Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society.
John A. Andrew III sets out to correct the distortions coming from both the political Right and Left of President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society legislation. Focusing on "the underlying ideas and principal objectives of the original Great Society legislation," Andrew briefly but fairly reconstructs that turbulent and heady moment of American liberalism. Each of the first five chapters centers on a central issue, and the last chapter assesses the Great Society.
Andrew's first chapter, on civil rights legislation, is an excellent review of the first civil rights legislation to be passed in the United States since the Civil War. He covers quite well the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the move toward affirmative action, the urban riots of the 1960s, and the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Summing up this very important part of the Great Society, Andrew notes that two major problems inhibited its success: (1) white Americans were more interested in opportunity than results, and (2) early civil rights successes depended on Americans' sense of morality in determining access to public facilities, but later legislation concerning things like housing and employment threatened whites on a more personal level.
LBJ's war on poverty, Andrew's second chapter, revealed that there was much more poverty in the United States than was previously assumed. The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 was the major piece of legislation to combat poverty but by no means the only bill. But the Economic Opportunity Act spawned a myriad of programs, headed by the Office of Economic Opportunity and implemented by several federal agencies. Perhaps the most successful of all these programs was the well-known Head Start program. In his critique of all these assaults on poverty, Andrew suggests that much of the steam for these antipoverty measures suffered as civil rights agitation increasingly worried white America. But the war on poverty did focus on the need for purposeful public policy regarding poverty, and this debate still rages. The war on poverty certainly did not eradicate poverty in this country, but it did "identify poverty and joblessness as the responsibility of the federal government" (p. 93).
The third chapter on health and education chronicles the continuing policy battle of just how much the federal government should be involved in financing medical care for individuals and education for children. There was much opposition to the former, but since everyone benefited, Medicare proved to be overwhelmingly popular. There were no cost controls, but no one knew how to implement them anyway in 1965. Trying to figure out how to break the opposition to federal aid to education finally resulted in advancing the child-benefit theory that tied federal aid to individual students rather than to schools. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act passed in 1965. This, too, got linked to civil rights and moved the 1954 Brown decision much more quickly because southern states simply did not want to lose this new federal spending. Bilingual education began in this era as well. If LBJ wanted to be known as the education president, he could easily claim that rifle: sixty laws "dramatically changed education in the United States" (p. 130).
The model cities program, detailed in chapter four, is styled by Andrew as "the premier legislative achievement of the Great Society's final two years" (p. 131). The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was created in 1965, and the urban riots the next year helped push Congress to pass the Model Cities program. But like other Great Society programs, this one "discovered new problems faster than it could generate solutions for them" (p. 144). The major problem with the Model Cities program was its lack of federal regulation. There was not sufficient money to solve all the problems identified, urban riots greatly reduced support, and there were simply not enough jobs, which were increasingly fleeing to the suburbs. Race became the larger issue for urban programs, but on the other hand, these programs helped empower minorities.
In the shortest chapter of the book, Andrew draws together the myriad of measures that were designed to increase the quality of life for Americans, chiefly beautification projects, consumer rights legislation, and crime control laws. While most of this was new to the national scene, Andrew stresses that these programs were a successful and enduring part of Johnson's Great Society. Ironically, two outsiders, Ralph Nader and Rachel Carson, may have been the most important people in all these issues. Nader's successful fight against the American automobile industry resulted in seatbelts and recall notices becoming a way of life in the United States, and Carson had a profound impact on the environment. The Water Quality Act of 1965 resulted, to be followed by the 1970 Environmental Protection Agency during Richard Nixon's first term.
In his final chapter, Andrew sums up the achievements of this era and gives cogent reasons for its many successes and fewer failures. Race was central in both. He also carries the important measures past the LBJ years, which brings a satisfying sense of closure to these large issues.
Andrew succeeded in his wish to place the Great Society in an accurate historical setting. Many students will find this to be an excellent introduction to this era and to the larger-than-life person at its center, and it appears that it may well have been written for the classroom. John Andrew has made a genuine contribution to our understanding of the domestic programs that LBJ brought to the Oval Office.
Some will be disappointed in this book's lack of any footnotes or endnotes, although Andrew throughout cites current research that casts light on these topics. There is, in addition, a very helpful bibliographic essay at the end of the book. The writing is sprightly, and altogether this is a valuable addition to the current research on arguably the most turbulent American decade of the twentieth century.
--H. Warren Gardner The University of Texas of the Permian Basin
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|Author:||Gardner, H. Warren|
|Publication:||Presidential Studies Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 1999|
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