“We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result.” — Lyndon Johnson, Commencement Address at Howard University, June 4, 1965.
On November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas two rifle shots from a Marxist assassin ended the life of President John F. Kennedy and ended what was known as the era of Camelot and began the “Great Society.”
On that clear November day riding two cars behind Kennedy’s open top Lincoln was the Vice President of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson. Johnson, once the majority leader of the Senate and a powerful Senator from the Lone Star state, was never supposed to be Vice President. In 1960 he had run a very contentious primary campaign against the Kennedy machine and he had no love for the Massachusetts Senator. But once Kennedy realized he had the nomination in hand he needed Texas’ 24 Electoral Votes to win the presidency. For this reason Kennedy picked Johnson as his running mate and won the election by 112,827 votes which gave him a 303 to 219 advantage in the Electoral College over his opponent Richard Nixon.
Once Kennedy was inaugurated He, his brother Robert, and his White House brain trust completely ignored Johnson. In fact Robert, the Attorney General, had a deep mistrust and hatred for LBJ. Johnson was excluded from many Cabinet meetings and rarely met with President Kennedy. He was considered a ghost in the White House. This once powerful Majority Leader and skilled legislator was relegated to making “good will” trips places like Lebanon where he passed out LBJ pins and Zippo lighters engraved with his name and the seal of the Vice President.
In three seconds on November 22, 1963 at 12:30 pm, due to a 6.5×52mm Mannlicher-Carcano rifle in the hands of Lee Harvey Oswald, the Presidency of John F. Kennedy came to an abrupt end and Lyndon Johnson was the President of the United States. Hence, the beginnings of the “Great Society.”
Before continuing I cannot resist pointing out a few parallels between the assassination of President Kennedy and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln some 98 years earlier on April 14, 1865:
Lincoln was first elected in 1860, Kennedy in 1960.
- Both were assassinated on a Friday.
- Both were assassinated in the presence of their wives.
- Their successors were both southerners named Johnson who had served in the Senate.
- Andrew Johnson was born in 1808, Lyndon Johnson was born in 1908.
- Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846 while Kennedy to the House in 1946.
- Both men suffered the death of children while in office.
- The assassin Booth shot inside a theater and fled into a storage facility, while the assassin Oswald shot from a storage facility and fled into a theater.
For the remainder of 1963 Johnson spent most of his time and effort on consolidating his power and purging the White House of the Kennedy Brain Trust. In 1964 he ran for election to the presidency and won an overwhelming victory over his Republican opponent Barry Goldwater, the conservative senator from Arizona winning 61% of the popular vote and 486 Electoral Votes to Goldwater’s 52. Now it was Johnson’s time to expand and enhance the social policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal.”
Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society is the logical extension of Progressive political thought and FDR’s New Deal. While the Founders held that the task of good government is to secure its citizens’ natural rights, LBJ argued that government must eradicate all external constraints—legal, economic, educational, and environmental—which hamper the “spiritual fulfillment” of its citizens. The extensive regulations and programs of the Great Society are thus meant to guarantee not only the right to pursue happiness but also the full achievement of it.
Johnson anchored his Great Society program in the Progressive understanding of freedom: Freedom in its fullest sense encompasses more than the formal or legal right to do a thing; freedom entails the ability to effect that thing. Thus the central conceptual element of the Great Society—the purpose of both civil rights and the War on Poverty—is the elimination of any economic, legal, or social hindrances to the achievement of excellence and the “fulfillment of the human spirit.”
The Founders believed that the causes of necessity are rooted in human nature itself, and that a government that seeks to eradicate necessity quickly becomes tyrannical. By contrast, LBJ held that specific government policies and programs, initiated and guided by bureaucratic experts and masterminds, could overcome the unhappiness and discontent brought about especially by racial injustice and poverty.
Consequently, his Great Society legislation focuses on cities (developing community and aesthetically pleasing spaces), the countryside and the environment at large (engaging in conservation efforts to make beauty accessible to all), and education (funding not only programs and initiatives for all levels of schooling but also educational broadcasting for the public at large).
Declaring that “the Great Society is a place where the City of Man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce, but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community,” LBJ argued for a radically new purpose for the federal government: It would go beyond securing natural rights and seek the fulfillment of the longings of the human soul.”
Johnson began his push for the Great Society when he gave a speech at the University of Michigan on May 22, 1964 when he stated:
“I have come today from the turmoil of your Capital to the tranquility of your campus to speak about the future of your country.
The purpose of protecting the life of our Nation and preserving the liberty of our citizens is to pursue the happiness of our people. Our success in that pursuit is the test of our success as a Nation.
For a century we labored to settle and to subdue a continent. For half a century we called upon unbounded invention and untiring industry to create an order of plenty for all of our people.
The challenge of the next half century is whether we have the wisdom to use that wealth to enrich and elevate our national life, and to advance the quality of our American civilization.
Your imagination, your initiative, and your indignation will determine whether we build a society where progress is the servant of our needs, or a society where old values and new visions are buried under unbridled growth. For in your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society.
The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time. But that is just the beginning.
The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talents. It is a place where leisure is a welcome chance to build and reflect, not a feared cause of boredom and restlessness. It is a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community.
It is a place where man can renew contact with nature. It is a place which honors creation for its own sake and for what it adds to the understanding of the race. It is a place where men are more concerned with the quality of their goals than the quantity of their goods. But most of all, the Great Society is not a safe harbor, a resting place, a final objective, a finished work. It is a challenge constantly renewed, beckoning us toward a destiny where the meaning of our lives matches the marvelous products of our labor.
So I want to talk to you today about three places where we begin to build the Great Society—in our cities, in our countryside, and in our classrooms.”
This is considered by historians as the beginning of the use of the term “Great Society” and the first time Johnson laid out the three pillars of that society; Civil Rights, Beauty in the cities, and Education.
When he accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for president on August 27, 1964 Johnson proclaimed:
“So let us join together in giving every American the fullest life which he can hope for. For the ultimate test of our civilization, the ultimate test of our faithfulness to our past, is not in our goods and is not in our guns. It is in the quality—the quality of our people’s lives and in the men and women that we produce. This goal can be ours. We have the resources; we have the knowledge. But tonight we must seek the courage.”
We are in the midst of the largest and the longest period of peacetime prosperity in our history.
And almost every American listening to us tonight has seen the results in his own life.
But prosperity for most has not brought prosperity to all. And those who have received the bounty of this land—who sit tonight secure in affluence and safe in power-must not now turn from the needs of their neighbors.
Our party and our Nation will continue to extend the hand of compassion and the hand of affection and love to the old and the sick and the hungry. For who among us dares to betray the command: “Thou shalt open thine hand—unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.”
The needs that we seek to fill, the hopes that we seek to realize, are not our needs, our hopes alone.
They are the needs and hopes of most of the people.
Most Americans want medical care for older citizens. And so do I.
Most Americans want fair and stable prices and decent incomes for our farmers. And so do I.
Most Americans want a decent home in a decent neighborhood for all. And so do I.
Most Americans want an education for every child to the limit of his ability. And so do I.
Most Americans want a job for every man who wants to work. And so do I.
Most Americans want victory in our war against poverty. And so do I.
Most Americans want continually expanding and growing prosperity. And so do I.
These are your goals. These are our goals. These are the goals and will be the achievements of the Democratic Party. These are the goals of this great, rich Nation. These are the goals toward which I will lead, if the American people choose to follow.”
Our problems are many and are great. But our opportunities are even greater.
And let me make this clear. I ask the American people for a mandate—not to preside over a finished program—not just to keep things going, I ask the American people for a mandate to begin.
This Nation—this generation—in this hour, has man’s first chance to build the Great Society—a place where the meaning of man’s life matches the marvels of man’s labor.
We seek a nation where every man can find reward in work and satisfaction in the use of his talents.
We seek a nation where every man can seek knowledge, and touch beauty, and rejoice in the closeness of family and community.
We seek a nation where every man can, in the words of our oldest promise, follow the pursuit of happiness—not just security-but achievements and excellence and fulfillment of the spirit.
So let us join together in this great task.
Will you join me tonight in rebuilding our cities to make them a decent place for our children to live in?
Will you join me tonight in starting a program that will protect the beauty of our land and the air that we breathe ?
Won’t you join me tonight in starting a program that will give every child education of the highest quality that he can take?
So let us join together in giving every American the fullest life which he can hope for. For the ultimate test of our civilization, the ultimate test of our faithfulness to our past, is not in our goods and is not in our guns. It is in the quality—the quality of our people’s lives and in the men and women that we produce.
This goal can be ours. We have the resources; we have the knowledge. But tonight we must seek the courage.
Because tonight the contest is the same that we have faced at every turning point in history.
It is not between liberals and conservatives, it is not between party and party, or platform and platform. It is between courage and timidity. It is between those who have vision and those who see what can be, and those who want only to maintain the status quo. It is between those who welcome the future and those who turn away from its promises.
This is the true cause of freedom. The man who is hungry, who cannot find work or educate his children, who is bowed by want—that man is not fully free.”
After his reelection in 1964 Johnson began detailing his plans for his great society during the commencement address at Howard University on June 4, 1965 where he said:
“The voting rights bill will be the latest, and among the most important, in a long series of victories. But this victory—as Winston Churchill said of another triumph for freedom—"is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
That beginning is freedom; and the barriers to that freedom are tumbling down. Freedom is the right to share, share fully and equally, in American society—to vote, to hold a job, to enter a public place, to go to school. It is the right to be treated in every part of our national life as a person equal in dignity and promise to all others.
But freedom is not enough. You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: Now you are free to go where you want, and do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please.
You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, "you are free to compete with all the others," and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.
Thus it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates.
This is the next and the more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity. We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result.
For the task is to give 20 million Negroes the same chance as every other American to learn and grow, to work and share in society, to develop their abilities—physical, mental and spiritual, and to pursue their individual happiness.
To this end equal opportunity is essential, but not enough, not enough. Men and women of all races are born with the same range of abilities. But ability is not just the product of birth. Ability is stretched or stunted by the family that you live with, and the neighborhood you live in—by the school you go to and the poverty or the richness of your surroundings. It is the product of a hundred unseen forces playing upon the little infant, the child, and finally the man.”
In this speech Johnson provided the birth certificate for affirmative action and laws pertaining to “diversity” where the central government would guarantee not just the rights of equality, but the results of equality. This is program that has failed for the past 47 years and has created much mischief in all aspects of lives, but mainly education and hiring. The progressives were changing the City of God into the City of Man where rights and equality no longer came from Nature’s God, but from the government.
On January 13, 1965 Lyndon Johnson, in a special message to Congress laid out his plans for Full Educational Responsibility:
“To the Congress of the United States:
In 1787, the Continental Congress declared in the Northwest Ordinance: "schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged."
America is strong and prosperous and free because for one hundred and seventy-eight years we have honored that commitment. In the United States today:
--One-quarter of all Americans are in the nation's classrooms.
--High school attendance has grown 19-fold since the turn of the century--6 times as fast as the population.
--College enrollment has advanced 80-fold. Americans today support a fourth of the world's institutions of higher learning and a third of its professors and college students.
In the life of the individual, education is always an unfinished task.
And in the life of this nation, the advancement of education is a continuing challenge.
There is a darker side to education in America:
--One student out of every three now in the fifth grade will drop out before finishing high school--if the present rate continues.
--Almost a million young people will continue to quit school each year--if our schools fail to stimulate their desire to learn.
--Over one hundred thousand of our brightest high school graduates each year will not go to college--and many others will leave college--if the opportunity for higher education is not expanded.
The cost of this neglect runs high--both for the youth and the nation.
--Unemployment of young people with an eighth grade education or less is four times the national average.
--Jobs filled by high school graduates rose by 40% in the last ten years. Jobs for those with less schooling decreased by nearly 10%.
We can measure the cost in even starker terms. We now spend about $450 a year per child in our public schools. But we spend $1,800 a year to keep a delinquent youth in a detention home, $2,500 a year for a family on relief, $3,500 a year for a criminal in state prison.
The growing numbers of young people reaching school age demand that we move swiftly even to stand still.
--Attendance in elementary and secondary schools will increase by 4 million in the next five years. 400,000 new classrooms will be needed to meet this growth. But almost 1/2 million of the nation's existing classrooms are already more than 30 years old.
--The post-World War II boom in babies has now reached college age. And by 1970, our colleges must be prepared to add 50% more enrollment to their presently overcrowded facilities.
In the past, Congress has supported an increasing commitment to education in America. Last year, I signed historic measures passed by the Eighty-eighth Congress to provide:
--facilities badly needed by universities, colleges and community colleges;
--major new resources for vocational training;
--more loans and fellowships for students enrolled in higher education;
--enlarged and improved training for physicians, dentists and nurses.
I propose that the Eighty-ninth Congress join me in extending the commitment still further. I propose that we declare a national goal of Full Educational Opportunity.
Every child must be encouraged to get as much education as he has the ability to take.
We want this not only for his sake--but for the nation's sake.”
In 47 years since the enactment of numerous laws, regulations, and taxes by the federal government to provide this so-called Full Educational Opportunity test scores have dropped, graduation rates in the inner cities have declined, the cost of K-12 and college has more than tripled and we are bombarded with a constant barrage of more money from federal, state, and local governments for education. And all of this at the federal level without a warrant in the Constitution for doing so.
On February 8, 1965 in a special message to Congress gave his remarks on Conservation and Restoration of Natural Beauty. In his address Johnson laid out a program for spending millions of federal dollars on conservation and beautification projects for cities, highways, and rural America:
“THE CITIES Thomas Jefferson wrote that communities "should be planned with an eye to the effect made upon the human spirit by being continually surrounded with a maximum of beauty."
We have often sadly neglected this advice in the modern American city. Yet this is where most of our people live. It is where the character of our young is formed. It is where American civilization will be increasingly concentrated in years to come.
Such a challenge will not be met with a few more parks or playgrounds. It requires attention to the architecture of building, the structure of our roads, preservation of historical buildings and monuments, careful planning of new suburbs. A concern for the enhancement of beauty must infuse every aspect of the growth and development of metropolitan areas. It must be a principal responsibility of local government, supported by active and concerned citizens.
Federal assistance can be a valuable stimulus and help to such local efforts.
I have recommended a community extension program which will bring the resources of the university to focus on problems of the community just as they have long been concerned with our rural areas. Among other things, this program will help provide training and technical assistance to aid in making our communities more attractive and vital. In addition, under the Housing Act of 1964, grants will be made to States for training of local governmental employees needed for community development. I am recommending a 1965 supplemental appropriation to implement this program.
We now have two programs which can be of special help in creating areas of recreation and beauty for our metropolitan area population: the Open Space Land Program, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
I have already proposed full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and directed the Secretary of the Interior to give priority attention to serving the needs of our growing urban population.
The primary purpose of the Open Space Program has been to help acquire and assure open spaces in urban areas. I propose a series of new matching grants for improving the natural beauty of urban open space.
The Open Space Program should be adequately financed, and broadened by permitting grants to be made to help city governments acquire and clear areas to create small parks, squares, pedestrian malls and playgrounds.
In addition I will request authority in this program for a matching program to cities for landscaping, installation of outdoor lights and benches, creating attractive cityscapes along roads and in business areas, and for other beautification purposes.
Our city parks have not, in many cases, realized their full potential as sources of pleasure and play. I recommend on a matching basis a series of federal demonstration projects in city parks to use the best thought and action to show how the appearance of these parks can better serve the people of our towns and metropolitan areas.
All of these programs should be operated on the same matching formula to avoid unnecessary competition among programs and increase the possibility of cooperative effort. I will propose such a standard formula.
In a future message on the cities I will recommend other changes in our housing programs designed to strengthen the sense of community of which natural beauty is an important component.
In almost every part of the country citizens are rallying to save landmarks of beauty and history. The government must also do its share to assist these local efforts which have an important national purpose. We will encourage and support the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the United States, chartered by Congress in 1949- I shall propose legislation to authorize supplementary grants to help local authorities acquire, develop and manage private properties for such purposes.”
Programs that were eventually instituted under this proposal were the Community Action Program (community organizing), Model Cities Project, and Urban and Suburban Planning. One of the first cities to fall under the Model Cities Project was Detroit. After 47 years and spending billions of taxpayer dollars Detroit is in worse shape that it was in 1965. In the words of once presidential candidate Herman Caine, “how’s that working out for you.”
Those who believed in and supported the Great Society believed that they could bring the City of God down to earth and we could run it by centralized government manned by trained experts and masterminds. In the ensuing years Johnson’s Great Society has not changed very much with the exception of planning miles of Bluebonnet wildflowers along the Texas highways. Our cities are worse off, our K-12 education system is broken, and we are living with regulations such as the type of light bulb we can but, the toilet we can uses, and different blends of gasoline that all function as tax increases on we the people.
After spending trillions of dollars on Great Society programs and hiring millions of federal, state and local civil servant bureaucrats and masterminds, who will be with us for a long time to come, the Great Society is an abject failure.
Now the progressives, under the leadership of Barack Obama, are disdain to use the Great Society. Now they have coined a new term for the same old failed government policies and it’s called “The Fair Society.” Rather than propose new programs they are doubling down on the old failed ones with the additional caveat of promoting class warfare.