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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Novak's anecdote regarding JFK's November 1963 trip to Dallas

Over at Patterico's Pontifications, guest-blogger WLS promises a multi-part review of Bob Novak's wickedly titled new memoir, The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington. In his first installment, WLS writes about "an incredible anecdote about an [Evans & Novak Report] column that sparked an incident that seems to have contributed to JFK making the fateful trip to Dallas in late Nov. 2003":

Novak received a tip from a Texas confidant of his wife that LBJ was secretly planning to put the weight of his vast Texas political machine behind  a run by Jim Wright — LBJ’s Texas protege’ and future Speaker of the House — to run for the Senate in 1964 against an incumbent Democrat Senator, Ralph Yarborough.  Yarborogh was an extreme liberal with whom LBJ had long clashed when they were both in the Senate, and Yarborough was clearly in the Kennedy camp after the 1960 election.  The E&N column detailing LBJ’s plan to go after Yarborough was published on November 8, 1963, and titled "Johnson v. Kennedy."

The column made JFK very unhappy because Yarborough was one of the few southern Democrats that JFK could count on for unqualified support of his New Frontier programs.  After the E&N column was published on Nov. 8, and knowing that Johnson’s muscle against Yarborough put Yarborough at risk, Kennedy scheduled the swing through Texas for the benefit of showing his support for Yarborough’s reelection, and to try and short-circuit LBJ’s plan.  That trip, as everyone knows, ended with JFK’s assassination in Dallas on Nov. 22 — two weeks after the column first ran.

It is a fascinating anecdote, and I'm grateful to WLS for recounting it so succinctly as part of a longer post that includes one other meaty anecdote and associated commentary. I'm thoroughly intrigued by the entire complex history of the relationship between JFK and LBJ (and its subsequent effects on LBJ's presidency). That's one reason I'm (metaphorically) holding my breath waiting for the fourth and presumably concluding volume of Robert A. Caro's series, The Years of Lyndon Johnson, which will pick up with LBJ's service as vice president; Caro's third volume from 2002, Master of the Senate, remains the single best book on modern American politics I've ever read.

Here, though — in keeping with Patterico's oft-repeated advice to me that I spend too much time writing comments on others' blogs, when I ought to be posting on my own — is a cross-post (without block quotes) of the mildly cautionary comment I left there:


WLS: Thanks for this first episode in a running book review!

With due respect to Novak, however, the split within the Texas Democratic Party between conservative (LBJ-protégé) Gov. John B. Connally and populist/liberal Sen. Yarborough was obvious without respect to anything Novak or any other Washington pundit might have said about it. Yarborough was a reliable supporter on New Frontier domestic programs, but he was just as likely to be a gadfly to JFK on foreign affairs, as Yarborough later proved in spades during the Johnson Administration. Yarborough's liberalism, including his anti-Vietnam War position, eventually led to his defeat in the 1970 Texas Democratic primary by Lloyd Bentsen.

And I don't doubt that showing support for Yarborough was one reason for the November 1963 trip, but there were certainly others. Texas was, and is, an enormous source of fund-raising opportunities for candidates from both parties (which is why you'll see Hillary Clinton in Texas these days). LBJ certainly had his fingers on large parts of that pulse, but JFK was independently interested.

Kennedy also wanted to shore up his support in Texas and Florida (the latter of which he had visited earlier in November 1963) because of concerns that his civil rights proposals might make those states go Republican in 1964. Kennedy had only carried Texas by 46,000 votes in 1960, notwithstanding the presence of favorite-son LBJ on the ticket. (Wags said that with LBJ’s fate at stake in any important election, however, there would always be at least a 40,000 vote margin, at least until Duval County and other parts of South Texas ran out of corpses willing and able to vote Democratic in alphabetical order.)

Kennedy also wanted to run in 1964 against a "hard Right" candidate like Goldwater, not someone like Nelson Rockefeller. Dallas was famously the home of John Birch Society right-wingers like retired general Edwin Walker (whom Lee Harvey Oswald had already tried, unsuccessfully, to assassinate). Visiting Texas, and Dallas in particular, was a thumb to the hard Right's eye, intended both to show that Kennedy wasn't awed by the hard Right and, perhaps less directly, to begin framing the 1964 election as being between their values and his. The enthusiastic crowds in Dallas, of course, were what led Nellie Connally to say the last words JFK would ever hear: "Mr. President, you certainly can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you!"

Posted by Beldar at 09:13 PM in Books, Politics (2007) | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to Novak's anecdote regarding JFK's November 1963 trip to Dallas and sent a trackback ping are listed here:


(1) DRJ made the following comment | Aug 21, 2007 9:28:25 PM | Permalink


Like you, I'm old enough to remember those days when Texas was a one-party state - the Democratic Party - but trending conservative. It's not surprising that there were deep divisions in the Democratic Party during that era. Yarborough was out of the liberal, progressive wing of the party while LBJ and John Connolly were the leaders of the conservative wing of the Texas Democratic Party. The JFK assassination was dramatic enough but the soap opera of Texas politics that (I think) contributed to that event has always fascinated me.

(2) Carol Herman made the following comment | Aug 21, 2007 11:38:31 PM | Permalink

I'm old enough to know Novak's WRONG.

The person to blame is Martin Luther King, Jr.

Interesting twist; because the Blacks finally had a president in office who'd help them. And, instead? Going for the limelight, King began formenting trouble.

Yes, King went down South. But he couldn't rouse the Southern Blacks. NO WAY! Instead? In 1962, Chicago and New York City ERUPTED in terrible race riots.

This caused Kennedy's popularity to PLUNGE. And, Kennedy was sure he wouldn't make re-election.

So, it was the "mess" created by Martin Luther King, Jr. That FORCED JFK into Texas! LBJ "refused" to "carry the state for Kennedy."

I'm gonna guess that LBJ was fed up. And, had no intention of continuing another four years in a Kennedy administration. Because NOT GOING INTO TEXAS, to work the state for the 1964 "ticket" ... is what put JFK into harm's way.

Mafia? CIA? You can choose. But even back then (when Mort Sahl's comedic career got cut short by our government "insiders." THE FIX WAS IN.)

It was in with that idiot, Gerald Ford. Who was on the Warren Commission. And, it forced Warren off the bench, to do the Warren Commission "white wash."

I never believed it was Oswald. I thought Oswald was a dupe. (I also believed our government was over it's eyeballs in Lincoln's death. And, that's why the injured Booth was KILLED. And, not taken prisoner.)

So your clues come from the Feds putting the witnesses out-of-business.

Again, just when the Blacks should have been supportive of JFK, knowing he was going to go into a tough 1964 race, it was the Blacks that caused the mishap.

Don't give me Yarborough. I'm not buying that garbage.

(3) stan made the following comment | Aug 23, 2007 12:43:32 PM | Permalink

"Like you, I'm old enough to remember those days when Texas was a one-party state - the Democratic Party - but trending conservative. "

Trending conservative?!!!

Perhaps you meant that the GOP was beginning to make inroads in Texas politics. You couldn't have meant that the one party Texas of the first half of the 20th was liberal.

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