This is a post in My Presidential Rankings series, linked here: https://sdu754.wordpress.com/2014/01/05/presidential-rankings/
Lyndon Johnson became president upon the assassination of John F Kennedy. This happened in the middle of the civil rights movement and as the war in Viet Nam was heating up.
Johnson’s legacy rest mainly on his support of civil rights legislation. Whereas Johnson does deserve some credit for moving civil rights laws forward, he is given far too much credit. The civil rights movement had been picking up steam since the end of world war II. In 1948 Truman issued an executive order to desegregate the military, which was completed by Eisenhower. Eisenhower further finished desegregating the US government. Eisenhower also sent troops to Little Rock, Arkansas to uphold the Supreme Courts ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education, and supervised the passage of the civil rights Acts of 1957 & 1960. The first civil rights laws since reconstruction. When Kennedy was assassinated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had already passed the house and was making it through the Senate. Many historians believe the law would have passed had Kennedy not been assassinated. There should also be more credit given to civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King and brave citizens like Rosa Parks. Television coverage of violent attacks against peaceful demonstrators played a vital role as well. By brining the ugly truths of Jim Crow laws into American homes, it made Americans have to face the facts of racial oppression. As can easily be seen the civil rights movement was well on its way long before Johnson became president. His support certainly helped, but I don’t believe he could have stopped events, only slowed them down.
While in congress from 1937 to 1957, Johnson fought and voted against every civil rights bill that came before Congress. This included not only bills aimed at ending the poll tax and segregation in the armed services, but even against legislation aimed at ending lynching. He assailed Harry Truman’s entire civil rights program as”farce and a sham–an effort to set up a police state in the guise of liberty.” He also softened the Civil Rights Act of 1957 as Senate majority leader. Johnson’s support of civil rights was definitely helped him in courting black votes in northern states, which gave him his best chance at victory, even if it meant losing southern states that voted election in 1948 even after the “Dixiecrats” bolted the party and unified behind the candidacy of Strom Thurmond in 1948, over Truman’s pro civil rights stance.
Opposing civil rights would have also undermined Johnson’s beloved Great Society programs. It would be hard to argue for economic “rights and equality” while squelching basic human rights and equality of African Americans. If it was acceptable for the government to stand aside and do nothing as basic, constitutional rights were stripped away, how could the government then turn around and introduce expensive programs to promote economic equality? Not only that, the major cornerstone of the Great Society was federal funding of education. Southerners had long fought any federal involvement in education in fear that the government would desegregate public schools. In order to get his education bills through congress he would definitely need every northern vote he could get, opposing civil rights would have definitely hampered his efforts.
The Great Society was Lyndon Johnsons program to remake American Society. It consisted of over 100 laws that promoted civil rights, fought a “war on poverty”, introduced federal funding for education along with many other programs.
While Johnson’s War on Poverty promised much, the complete eradication of poverty, it delivered little. After World War II, the poverty rate was in steady decline until 1966, since 1966 poverty has stabilized. Basically Johnson’s programs changed an economy that was seeing a steady decrease in poverty and turned it into one in which poverty merely fluctuates. The problem is, that the anti-poverty programs are set up in such a way that it keeps people in the programs, by incentivizing them not to better their situation in life. The programs also incentivize single parent homes, as it is much easier for them to get benefits than it is for a married couple. A good example of a “great Society” program was the Job Corps, which was set up in 1964. Studies have shown that finish job corps training have no more success in the job market than those who drop out of the system, even though the training cost as much as a Harvard education. The National Welfare Rights Organization was set up in 1966 to increase welfare recipients, basically encouraging government dependence rather than self reliance. Basically the “Great society” was a set of poorly planned and poorly executed laws that blindly threw money at social problems and created a huge expensive bureaucracy that did little to help the poor and a lot to increase the debt. Not only that, Johnson deliberately understated the continuing costs of his programs to aid in their passage
Lyndon Johnson introduced the federal government into public education. This intrusion started with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, and has grown ever since. Before Johnson became president, public education was purely administered by state and local governments. In the 1950s the United States ranked 2nd in education, today it ranks 17th, clearly a failure of top down federal education programs.
No failure during Johnson’s term was bigger than his handling of the war in Viet Nam. He inherited a minor war from Kennedy in which 16,000 troops were fighting and expanded it to a major war in which over 500,000 soldiers were fighting. Even though He felt the war was unwinnable, and he never even tried to formulate a winning strategy, Johnson persevered in greatly expanding the war. Believing he would be attacked for “losing Viet Nam”, and it hurting his re-election chances in 1968. To fight a war for purely political purposes in which over 58,000 American died is one of the most despicable things any American president has ever done. Not only that, he dumped the entire mess onto his successor.
Johnson wasn’t above using the office of the president to punish his enemies. Lyndon B. Johnson used the I.R.S. to harass and put pressure on groups opposing the Vietnam War. He also had the FBI plant operatives into anti war groups to spy on them and incite violence. Johnson made wide use of illegal wiretaps against civil rights leaders, anti war protesters and Barry Goldwater during the 1964 campaign.
Johnson’s programs wreaked havoc upon the economy. His massive Great Society programs, escalation of the Viet Nam war, and encouraging the Federal Reserve to have a loose monetary policy led to inflation in 1965. To combat inflation Johnson implemented a 10% tax increase on June 28 1968. The economy went into a recession in 1969, and stagflation was born. Johnson also diverted money from social security, which was in a seperate fund,to the general revenue fund to hide debts.