Prisoners of Hope: Lyndon B. Johnson, the Great Society, and the Limits of Liberalism
Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society tends to get lost in the shuffle in the tumult of the 1960’s. Johnson took the country’s helm after the assassination of JFK in 1963, his pursuit of victory in Vietnam tends to overshadow any legislative gains he might have made. Randall Woods’ book looks to right that. The Great Society was an attempt to tackle various issues: Civil Rights, Medicare, Poverty….Issues that mattered to a majority of the population, but tended to be ignored by those that could make the major changes. Johnson utilized his own advisers, Walter Jenkins, Jack Valenti, Horace Busby along with JFK men like Richard Goodwin & Arthur Schlesinger to craft laws that would change the status quo. Johnson’s legislative push would start to make an impact in early 1964 with the Economic Opportunity Act, he cast the passage of Civil Rights legislation as a moral issue in order to defeat the racist Southern Senators who blocked any attempts at changing the order of things. Johnson would attempt to unify Republicans in getting bills passed.Johnson would be successful in passing some of the legislation, but would be forced to deal with the deepening quagmire that was Vietnam along with a fractured country that was divided on Race, Class lines. His victories would ultimately be undone by the defeats. But should his progress be deterred by urban unrest and an unwinnable war?
Randall Woods’ subject matter is not so much Lyndon Johnson as it is a particular time period: 1963-1968. This passage of time would see assasinations, riots, war, poverty, conservatism/liberalism, good/bad. Lyndon Johnson was seen as the puppetmaster of both…..Doing some good, but not enough. Any good being torn asunder by the war in Southeast Asia. Woods doesn’t paint a halo around Johnson, but does give a second look at the troubled 36th President and what he aimed to do.
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