The presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson came as a circumstance of his office as the Vice-President of the United States (US) under assassinated President John F. Kennedy. Having held office as the replacement to the slain Kennedy for 11 months, Johnson needed to consolidate his campaign agenda back them to establish his potency as a viable candidate in the elections. Such requirement necessitates the emergence of popular reform programs akin to those started under Kennedy (USHistory.org).
Johnson initiated two crucial policy actions during his time as President-successor to Kennedy. Firstly, the Civil Rights Act advocated by Kennedy has materialized into law, effectively illegalizing discriminatory activities based on race and gender (USHistory.org). Secondly, American economic woes have met a possible solution through the enactment of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 into law in 1964. The law has since enabled the federal government to mobilize much of its budget for anti-poverty programs, with the whole process popularly known during its time as the War on Poverty (Socialstudieshelp.com).
At the height of the presidential campaign in 1964, Johnson campaigned extensively against rival Barry Goldwater under the banner of “The Great Society”, immortalized in one of his speeches. He called on Americans to take strengthened efforts on eliminating poverty and its root. Despite having a conservative voting record in the Senate, Johnson has adopted liberalized forms of reforms in order to come up with his poster campaign of reshaping the US. As a result, Johnson’s challenge proved highly productive at the policymaking level due to the stream of new laws implemented during the time. Among those important laws are the Wilderness Protection Act, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Voting Rights Act, Medicare and the Immigration Act, among many others. Funds that circulated within the operation of those laws worked in the name of heightening liberalism promoted by Johnson and his administration. The forcefulness that characterized Johnson’s personality, coupled with his strong legislative experience, has proved instrumental for the successful creation of those laws. However, the Great Society seemed bound towards a fruitless victory, with much of the funds dedicated for it diverted towards impending troubles in Southeast Asia (USHistory.org; Socialstudieshelp.com).
The Malignant Image of the Great Society
There is no doubt that Johnson has introduced a socially attractive package sealed by his Great Society calling during much of his presidential campaign, but events during the latter parts of his term have rendered an effective denial of the merit he has deserved from implementing laws and programs related to his advocacy (USHistory.org). Numerical documentation has proven that matters pertaining to the Great Society have caused positive effects on the overall well-being of poor Americans, as those laws and programs operated in favor of alleviating poverty (Califano 2-3). Thus, towards the period between 1966 and 1968 provided a surprising turn of events transpired when the Johnson administration started to head towards a doubtful state of legitimacy. The Vietnam War, which transpired at the height of Communist resistance in areas constituting modern-day Vietnam, has exposed the hardline approach of Johnson towards the matter. While being liberally sound in his domestic reforms, the conservative bloc targeted his domestic achievements as their point of criticism in explaining his ineffective response to the conflict in Southeast Asia. Liberals, on the other hand, found his approach against Vietnam as hardline and inconsistent with his liberal image in domestic affairs (USHistory.com). Although Johnson’s handling of the Vietnam War did not render the Great Society as unsuccessful in an outright fashion, it did exposed inadequacies towards his own leadership style. The divisiveness characterizing the era of the Vietnam War caused Johnson to find himself torn between two political parties, one that “shattered the consensus” he created through the help of the New Deal (Wicker). Such has therefore denied Johnson of a potentially clean record, which would otherwise have translated into overall successful outcomes arising from his Great Society banner (Socialstudieshelp.com).
Was the Great Society a Success or Failure?
Qualifying as the main question in this assessment is the contention of whether the Great Society was a highly successful advocacy or not. In explaining that, it is not necessary to limit factual basis on the occurrence of the Vietnam War, for it is unfair on the part of the Johnson administration to gain negative reception due to the compelling divisiveness they have faced due to the conflict amidst the successful operation of related laws. Rather, it is essential to look at how the Great Society has permeated the policymaking and implementation realm as it strengthened the production of positive results (Califano 8-9; Levitan and Taggart 617-618).
Insinuations that the Great Society brought costly implications to excessive welfare policymaking became a prime characteristic of antagonism towards its potency as a program. Thoughts concerning that the government may have legislated a little too much became an inevitable centerpiece of debates on the Great Society, with attacks against liberalism being the focus of the conservative bloc. Massive funding required the sustenance of welfare legislation that emerged in great numbers during Johnson’s time, and many have pointed that aspect as one that may have caused the economic malaise of the 1970s. Nevertheless – and not exactly surprisingly, the social welfare laws and programs under Johnson have drastically helped in the eradication of poverty in many aspects of American life. For instance, the income of black families compared to white households have raised from 54 to 60 percent – a figure that is highly significant, considering their young status as a people recognized with equal status to that of normal American citizens (Countrystudies.us). The fact that it helped reduce poverty amidst funding problems have led to observations that the Great Deal have actually turned out to be a successful advocacy.
The constant rate of welfare expenditures have ensured a steady stream of people availing of their entitlements in welfare programs, hence leading to the intensification of social problems. Such is the natural course of propagating welfare programs, within which many more Americans would get to know and avail of such benefit. Liberalization, thus, did not serve as an outright cause of the economic failure of the 1970s – a circumstance pointed by conservatives as the one triggered by the seemingly welfare state-type dynamics of the Great Society. It is natural for welfare programs to encounter early problems in funding due to the large amount of costs disposed on initial deployment of benefits. Yet, with growing governmental income as a strong factor, it remains potent that the costs of the Great Society would eventually balance out. Along the way, those programs would continue to benefit its intended recipients positively, without causing as much damage as the decline of the 1970s – the era pointed by conservatives have falsely implicated earlier (Levitan and Taggart 617-618).
Synthesis of the Study
Undoubtedly, Johnson has emphasized on the emergence of solid reform programs against poverty consolidated through his Great Society announcement. The straightforward and concrete approach Johnson has employed has given a hopeful impression of eventual success, despite the ongoing rift between the conservatives and liberals that further escalated when the Vietnam War happened. The mixture of programs involved ensured that the Great Society would not be a scheme dedicated entirely to the propagation of welfare state values, as speculated and emphasized by the conservative bloc. The recognition of income rotation in welfare policymaking is a crucial aspect considered by Johnson in imposing his programs, which seemed to champion liberal ideals. However, the short-term income loss natural in welfare policymaking has become the subject of magnification by the conservatives, who were highly critical of the way public funds have found usage on welfare measures. Concerns over the wastage of funds on non-working Americans do not qualify as valid, for the Great Society programs – as it received an unjust association from the negative perception on the Vietnam War, have concrete measures to stimulate the creation and provision of jobs. Indeed, the notion of eradicating poverty is one that is not perceived by the Johnson administration as entirely welfare inducing. Johnson is aware that the solution to poverty is not only through the provision of goods from the government. Rather, he is aware that the government has to act as a stimulant of opportunities that could prove useful for those in poverty. Insinuations that too much liberalism damaged the prospective status of Johnson as a reformer stand as a misleading statement. The failure of the Johnson administration in dealing with the Vietnam War may have led to the demise of their reputation. Such has dragged along with them the Great Society programs that have become the subject of harsh criticisms by the conservatives. Strong evidence pertaining to the integrity of those programs includes the fact that it continued to reap expected benefits even at the end of the Johnson administration. Thus, the misunderstanding that the crisis of the 1970s is part of the mismanagement of the 1960s does not stand any further merit, for numerical and material figures have proven that the Great Society programs have continued to be effective even in the onset of the Vietnam War (Levitan and Taggart 601-618).
Provided the foregoing presentation of facts and synthesis, it is proper to conclude this assessment by declaring the Great Society as one that has become successful in its objective to help reduce poverty in the US. As a political tool, it enabled the ascent of Johnson as a legitimately elected President of the US after succeeding the assassinated Kennedy in the line of succession. At the same time, it became an instrument of criticism by both conservatives and liberals as they castigated Johnson on his reaction to the Vietnam War. Nevertheless, as a policy tool with objectives, the Great Society policies have provided concrete figures attesting to the reduction of poverty in the US, through the implementation of laws that constructively tackled the problem of poverty by considering several sectors. Concerns over the welfare state approach highlighted by critical conservatives do not add weight against the strong merit of positive benefits brought forth by the Great Society programs. It may be true that history would inevitably create an association between the Great Society and the failure of the Johnson administration over Vietnam. Notwithstanding that fact, there stand strong findings attesting that the programs prove successful in meeting their specified objectives on their own right. For future studies, it is rightful to explore more on the implications the Great Society programs and other similar undertakings in other nations has on the legitimacy of administrations amidst democratic settings divided between conservatives and liberals.
Califano Jr., Joseph. "What Was Really Great About the Great Society?" MrParkinson.com. Mr. Parkinson’s Social Studies Website, 13 Jun. 2005. Web. 27 Mar. 2013.
Levitan, Sar, and Robert Taggart. "The Great Society Did Succeed." Political Science Quarterly 91.4 (1976-1977): 601-618. Print.
"Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society" Countrystudies.us. Country Studies US, n.d. Web. 27 March. 2013.
"Lyndon Johnson’s ‘Great Society.’" USHistory.org. Independence Hall Association, n.d. Web. 27 March. 2013.
"The Great Society Holds Promise for America." Socialstudieshelp.com. The Social Studies Help Center, n.d. Web. 27 March. 2013.
Wicker, Tom. "LBJ’s Great Society." In The Nation. The New York Times, 7 May. 1990. Web. Web. 27 March. 2013.