Lyndon Johnson And The Great Society – Urban Dream – Political Nightmare – Best Laid Plans –
Sometimes, listening to political arguments can be akin to watching paint dry – it can be stimulating and engaging, but it also be dry as dust.
In this episode of the CBS Radio series Capitol Cloakroom – Senators Edmund Muskie (Democrat) and Karl Mundt (Republican) gather to discuss where the 90th Congress was heading and what was on the schedule. Members of both political parties, as well as President Johnson asked for a time-to-bottom re-evaluation of the present policies currently being enacted. Some members felt Federal Budgets aimed at cities would be best served if the budgets were in the hands of the state and local governments, rather than the Federal Government. Also being discussed were the cutting of programs deemed to be ineffectual and a waste of taxpayers money. But those programs, like everything else, needed further re-evaluation before a determination was made, and what were the potential consequences.
The Great Society was a set of domestic programs in the United States launched by Democratic President Lyndon Johnson in 1964–65. The main goal was the elimination of poverty and racial injustice. President Johnson first used the term “Great Society” during a speech at Ohio University, then unveiled the program in greater detail at an appearance at University of Michigan.
New major spending programs that addressed education, medical care, urban problems, rural poverty, and transportation were launched during this period. The program and its initiatives were subsequently promoted by him and fellow Democrats in Congress in the 1960s and years following. The Great Society in scope and sweep resembled the New Deal domestic agenda of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
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, making the House of Representatives in 1965 the most liberal House since 1938.
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, the Older Americans Act and federal education funding, continue to the present. The Great Society’s programs expanded under the administrations of Republican Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, while many since Reagan and Bush were eliminated, or modified to ineffectiveness.
While The Great Society was a lofty and positive set of programs – much of it looked good on paper, but the physical implementation was the big question and often the stumbling block. Two issues overshadowed its success – Vietnam and Urban unrest. These were complicated and polarizing times – fifty one years ago.
To get an idea of where we were politically, here is that episode of Capitol Cloakroom from January 24, 1967.