Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1908-1960

By Robert Dallek | Go to book overview

7
National Politics

BY the fall of 1939 Lyndon had established an almost unbreakable hold on his district. The dams, rural electrification, loans to farmers, and WPA projects had brought $70 million to his constituents and given him a reputation as a "can do" congressman. After his old friend Ben Crider had sounded out opinion in three counties in the spring of 1939, he could "truthfully say I haven't found a man against you." A district judge wrote Johnson in June 1939: "I have heard numbers of intelligent people . . . say that you have already accomplished as much in the short time you have been in Washington as Buchanan had accomplished during his many terms."1

During the two and a half years he had held the office, Johnson worked tirelessly for his constituents. An Austin journalist reported that Lyndon signed 258 letters in one day, all "of which had been personally dictated by him." He took special pleasure in finding jobs for youngsters who could not attend college without them. Arthur Goldschmidt, his friend from the Interior Department, remembered how he "sent every newly married couple a letter; he sent every woman with a new baby a copy of Infant and Child Care. He'd currycomb the material available in the Government Printing Office and see to it that the people who were interested in this or that had gotten it. . . . I don't think he could ever have been shaken out of that district because he was doing the kind of job that a congressman really ought to do."2

Johnson and the people around him paid a physical and emotional price for the success of the office. They worked at a breakneck pace-- days, evenings, nights, often seven days a week, week after week. Sherman Birdwell, Lyndon's college classmate and NYA aide who served as his first congressional secretary, remembered arriving in Washington by car on a Saturday afternoon and going directly to Lyndon's temporary office on the first floor of the Old House Office Building. There, he

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