After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson assumed the role of the United States 36th President. President Johnson focused his efforts on finishing the goals of his predecessor’s New Frontier policies. With 11 months before the election of 1964, Johnson would have to prove his worthiness to remain president. During Johnson’s presidential campaign, he hoped American’s could build a “Great Society,” in order to rid the United States of some of its social difficulties.
President Johnson was a skillful politician, as majority leader in Congress he could plead, consoled, or threaten to achieve goals he deemed necessary. Using his power of persuasion, President Johnson wanted to influence members of the House and Senate, to eliminate poverty and spread prosperity to the poorer American citizens.
In 1964, President Johnson was the overwhelming victor over Barry Goldwater for the Oval Office. Having succeeded in winning the presidency, Johnson pushed for tax cuts, developed social programs which would provide job training, housing, health care, and educational programs for the poor. Under President Johnson, Congress approved of Medicare, a health insurance program for the elderly and Medicaid, a health program designed to assist the poor.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, committed federal funds to elementary and secondary schools to aide low-income families. Secondary education, for college level students, received funds for scholarships, grants, work-study programs, and opened the doors of higher education to those who had the desire and ambition to achieve the American Dream. Bilingual education was incorporated to teach Hispanic children the same subjects English speaking students received and increased the teaching of other languages in school systems. Special education classes for students with learning disabilities also received funding.
In September of the same year, the National Foundation of the Arts & the Humanities Act established the National Endowment of the Arts, in order to allow cultural arts to flourish. The act was able to make theater and music available. The National Endowment of the Arts helped to establish art councils in all fifty states, an increase of playhouses, opera companies, dance companies, and professional orchestras across the country.
Another benefit of the Great Society was the establishment of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, this delivers television and radio programing to public broadcasters nationwide. Public broadcasting companies have provided generations of child friendly programing, such as Sesame Street, to millions of viewers. Travel logs, cooking shows, gardening, home improvement, etc. are all types of programing which can be viewed on public channels.
By 1968, the Vietnam War had over half a million American troops in country, attempting to keep Communist North Vietnamese and Vietcong at bay. Having lost over 30,000 American soldiers to the war, President Johnson felt politically trapped to remain supportive of South Vietnam.
Friction between the “hawks” (those people for the war) and the “doves” (those people against the war), began to heat up. Anti-war activist continually launched public demonstrations against America’s involvement in the war.
Six weeks into 1968, the Tet Offensive was launched by the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong. Designed to inflict heavy casualties, sap enemy morale, and damage military instillations of American forces, the offensive strategy failed as the oppressor lost almost 100,000 men. However, the Tet Offensive inspired increasing opposition to the war on the home front. Television brought the images of senseless battles into living rooms across the country. Though American’s supported the issue of defending other countries from Communist domination, they also lost confidence in Johnson’s foreign policy.
The Vietnam War sapped the spirit of which the Great Society was developed. By late 1966, President Johnson could no longer gain support for his domestic issues with Congress. American citizens saw the effort to maintain the Vietnam War, a war which grew increasingly unpopular and expenses of the Great Society pulling financial resources in different directions.
Though the Great Society had good intentions, it also brought another more devastating effect for some of the nation’s poorer citizens. With job training, education, housing, food stamps, and other programs in place, the Great Society led to what would become more of a welfare state. Many people opposed the Great Society as contributing to a socialist type of atmosphere where competition was virtually eliminated. The idea was simple; the government would aide people wanting a hand up financially. Unfortunately, the Great Society also had an alter affect where some people would use their low-income status as a crutch in order to keep receiving governmental benefits without breaking a sweat.
Anonymous, (Retrieved February 17, 2012), “Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society” http://countrystudies.us/united-states/history-121.htm
Anonymous, (Retrieved February 17, 2012), “Major Great Society Programs”,
Califano, Joseph A. Jr., (October 1999), “What Was Really Great About The Great Society: The truth behind the conservative myths”, (Retrieved February 17, 2012), http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/1999/9910.califano.html
StoneGiant, (September 12, 2005) “LBJ’s Great Society: 40 Years Later”, (Retrieved February 17, 2012), http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1483206/posts