I hope you’ve liked our meetings on individual presidents and their legacies as much as I have. We’ve done Reagan, Andrew Jackson, and Wilson so far, and Nixon is up later this year. But, to me, LBJ has got to be one of history’s most fascinating – and consequential – presidents. He also has been meticulously studied, notably by historian Robert Caro, who wrote four (I think) vast biographies of the man. I have not read any bios of LBJ, but any basic list of Johnson’s domestic policy accomplishments would include:
- The Great Society, including Medicare and Medicaid. He raised Social Security benefits by 20%
- The Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act.
- The War on Poverty: e.g., Food Stamps and Head Start
- Federal aid to education laws, esp. Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
- Open housing laws
- Public Broadcasting Act, creating public TV and radio.
It was a flurry of government activism not seen since FDR and never seen since.
Lyndon Johnson’s foreign policy legacy is, of course dominated by the Vietnam war. By 1968 we had 550,000 troops there, up from less than 20,000 when JFK was killed. Many weeks saw 500 U.S. casualties as our national wealth poured into that tiny country. However, LBJ also
- Signed major immigration liberalization law.
- Prosecuted the Cold War around the world (especially via covert actions in other countries), and
- Intervened militarily in the Dominican Republic.
Jim Zimmerman, our resident historian, will try to make it to the meeting, although he has another commitment. I’ll save the explanation of how historians judge presidencies for our upcoming meeting on presidential power. I think Johnson’s presidency was one of the most important in American history. But, I’m not that well-versed. So, Monday, I’ll just give a quickies opening listing the highlights and lowlights of the Johnson presidency. Then we can talk about LBJ and, I’m hoping, how his legacy shapes our world today.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- What were the Johnson Administration’s major achievements and notable failures? To what extent are we still affected by those achievements 50 years later?
- How different are the liberal and conservative points of view here? Why?
- To what extent was LBJ himself the driving force behind these achievements and failures? What does that tell us about presidential power? (we’re discussing the power of the presidency next quarter.)
- Also, hindsight is 20/20. Do any of LBJ’s achievements look different if we put ourselves in their shoes back in the mid-1960s?
- How do other Democratic presidents stack up to LBJ, including Obama? How different is our national political environment from those days (1964-69)? How can we compare the performance of presidents across time?
- [Update: Late, but read these, esp. first one:
- The Great Society at 50 (WashPost)
- In comments I added two links that make key points about poverty that will help us to evaluate the War on Poverty’s success or failure.
- Thumbnail biography of LBJ.
- LBJ was a liberal hero.
- No, he does not deserve that moniker.
- He was both a great success and a colossal failure.
- And, many others should get more credit and LBJ less.
- Conservative POV: His legacy is mixed, but much of it is a failure.
- Obama versus LBJ: Obama could not have achieved what Johnson did. (I should have had you read this for our recent meeting on Obama’s legacy.)
Next Week: Voting Wars: How Can We Protect Americans’ Voting Rights?