Great Society Essay

By the time Johnson took office, many of Kennedy's New Frontier proposals had been talked to death in the House and Senate committees. Johnson called in old friends like Senator Mike Mansfield, the Democratic floor leader, and House Speaker John McCormack to apply pressure to release the bills from committee. This pressure, which Johnson called "jawboning," plus the overwhelming grief and sentiment that followed Kennedy's death were more than enough to speed legislation through Congress. By late February, Kennedy's proposal for a tax cut had been approved. In June 1964, an expanded version of Kennedy's civil rights bill was signed by President Johnson.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and only had been passed after fifty-seven days of senate filibustering (lengthy speeches designed to delay or prevent passage of legislation). The act outlawed racial discrimination in places of public accommodation - restaurants, hotels, theaters, and even in gas stations. As for political rights, the law outlaws racial discrimination in the registration of voters. It stated that a sixth-grade education must be accepted as proof of literacy in states where an ability to read and write was a requirement for voting.

Johnson announced a War on Poverty and the Economic Opportunity Act was passed that year. The Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) was created to coordinate the campaign against poverty. A number of new programs established by the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 were directed by the OEO. "One was the Job Corps, which offered remedial and vocational education to school dropouts. Another such program, VISTA (Volunteers In Service to America, a domestic peace corps, was established.

After an overwhelming election to a full term of office in 1964, Johnson went into high gear. In 1965 there were 115 presidential legislative recommendations, and more that 90 were approved. Among the most notable was the Appalachian Development Act, which allocated $1 billion to the eleven states Appalachian region for the development of highways and other projects. One of the most publicized of the government's programs was HEAD START. In order to provide poor children with the skills necessary to improve educational levels in low-income schools. The Medicare and Medicaid programs were developed. Discriminatory immigration laws were abolished.

Johnson went far beyond Kennedy's program in the area of civil rights. Despite the adoption of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the approval of the 24th Amendment to the Constitution, there were still counties in the Deep South where not a single black was registered to vote. In March 1965, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led a march on Selma Alabama, to dramatize the situation. King was jailed, but public response to his march was overwhelming.

At the close of 1965, the Great Society seemed like an unqualified success and Johnson could congratulate himself on his triumphs. A southerner, he had engineered the passage of laws that not only ended the ear of Jim Crow segregation but also seemed to promise southern blacks real political power in the state and local level. A man who had accumulated great personal wealth, Johnson had shown that he had not forgotten the poverty of his Texas boyhood. He had taken the federal government into areas of social reform and where other Presidents had not dare to go. It seemed that the Great Society was becoming a reality.

1966 would be the last energetic year of the Johnson administration. The creeping specter of the Vietnam War was now on the horizon.


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Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

The history of the American Presidency from George Washington to Barack Obama is the single most convincing empirical argument against the theory of evolution. – Paraphrased/plagiarized from several wise observers; often said about Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, William Jefferson Clinton, and several Republicans interspersed

Few American Presidential speeches deserve less to be commemorated than Lyndon Johnson’s commencement address at the University of Michigan on May 22, 1964. It contained not one memorable phrase, not one noble or notable metaphor, not one idea that had not been uttered endlessly by progressives in the previous half-century. But, since its fiftieth anniversary is upon us, and since it announced the intention to do endless harm to what was left of the republic, we should probably remind ourselves about one more reason we feel the chill run down our spines when we think about the 60s.

“The Great Society,” he said, “rests on abundance and liberty for all.” “Will you join in the battle to build the Great Society,” he concluded? Believe it or not, that was as good as it got. LBJ used the term “Great Society” ten times in a speech of about 2000 words, or rather Richard Goodwin did. Calvin Coolidge was the last US President to write all of his own speeches; it is doubtful that Johnson wrote any of his. Goodwin does say that LBJ summoned him to the White House pool where he was swimming naked, and ordered his writer to join him, and outlined some Great Society profundities. The final product did not rise to its crude beginning.

Like all good progressive speeches, it was forward-looking and took no notice of the noble past: “I have come today from the turmoil of your capital to the tranquility of your campus to speak about the future of your country.” All of its mantras pointed to progress, although the sacred word was used only once; rather, the “city of man” (he actually used the Augustinian term) would put its energies toward the usual goals: equality, the elimination of poverty, universal education, the renewal of nature, and “in the next 40 years we must re-build the entire urban United States.” All this, of course, in the hands of the young, as “your generation has been appointed by history…to lead America toward a new age.” This was commencement cant, of course, but the faith behind it bound together all progressives from a new nation (Teddy Roosevelt) to hope and change (Barak Obama). “Within your lifetime powerful forces, already loosed,” he insisted, “will take us toward a way of life beyond the realm of our experience, almost beyond the bounds of our imagination.”

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