OK

I'm sorry. I did 2000-2012 without any notes, because I've never HAD notes for the period, and what I really wanted to do, which turned out to be the ENRON saga, would have taken too much time especially now that I'm smack dab in the middle of grading season. So I have a freebie, and, after a great deal of searching though the notes that I DO have, I've decided to continue the discussion I started with the making of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by recapping the domestic accomplishments of Lyndon Baines Johnson between the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the off-year elections of 1966.

His official portrait, from the White House:

We begin with the election of 1964, which gave LBJ and his party an unparalleled opportunity to do good things for the country. Mostly, Lyndon had the good fortune to run against the chosen representative of a four-year campaign the right-wing Republicans had mounted to gain control of the Republican party. The Johnson campaign was able to exploit Goldwater’s vulnerabilities in the election of 1964, especially after Goldwater’s statement that “extremism in the pursuit of liberty is no vice.” It didn’t hurt that Goldwater was an outspoken opponent of the 1964 Civil Rights Act either. As I tell my classes, for once the Republicans ran someone representative of the actual Republican party, which they hadn't done since 1936.

The Johnson campaign played the news media exceptionally well. Its creative people had come up with a devastating commercial called “Daisy,” which still stands as a model of how to attack an electoral opponent:

As you see, it portrayed a beautiful child in a field of daisies as she pulled the petals off a single flower while a voiceover counted down to a nuclear explosion and a message urged LBJ’s election. The ad ran once, during an NBC Sunday movie, and when the Goldwater campaign protested, it became a news item.

Johnson won with 61% of the popular vote, and the Democrats won two-thirds majorities in both houses of Congress, giving him an opportunity no liberal president has had before or since FDR. And Johnson, who had been elected to the House 1938, remembered the good the New Deal had done in the 1930s and set out to be the president who finished what Roosevelt had placed in operation. He was motivated by the belief that government could and should enter the battle, thus he developed his “Great Society” program. This had several components, and, at the heart of it, was the War on Poverty.

Johnson’s legislation focused on programs to provide greater opportunity. An anti-poverty bill enacted in 1964 included loans for small business and rural development, funding for college work-study programs, and a domestic peace corps called Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA). It authorized the establishment of Job Corps centers to provide job training and created the Neighborhood Youth Corps to create low wage jobs for youth mainly in inner cities. It also led to the development of Community Action Programs in which the poor would be able to choose among alternatives: job training, education, cultural enrichment, political activism. The bill sought “maximum feasible participation” in the programs to be worked out by local leaders in concert with Washington, and it set up an Office of Economic Opportunity to administer its programs. Some of the initiatives pioneered by OEO-funded community action programs, especially Head Start and Follow Through, which aimed to improve educational opportunities poor children, and Neighborhood Legal Services which managed to offer needed services to welfare recipients and others gained considerable support over time, BUT the mayors of large cities were appalled by idea of the poor running their own programs, which meant the mayors would lose control of federal funds coming into their cities. Thus they did their best to sabotage neighborhood programs. This pressure, combined with a tendency of local activists to see these programs as job bases for their followers, meant that Community Action Programs, with a few exceptions, failed.

In 1965, Johnson signed the Medicare bill. This mandated increases in Social Security taxes to subsidize cost hospitalization for certain periods of time for people over 65 (Plan A), and a voluntary program of insurance to help older people cover X-ray tests, home-nurse visits, certain doctors’ and surgical fees (Plan B). It aided some 19 million Americans in its first year of existence, and was eventually expanded to cover all Americans over 65 years of age. I have 17 months to go, and I'm waiting patiently as I try not to get sick. In conjunction with Medicare, Medicaid offered federal matching grants to states that provided money to the blind, to the disabled, and to the needy aged not covered by Social Security, as well as to families with dependent children. These programs reached 20% of the population by 1976, and they helped many poor people to go to doctors for the first time, but they fell well short of national health insurance, as we are painfully aware today.

Johnson also made an attempt to do something about the inadequate classrooms  classrooms that Brown had declared unconstitutional by providing Federal aid to elementary and secondary education that greatly increased the role of the federal government in school financing:  $1 billion in aid was approved for 1966. By 1968 the federal share of total educational spending had grown to 10%. The money went primarily to school districts with a large proportion of children whose family income was below the poverty level. Even this level of expenditure represented too little money, inevitably spread too thin, also misspent, as much of it was used by local school boards to reduce the school-tax burden of local householders.

Despite the shortcomings of this project, its impact on American society was profound.
At the end of 1959, 21% of the American people lived below the officially established poverty line. Ten years later? only 12%. For African Americans, the drop was from 56% to 32%; for whites, 18% to 10%. This was done by increasing the federal welfare case load by making it easier to apply for welfare without stigma, and by reducing the restrictive, sometimes racist, and  often demeaning rules that discouraged participation in welfare programs. Nevertheless, because of these increases in the welfare caseload, conservatives claimed the War on Poverty had been a dismal failure. You know, drawing the wrong conclusion from the same set of data.

Johnson's domestic program had two other major accomplishments. The Immigration Act of 1965 finally did away with the old discriminatory quota system and concentrated on family reunification. It stipulated that a total of 290,000 immigrants per year could be admitted as of 1968 (this was actually a decrease from the 1924 National Origins Act), but it permitted admission beyond the numerical limit for close relatives of United States citizens, both native-born and naturalized. This law also changed the sources of immigration. The flow from Europe declined after 1968, while the flow from Latin America and Asia increased. By 1976, more than half legal immigrants came from seven nations: Mexico, Philippines, Korea, Cuba, Taiwan, India, and the Dominican Republic

Finally, there was the Voting Rights Act of 1965, enacted for the same reasons the country needed a 15th Amendment to secure voting rights beyond the guarantees of citizenship in the 14th Amendment, and proposed in response to the events in Selma that President Obama mentioned in his Second Inaugural. This act mandated Justice Department intervention to provide federal examiners anywhere voter discrimination occurred, and it was signed passed August 6, 1965.

Domestic policy achievements. Programs that still help Americans today. But I know that if I stop here there are Kossacks who will think I don't know about the other things that happened in the Johnson administration. So first, let's take note of the fact that five days after signing the Voting Rights Act, Watts, an African-American neigborhood in south-central Los Angeles, went up in flames. The specific flash point for the riot was a confrontation between the white police and a young black man arrested for drunken driving. An every day occurrence in Watts, but this particular night the young man’s mother scuffled with police, and the blacks observing responded with jeers, leading the arresting officers to call for reinforcements. When calm returned at dawn, the police announced riot was over. But the mob reassembled next evening; most looted, trashed,and some some firebombed white businessesand attacked whites wandering in ghetto. The traditional restraints on black anger had evanesced, so for three more days and nights, the burning, looting, and sniping continued. The toll of the Watts Riots? 34 killed, 900 injured, nearly 4000 arrested, about $30 million property destroyed. And that was just the most spectacular riot of the summer of 1965. I was 16 when that happened, living in a suburb of Boston, and I remember that a good portion of the commentary on the news wondered why rioting was going on in a neighborhood where African Americans lived in single family houses.

And then there was the Gulf of Tonkin affair, which took place during the 1964 Presidential campaign. In August, determined to assure that Goldwater gained no advantage, Johnson responded to attacks on U.S. destroyers in Gulf of Tonkin with air raids and a request for congressional resolution endorsing U.S. determination to resist Communist aggression in Vietnam that passed the Senate by a vote of 98-2. Over the next four years, evidence would appear that the American ships had been accompanying sabotage operations against North Vietnam, but the die had already been cast. This even produced anti-war art. During 1964 and 1965, the artist James Rosenquist painted four 10 foot-high panels, each 21.5 feet wide, depicting, in pop-art form, his impression of a F-111 bomber. From his website, the four panels:

The first teach-in took place in the fall of 1965, and by the beginning of 1966, the civil rights movement had morphed into Black Nationalism and the attention of the men in the movement had been transferred to the anti-war movement primarily because of the interest of those men in staying out of the war. How they behaved toward the women in the anti-war movement shaped the women's movement of the 1960s and 1970s every bit as much as Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique had.

But I'll let Robert Caro close. From the conclusion to The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage to Power:

The presidency of Lyndon Baines Johnson would be a presidency marked by victories: his great personal victory in the 1964 election, and his great victories for legislation that are the legislative embodiment of the liberal spirit in all its nobility. The Civil Rights Act of 1964.The Voting Rights Act of 1965. Medicare and Medicaid; Head Start; Model Cities.Government's hand to help people caught in "the tentacles of circumstance."

Yet victories would not, as it turned out, be the only hallmarks that would make the presidency of Lyndon Johnson vivid in history. . . . It is difficult for most Americans today--more than forty years, two generations, after that presidency ended, to remember, or to understand, [the] reverence for a President, or for the institution of the presidency, so lasting has been the damage inflicted on it. While much of the damage was inflicted by Richard Nixon, Johnson's successor, it was under Johnson that the damage began.

Nevertheless, the victories that constitute the embodiment of the liberal spirit are what I'll remember him for.

Note: This is the final diary in the US since 1865 series. I'm taking a month off from these, because I'll miss the next two weeks as I'll be in Louisville grading the AP US History exam, and I'll miss June 21 because I'll be at NN 13. I expect to resume these on some more general themes about how historians "do" history starting July 5, and then starting on September 12 or 13, we'll have fifteen weeks on California History. I suspect that I'll begin another US to 1865 series in January 2014.

Originally posted to Dave in Northridge on Fri May 24, 2013 at 03:12 PM PDT.

Also republished by History for Kossacks.

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