obama as he staffed his cabinet with Republicans.
But there’s far more to tell – stuff that she could not go near. Gore Vidal did a far better job unpacking the real personality behind the statuesque Lincoln image, and Dave McGowan (a professional psychologist in Los Angeles and a far better historian than DKG) offers substantial evidence that Secretary of State William Seward was one of the plotters behind Lincoln’s death.
McGowan’s series on Lincoln shows what a man with a keen mind can do with scant evidence by merely connecting dots. Sadly, Dave is suffering from terminal cancer.
Here’s a brief recap of DKG’s book Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream by Noel Twyman:
Nowhere in Doris Goodwin’s book was Billie Sol Estes mentioned. Nowhere was Cliff Carter mentioned. Bobby Baker was mentioned only on one page, with nothing about his scandals and crimes and their connection to Johnson. Nor was H.L. Hunt mentioned, nor, amazingly, J. Edgar Hoover. This is not to downgrade Goodwin’s well-written and excellent book. She was attempting to look at the human and psychological side of Johnson based on her close relationship with him as a White House aide and while working with him at the LBJ Ranch. I presume that she felt that if she delved deeply into the possibility of his involvement in the JFK assassination conspiracy, it would have derailed the entire book. The same can possibly be said of all of Johnson’s major biographers – Robert Caro …; Robert Dalleck; even J. Evetts Haley, who hated LBJ with a passion. These authors did not look into the abyss, or if they did, they soon looked away.
I don’t know why Twyman felt the need to suck up to Goodwin, as his own work on the subject of Lyndon Johnson is far more impressive than hers. DKG has that intuitive sense of what can be voiced in the American power structure, making her a perfectly lousy historian … and a perfect guest on the late-night talk circuit.
Twyman in his book Bloody Treason examines Johnson’s final days, and brings out a long passage by Daniel Webster on from The murder of Captain Joseph White (scroll down here to page 97 to pick it up), and relates it to the final days of LBJ. Here’s Twyman, p 828:
It is known that Johnson suffered severe deterioration in his mental state after the assassination, prompting some of his close aides to consult psychiatrists about his behavior. Johnson was fearful of an early death by heart attack. (He had his first heart attack at the age of forty-seven and a history of heart attack deaths ran in his family.) Johnson was afraid of being alone at night and always wanted someone near him before he went to sleep; he would ask aides to sit outside his room until he could go to sleep.
On January 22, 1973 Johnson died as he was taking an afternoon rest at his Texas ranch. His heart gave out just as he was picking up the phone to call the ranch switchboard for help from the Secret Service. He was alone. He died at the young age of sixty-four, appearing to be a broken old man with hippie-like long white hair, four years after he voluntarily left the presidency without seeking a second term.
DKG suspected LBJ felt guilty for having assumed the presidency only on the murder of President Kennedy, and for the Vietnam War. That is as light a treatment that can be given to this complex man who was slowly eaten alive by guilt. Says Webster,
Such a secret can be safe nowhere. The whole creation of God has neither nook nor corner, where the guilty can bestow it, and say it is safe. Not to speak of that eye which glances through all disguises, and beholds everything, as in the splendor of noon, such secrets of guilt are never safe from detection … It must be confessed; there is no refuge from confession but suicide, and suicide is confession.
From all appearances, Lyndon Johnson drank himself to an early death. He was, after all, an active participant in the murder of President Kennedy.