by Robert H. Duke
Grassroots Federalism is a neatly threaded tale of three interrelated stories. The author slyly notes the comparison of Lyndon Baines Johnson and Bob Pogue—both from Central Texas, both poor, both from political families, and both politically ambitious. One became President of the United States and the other the Chair of the powerful House Agricultural committee. It is also the story of the two towns that these two men represented in Congress. Austin and Waco are separated by a 100 miles, a mere hour and a half on I-35. But the different racial interactions of the two towns were stark and that sense of place affected the development of the two towns, and the political trjectory of their two two representatives. But despite the differences, 40 years of federal programs led to vast change in both cities.
The author weaves this narrative by bouncing between the differences and similarities of the cities, comparing and contrasting the friendship and eventual conflict between the two political titans, and detailing the interworkings of the federal agencies of the National Youth Agency, Model Cities, and federal support of dams.
The differences in the reaction to the racism and federalism of both representative and district, he says, is due to place. LBJ represented the Hill Country and Austin, beacons of liberalism and tolerance, and the home of the Texas German community Pogue represented Waco, famous mostly for its intolerance and bigotry and racial violence.
LBJ was able to adapt when the time came for change. Pogue was not.
But Pogue’s friendship with LBJ led to a funnel of federal money into Waco and that money saved Waco after the devastating tornado of 1953 and the floods of 1955.
The prime thrust of the story, though, is to provide a case study of how the federal government impacted local government. The federal government provided money and permitted local control of that money, but only if advisory committees were set up, advisory committees that ended up changing the racial dynamics of Waco.
A worthy read and a contribution to scholarship.