Edited by Gerald Boerner
The mid-1960s were a time when much activity and change was sweeping our land. A popular, young President (John F. Kennedy) had been assassinated and a new President with a vision (Lyndon B. Johnson) succeeded to the office unexpectedly. What was this vision? Johnson foresaw a “Great Society” in which Poverty would be reduced, all citizens would Vote, Civil Rights would be extended to the African Americans, all children would have equal access to an Education. And, lest we forget it, we would fight a war in the jungles of Southeast (Vietnam), and deal with riots and anti-war protests in our urban areas.
Is that enough for a one & one-half term President? Indeed it was! But he was prepared to handle it after all the years in the Senate. He was successful in getting this substantial legislative agenda passed. He was true to his vision and delivered. It would have been interesting to see what he could have accomplished domestically without the Vietnam War. But even with it he made huge strides towards his vision of “The Great Society.”
So, lets get this exploration on the road… GLB
These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2010 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved
[ 4083 Words ]
Quotations Related to LYNDON B. JOHNSON:
“A man without a vote is man without protection.”
— Lyndon B. Johnson
“Doing what’s right isn’t the problem. It is knowing what’s right.”
— Lyndon B. Johnson
“Education is not a problem. Education is an opportunity.”
— Lyndon B. Johnson
“I am a freeman, an American, a United States Senator, and a Democrat, in that order.”
— Lyndon B. Johnson
“Being president is like being a jackass in a hailstorm. There’s nothing to do but to stand there and take it.”
— Lyndon B. Johnson
“Did you ever think that making a speech on economics is a lot like pissing down your leg? It seems hot to you, but it never does to anyone else.”
— Lyndon B. Johnson
“I am making a collection of the things my opponents have found me to be and, when this election is over, I am going to open a museum and put them on display.”
— Lyndon B. Johnson
“I am concerned about the whole man. I am concerned about what the people, using their government as an instrument and a tool, can do toward building the whole man, which will mean a better society and a better world.”
— Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon B. Johnson Launches “The Great Society"
Lyndon Baines Johnson (1908 – 1973), often referred to as LBJ, served as the 36th President of the United States from 1963 to 1969 after his service as the 37th Vice President of the United States from 1961 to 1963. He is one of four Presidents who served in all four elected Federal offices of the United States: Representative, Senator, Vice President and President.
Johnson, a Democrat, served as a United States Representative from Texas, from 1937–1949 and as United States Senator from 1949–1961, including six years as United States Senate Majority Leader, two as Senate Minority Leader and two as Senate Majority Whip. After campaigning unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination in 1960, Johnson was asked by John F. Kennedy to be his running mate for the 1960 presidential election.
Johnson succeeded to the presidency following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, completed Kennedy’s term and was elected President in his own right, winning by a large margin in the 1964 Presidential election. Johnson was greatly supported by the Democratic Party and, as President, was responsible for designing the "Great Society" legislation that included laws that upheld civil rights, Public Broadcasting, Medicare, Medicaid, environmental protection, aid to education, and his "War on Poverty." He was renowned for his domineering personality and the "Johnson treatment," his coercion of powerful politicians in order to advance legislation.
Simultaneously, he greatly escalated direct American involvement in the Vietnam War. As the war dragged on, Johnson’s popularity as President steadily declined. After the 1966 mid-term Congressional elections, his re-election bid in the 1968 United States presidential election collapsed as a result of turmoil within the Democratic Party related to opposition to the Vietnam War. He withdrew from the race amid growing opposition to his policy on the Vietnam War and a worse-than-expected showing in the New Hampshire primary.
Despite the failures of his foreign policy, Johnson is ranked favorably among some historians because of his domestic policies.
Assassination of President John F. Kennedy
Johnson was sworn in as President on Air Force One at Love Field Airport in Dallas on November 22, 1963 two hours and eight minutes after President Kennedy was assassinated in Dealey Plaza in Dallas. He was sworn in by Federal Judge Sarah T. Hughes, a family friend, making him the first President sworn in by a woman. He is also the only President to have been sworn in on Texas soil. Johnson did not swear on a Bible, as there were none on Air Force One; a Roman Catholic missal was found in Kennedy’s desk and was used for the swearing-in ceremony.
On the right is Mrs. Kennedy.
In the days following the assassination, Lyndon B. Johnson made an address to Congress: "No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the Civil Rights Bill for which he fought so long."
Johnson created a panel headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren, known as the Warren Commission, to investigate Kennedy’s assassination. The commission conducted hearings and concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination. Not everyone agreed with the Warren Commission, however, and numerous public and private investigations continued for decades after Johnson left office. The wave of national grief following the assassination gave enormous momentum to Johnson’s promise to carry out Kennedy’s programs. He retained senior Kennedy appointees, some for the full term of his presidency. The late President’s brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, with whom Johnson had a notoriously difficult relationship, remained in office for a few months until leaving in 1964 to run for the Senate. Robert F. Kennedy has been quoted as saying that LBJ was "mean, bitter, vicious — [an] animal in many ways…I think his reactions on a lot of things are correct… but I think he’s got this other side of him and his relationship with human beings which makes it difficult unless you want to ‘kiss his behind’ all the time. That is what Bob McNamara suggested to me…if I wanted to get along."
1964 Presidential Election
On September 7, 1964, Johnson’s campaign managers for the 1964 presidential election broadcast the "Daisy ad". It portrayed a little girl picking petals from a daisy, counting up to ten. Then a baritone voice took over, counted down from ten to zero and the visual showed the explosion of a nuclear bomb. The message conveyed was that electing Barry Goldwater president held the danger of nuclear war. Although it only aired one time, it became an issue during the campaign. Johnson won the presidency by a landslide with 61% of the vote and the then-widest popular margin in the 20th century — more than 15 million votes (this was later surpassed by incumbent President Nixon’s defeat of Senator McGovern in 1972). Johnson’s popular vote margin of over 22 percentage points is a record that stands to this day.
In the summer of 1964, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) was organized with the purpose of challenging Mississippi’s all-white and anti-civil rights delegation to the Democratic National Convention of that year as not representative of all Mississippians. At the national convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey the MFDP claimed the seats for delegates for Mississippi, not on the grounds of the Party rules, but because the official Mississippi delegation had been elected by a primary conducted under Jim Crow laws in which blacks were excluded because of poll taxes, literacy tests, and even violence against black voters.
he national Party’s liberal leaders supported a compromise in which the white delegation and the MFDP would have an even division of the seats; Johnson was concerned that, while the regular Democrats of Mississippi would probably vote for Goldwater anyway, if the Democratic Party rejected the regular Democrats, he would lose the Democratic Party political structure that he needed to win in the South. Eventually, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Reuther and black civil rights leaders (including Roy Wilkins, Martin Luther King, and Bayard Rustin) worked out a compromise with MFDP leaders: the MFDP would receive two non-voting seats on the floor of the Convention; the regular Mississippi delegation would be required to pledge to support the party ticket; and no future Democratic convention would accept a delegation chosen by a discriminatory poll.
When the leaders took the proposal back to the 64 members who had made the bus trip to Atlantic City, they voted it down. As MFDP Vice Chair Fannie Lou Hamer said, "We didn’t come all the way up here to compromise for no more than we’d gotten here. We didn’t come all this way for no two seats, ’cause all of us is tired." The failure of the compromise effort allowed the rest of the Democratic Party to conclude that the MFDP was simply being unreasonable, and they lost a great deal of their liberal support. After that, the convention went smoothly for Johnson without a searing battle over civil rights. Despite the landslide victory, Johnson, who carried the South as a whole in the election, lost the Deep South states of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina, the first time a Democratic candidate had done so since Reconstruction.
Johnson won the presidency by a majority of 61 percent, ready to fulfill his earlier commitment to “carry forward the plans and programs of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Not because of our sorrow or sympathy, but because they are right.”
“The Great Society”
The Great Society was a set of domestic programs proposed or enacted in the United States on the initiative of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Two main goals of the Great Society social reforms were the elimination of poverty and racial injustice. New major spending programs that addressed education, medical care, urban problems, and transportation were launched during this period. The Great Society in scope and sweep resembled the New Deal domestic agenda of Franklin D. Roosevelt, but differed sharply in types of programs enacted.
Some Great Society proposals were stalled initiatives from John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier. Johnson’s success depended on his skills of persuasion, coupled with the Democratic landslide in the 1964 election that brought in many new liberals to Congress. Anti-war Democrats complained that spending on the Vietnam War choked off the Great Society. While some of the programs have been eliminated or had their funding reduced, many of them, including Medicare, Medicaid, and federal education funding, continue to the present. The Great Society’s programs expanded under the administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.
Economic and Social Conditions
Unlike the New Deal, which was a response to a severe financial and economic calamity, the Great Society initiatives came just as the United States’ post-war prosperity was starting to fade, but before the coming decline was being felt by the middle and upper classes. President Kennedy proposed a tax cut lowering the top marginal rate by 20%, from 91% to 71%, which was enacted in February 1964 (three months after Kennedy’s assassination) by Lyndon Johnson. Gross National Product rose 10% in the first year of the tax cut, and economic growth averaged a rate of 4.5% from 1961 to 1968. Disposable personal income rose 15% in 1966 alone. Federal revenues increased dramatically from $94 billion in 1961 to $150 billion in 1967. As the Baby Boom generation aged, two and a half times more Americans would enter the labor force between 1965 and 1980 than had between 1950 and 1965.
Grave social crises confronted the nation. Racial segregation persisted throughout the South. The Civil Rights Movement was gathering momentum, and in 1964 urban riots began within black neighborhoods in New York City and Los Angeles; by 1968 hundreds of cities had major riots that caused a severe conservative political backlash. Foreign affairs were generally quiet except for the Vietnam War, which escalated from limited involvement in 1963 to a large-scale military operation in 1968 that soon overshadowed the Great Society.
Although conservatives retained control of Congress in the 1966 midterm elections, and despite the attention given to foreign affairs, Johnson was still able to secure the passage of a wide range of reforms during his last two years in office. During the last summer and autumn of his administration, laws were passed to extend the Food Stamp Program, to expand consumer protection, to improve safety standards, to train health professionals, to assist handicapped Americans, and to further urban programs.
In 1968, a new program for federally-funded job retraining for the hardcore unemployed in fifty cities was introduced, together with the strongest Federal Gun control bill (relating to the transportation of guns across State lines) in American history up until that point. By the end of the Johnson Administration, 226 out of 252 major legislative requests (over a four-year period) had been met, Federal Aid to the poor had risen from $9.9 billion in 1960 to $30 billion by 1968, one million Americans had been retrained under previously non-existent Federal programs, and two million children had benefited from the Head Start program.
Ann Arbor Speech
Johnson presented his goals for the Great Society in a speech at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on May 22, 1964. Speechwriter Richard N. Goodwin had coined the phrase "the Great Society," and Johnson had used the expression occasionally before the Michigan speech, but had not emphasized it. In this address, which preceded the election-year party conventions, Johnson described his plans to solve impending problems:
We are going to assemble the best thought and broadest knowledge from all over the world to find these answers. I intend to establish working groups to prepare a series of conferences and meetings—on the cities, on natural beauty, on the quality of education, and on other emerging challenges. From these studies, we will begin to set our course toward the Great Society.
1965 Legislative Program and Presidential Task Forces
President Kennedy had employed several task forces composed of scholars and experts to craft New Frontier legislation and to deal with foreign affairs. The reliance on experts appealed to Johnson, in part because the task forces would work in secret and outside of the existing governmental bureaucracy and directly for the White House staff. Almost immediately after the Ann Arbor speech, 14 separate task forces began studying nearly all major aspects of United States society under the guidance of presidential assistants Bill Moyers and Richard N. Goodwin.
The average task force had nine members and generally was composed of governmental experts and academicians. Only one of the task forces on the 1965 legislative program addressed foreign affairs and foreign economic policy; the rest were charged with domestic policy (agriculture, anti-recession policy, civil rights, education, efficiency and economy, health, income maintenance policy, intergovernmental fiscal cooperation, natural resources, pollution of the environment, preservation of natural beauty, transportation, and urban problems).
After task force reports were submitted to the White House, Moyers began a second round of review. The recommendations were circulated among the agencies concerned and were evaluated by new committees composed mostly of government officials. Experts on relations with Congress were also drawn into the deliberations to get the best advice on persuading the Congress to pass the legislation. In late 1964 Johnson reviewed these initial Great Society proposals at his ranch with Moyers and Budget Director Kermit Gordon. Many of them were included in Johnson’s State of the Union address delivered on January 4, 1965.
The task-force approach, combined with Johnson’s electoral victory in 1964 and his talents in obtaining congressional approval, were widely credited with the success of the legislation agenda in 1965. Critics later cited the task forces as a factor in a perceived elitist approach to Great Society programs. Also, because many of the initiatives did not originate from outside lobbying, some programs had no political constituencies that would support their continued funding.
Programs within “The Great Society”
In conjunction with the civil rights movement, Johnson overcame southern resistance and convinced Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed most forms of racial segregation.
John F. Kennedy originally proposed the civil rights bill in June 1963. He called the congressional leaders to the White House in late October, 1963 to line up the necessary votes in the House for passage. However, after Kennedy’s death, it was Johnson who broke a filibuster by Southern Democrats begun in March 1964 and pushed the bill through the Senate. Johnson signed the revised and stronger bill into law on July 2, 1964. Legend has it that, as he put down his pen, Johnson told an aide, "We have lost the South for a generation", anticipating a coming backlash from Southern whites against Johnson’s Democratic Party.
In 1965, he achieved passage of a second civil rights bill, the Voting Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination in voting, thus allowing millions of southern blacks to vote for the first time. In accordance with the act, several states, "seven of the eleven southern states of the former confederacy" – Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Virginia — were subjected to the procedure of preclearance in 1965, while Texas, home to the majority of the African American population at the time, followed in 1975.
Black civil rights leaders including (left to right)
NAACP’s Roy Wilkins, CORE’s James Farmer,
SCLC’s Dr. Martin Luther King and Urban
League’s Whitney Young were welcomed
to White House by President Johnson
After the murder of civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo, Johnson went on television to announce the arrest of four Ku Klux Klansmen implicated in her death. He angrily denounced the Klan as a "hooded society of bigots," and warned them to "return to a decent society before it’s too late." Johnson was the first President to arrest and prosecute members of the Klan since Ulysses S. Grant about 93 years earlier. He turned the themes of Christian redemption to push for civil rights, thereby mobilizing support from churches North and South.
At the Howard University commencement address on June 4, 1965, he said that both the government and the nation needed to help achieve goals:
“To shatter forever not only the barriers of law and public practice, but the walls which bound the condition of many by the color of his skin. To dissolve, as best we can, the antique enmities of the heart which diminish the holder, divide the great democracy, and do wrong — great wrong — to the children of God…”
In 1967, Johnson nominated civil rights attorney Thurgood Marshall to be the first African American Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.
Johnson signed the Immigration Act of 1965, which substantially changed U.S. immigration policy toward non-Europeans. While European-born immigrants accounted for nearly 60% of the total foreign-born population in 1970, they accounted for only 15% in 2000. Immigration doubled between 1965 and 1970, and doubled again between 1970 and 1990. Since the liberalization of immigration policy in 1965, the number of first-generation immigrants living in the United States has quadrupled, from 9.6 million in 1970 to about 38 million in 2007.
Federal Funding for Education
Johnson had a lifelong commitment to the belief that education was the cure for both ignorance and poverty, and was an essential component of the American Dream, especially for minorities who endured poor facilities and tight-fisted budgets from local taxes. He made education a top priority of the Great Society, with an emphasis on helping poor children. After the 1964 landslide brought in many new liberal Congressmen, he had the votes for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. For the first time, large amounts of federal money went to public schools. In practice ESEA meant helping all public school districts, with more money going to districts that had large proportions of students from poor families (which included all the big cities). However, for the first time private schools (most of them Catholic schools in the inner cities) received services, such as library funding, comprising about 12% of the ESEA budget. As Dallek reports, researchers soon found that poverty had more to do with family background and neighborhood conditions than the quantity of education a child received. Early studies suggested initial improvements for poor kids helped by ESEA reading and math programs, but later assessments indicated that benefits faded quickly and left students little better off than those not in the programs. Johnson’s second major education program was the Higher Education Act of 1965, which focused on funding for lower income students, including grants, work-study money, and government loans. He set up the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, to support humanists and artists (as the WPA once did). Although ESEA solidified Johnson’s support among K-12 teachers’ unions, neither the Higher Education Act nor the Endowments mollified the college professors and students growing increasingly uneasy with the war in Vietnam. In 1967 Johnson signed the Public Broadcasting Act to create educational television programs to supplement the broadcast networks.
"War on Poverty"
In 1964, upon Johnson’s request, Congress passed the Revenue Act of 1964 and the Economic Opportunity Act, which was in association with the war on poverty. Johnson set in motion bills and acts, creating programs such as Head Start, food stamps, Work Study, Medicare and Medicaid, which still exist today.
Medicare and Medicaid
The Medicare program was established on July 30, 1965, to offer cheaper medical services to the elderly, today covering tens of millions of Americans. Johnson gave the first two Medicare cards to former President Harry S. Truman and his wife Bess after signing the medicare bill at the Truman Library.
Lower income groups receive government-sponsored medical coverage through the Medicaid program.
The Johnson Administration was closely tied to the Space Program and the Vietnam War. These issues are beyond the scope of today’s posting, as is the Riots caused by the death by assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968. We will cover these areas in a later set of blog postings.
Please take time to further explore more about PRESIDENT LYNDON B.
JOHNSON, “THE GREAT SOCIETY”, WAR ON POVERTY, and MEDICARE
by accessing the Wikipedia articles referenced below…
Other Events on this Day:
Elizabeth Ann Seton, First American Catholic Saint, dies in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
Physician William W. Grant performs the first recorded appendectomy in the United States, successfully removing Mary Gartside’s appendix in Davenport, Iowa, allowing the 22-year-old patient to make a full recovery.
Utah becomes the forty-fifth state.
President Lyndon B. Johnson presents his plan for the “Great Society” in his state of the Union address, leading to the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, Head Start, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968 as part of his “War on Poverty.”
Spirit, a robotic rover, lands on Mars to explore the planet.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi becomes the first woman to hold the office of speaker of the House as the 110th Congress convenes.
Dates and events based on:
William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)
Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: Lyndon B. Johnson…
Wikipedia: The Great Society…
Wikipedia: The War on Poverty…
Wikipedia: Medicare (United States)…
Brainy Quote: LYNDON B. JOHNSON…
Other Posts on this Topic:
Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: The Voting Rights Act of 1965…
Prof. Boerner’s Exploration: Thurgood Marshall: Supreme Court Justice…