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Billy Sol: Now That Was a Scandal

8:17 AM, May 20, 2013 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
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We hear a lot, these days, about how President Obama is not like Lyndon Johnson and thanks be to heaven for that small mercy.  The point seems to be that the president doesn't know how to arm twist, sweet talk, bribe, and emasculate both friend and enemy (of which he truly had neither) in order to further his agenda.  Since many among the chattering class believe, still, in that agenda, his is generally regarded as an excellent presidency.  Never mind that more than half a century after Johnson declared war on poverty ...  poverty is still winning.

Of course, there was that other little quagmire; the one that the country was lied into.  

And, then, there was the corruption.  Johnson most likely stole an election. He certainly got rich off broadcast licenses that just happened to come his way. He liked using the IRS and the FBI to do his political dirty work.

All this comes to mind on the occasion of the death of Billy Sol Estes who, as the headline on this AP obituary primly puts it:

... went to prison for his role in defrauding the U.S. Agriculture Department. The scandal roiled the administration of Lyndon Johnson. 

Yes.  But that doesn't get to the wonderful, Texas-sized proportions of the man who, as a Time cover story put it back then:

... considered dancing immoral, often delivered sermons as a Church of Christ lay preacher, [but] ruthlessly ruined business competitors, practiced fraud and deceit on a massive scale, and even victimized Church of Christ schools that he was supposed to be helping as a fund-raiser or financial advisor.

Reporters who covered the story found a certain charm about the man.  Ol Billy Sol knew how to make money out of manure and how could you resist that?

But there was a dark side including, as the AP obit notes, a minor thing that:

... involved the death of a Agriculture Department official who was investigating Estes just before he was accused in the fertilizer tank case. The 1961 death of Henry Marshall was initially ruled a suicide even though he had five bullet wounds. 

Corruption just isn't the same, these days. 

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