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Cover image for Building the Great Society : inside Lyndon Johnson's White House
Title:
Building the Great Society : inside Lyndon Johnson's White House
ISBN:
9780525428787
Physical Description:
xviii, 378 pages ; 24 cm
Contents:
Put the ball through the hoop -- Participation in prosperity -- Second day -- Revolutionary activity -- Frontlash -- A frustrating paradox -- Completing the Fair Deal -- Get 'em! Get the last ones! -- The fabulous Eighty-ninth -- Guns and butter -- Backlash -- You aren't a man in your own right -- The thirty-first of March -- Conclusion.
Summary:
LBJ's towering political skills and his ambitious slate of liberal legislation are the stuff of legend: the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, and environmental reform. But what happened after the bills passed? One man could not and did not go it alone. Joshua Zeitz reanimates the creative and contentious atmosphere inside Johnson's White House as a talented and energetic group of advisers made LBJ's vision a reality. They desegregated public and private institutions throughout one third of the United States; built Medicare and Medicaid from the ground up in one year; launched federal funding for public education; provided food support for millions of poor children and adults; and launched public television and radio, all in the space of five years, even as Vietnam strained the administration's credibility and budget. Bill Moyers, Jack Valenti, Joe Califano, Harry McPherson and the other staff members who comprised LBJ's inner circle were men as pragmatic and ambitious as Johnson, equally skilled in the art of accumulating power or throwing a sharp elbow. Building the Great Society is the story of how one of the most competent White House staffs in American history - serving one of the most complicated presidents ever to occupy the Oval Office - fundamentally changed everyday life for millions of citizens and forged a legacy of compassionate and interventionist government.
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Summary

Summary

Lyndon B. Johnson's (LBJ) towering political skills and his ambitious slate of liberal legislation are the stuff of legend in America: the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, and environmental reform. But what happened after the bills passed? One man could not and did not go it alone.


Author Notes

Joshua Zeitz has taught American history and politics at Cambridge University, Harvard University, and Princeton University. He is the author of several books on American political and social history and has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, New Republic , The Atlantic , Dissent, and American Heritage . He lives with his wife and two daughters in Hoboken, New Jersey.


Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this probing study of domestic policy in the Johnson Administration, historian and journalist Zeitz (Lincoln's Boys). argues that battles over civil rights and anti-poverty measures were as fierce as those over the Vietnam War. Zeitz examines the crafting and implementation of L.B.J.'s Great Society agenda: the landmark Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, as well as Medicare and Medicaid, which together profoundly changed American life and the role of government; food stamps, Head Start, and federal school-aid measures; and the controversial "community action" programs that funded citizens' groups as they organized, protested, and sued local governments, which felt to beleaguered Democratic mayors like a war on them rather than a War on Poverty. Zeitz's lively narrative foregrounds the personalities and power plays of Johnson's White House staff-genteel press secretary Bill Moyers emerges as both a liberal idealist and a "ruthless" bureaucratic operator-under the tyrannical L.B.J., infamous for his castration taunts and compulsory nude pool parties. Zeitz also explores the sociology motivating the policy-makers; they were convinced that the poor could be better helped by social and cultural opportunity and integration than by redistributing money, a conviction that eventually foundered on economic slowdown and white backlash. Zeitz's lucid account yields engrossing insights into one of America's most hopeful, productive, and tragic political eras. Agent: Andrew Wylie, Wylie Agency. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Booklist Review

The ongoing publication of Robert Caro's monumental, multivolume biography of LBJ has prompted a flurry of other books focusing on Johnson's accomplishments in office, rather than on his role in the fiasco of Vietnam. This volume looks at Johnson's closest advisors Joseph Califano, Jack Valenti, and Bill Moyers and the important roles they played in implementing Johnson's far-reaching domestic programs, including civil rights, the War on Poverty, and the Great Society. Zeitz argues convincingly that Johnson's team, all New Deal liberals committed to social justice, quickly became a smoothly running and effective machine, accomplishing a great amount in a relatively short time: the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and Medicare all bore the stamp of LBJ, with his advisors doing much of the heavy lifting in the background. The newly formed Office of Economic Opportunity with its director, Sargent Shriver had its successes, too, including the Head Start program. Zeitz also details the unfortunate denouement, with some programs the victims of inevitable backlash and others buried under the skyrocketing costs of Vietnam. A timely reconsideration of the Johnson years.--Levine, Mark Copyright 2017 Booklist


New York Review of Books Review

HOW TO BREAK UP WITH YOUR PHONE By Catherine Price. (Ten Speed, paper, $12.99.) We're all addicted. That's not big news. But are there practical ways to unplug and, as Price puts it, "take back your life"? She has a plan, a 30-day plan, everything happens for a reason By Kate Bowler. (Random House, $26.) Bowler, a professor at Duke Divinity School, had a perspective-altering experience at 35 when she learned she had late-stage colon cancer. This is a memoir about her disillusionment with the "prosperity gospel," that American belief that to good people come only good things. She doesn't think this anymore, being wagner By Simon Callow. (Vintage, paper, $16.95.) Author of a monumental biography of Orson Welles, Callow now turns to an equally operatic subject: Richard Wagner, his life and times, building the great society By Joshua Zeitz. (Viking, $30.) The inner workings of the White House, with its war room intensity, never ceases to capture readers' attention. Zeitz delves here into Lyndon B. Johnson's administration, capturing both the atmosphere and the advisers (Bill Moyers and Jack Valenti, among others) who made Johnson's vision a reality, a literary tour de france By Robert Darnton. (Oxford, $34.95.) Darnton continues his decades-long exploration of how the publishing industry worked in France on the eve of the revolution. Using a trove of documents from a Swiss publisher that smuggled illegal works over the border, he is able to piece together a complex network that put subversive books in the hands of French men and women. "It is an intimate, often embarrassing thing to read over someone else's shoulder. (Anyone looking for a quick, effective mortification need only check the marginalia in his college paperbacks.) But certain books are wide and deep enough to deserve docents: George Eliot's 'Middlemarch' is, and Rebecca Mead, a staff writer at The New Yorker, whose my life in middlemarch I have been plunging through, is a sympathetic guide. 'Middlemarch' is both a boulder and a lodestar, a hulking, lengthy exploration of life's little delights and its disappointments - nominally as experienced by provincial burghers, but really, by us all. Mead weaves in bits of Eliot's own biography, appreciations of subsequent fans like Virginia Woolf and her own life story. In so doing, she brings what can seem remote in Eliot into the present, and touches on her profound achievement: the way she enters into but also remains above her characters, opening up for examination their innocent folly, their tragic hubris, their gentle goodness and their slippery selfregard." - MATTHEW SCHNEIER, STYLES REPORTER, ON WHAT HE'S READING.


Kirkus Review

A behind-the-scenes study of Lyndon Baines Johnson's presidency."He was a crass political operator and liberal idealist," Politico contributing editor Zeitz (Lincoln's Boys: John Hay, John Nicolay, and the War for Lincoln's Image, 2014, etc.) says about his complex subject, "an unbridled opportunist and steadfast champion of the poor, a southern temporizer and civil rights trailblazer, a progressive hero and bte noire of the antiwar Left." Beginning with John F. Kennedy's final days and ending with Richard Nixon's rise to power, the author embarks on a fine-grained exploration of LBJ's Great Society. More specifically, Zeitz zeroes in on the many players in LBJ's administration, including, among many others, Jack Valenti, Horace Busby, Bill Moyers, Walter Heller, Richard Goodwin, and Abe Fortas. The author walks readers through the difficulties Johnson encountered passing the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1966, his notorious "War on Poverty," the implementation of life-changing initiatives such as Medicare, and the relentless situation in Vietnam. Though it's easy to remember Johnson as the president who led the war in Vietnam, Zeitz reminds us of many other elements of his presidency, especially his efforts to integrate and end race disputes. In what is an extremely detailed account of a highly controversial presidencyone that attempted to address and resolve issues that are, unfortunately, still around todaythe author offers his readers a red flag: we must wake up to the fact that many of today's significant issues are not new, and we must look to the lessons of the past to continue in the footsteps of all those who have tried so hard to build a better society. "Even as this book goes to print," writes the author, "the enduring value of the Great Society is no longer an academic question or political talking point but instead a real-world concern." Refreshingly, the only real change today is that women have come to occupy increasingly influential roles in the administrations that followed.An enlightening look at the political foundations of 20th-century hope. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Library Journal Review

Zeitz (history, politics; Lincoln's Boys) presents accessible, nuanced portraits of the men behind Lyndon B. Johnson's domestic programs; advisors such as Sargent Shriver, Walter Jenkins, Frank Mankiewicz, and Clark Clifford. The author also sheds light on lesser-known advisors such as Horace Busby, Harry McPherson, and White House Press Secretary George Reedy. Although largely a narrative rather than an analytical work, this compendium assesses the War on Poverty and the larger Great Society program as logical continuations of the New Deal. Johnson's policies also involved increasing access to education and health care, establishing civil rights, and maintaining a cleaner environment. Zeitz recognizes that the succeeding Nixon staff often followed up and strengthened Johnson's efforts to reduce institutional racism and modify capitalism through bold policy experiments, to the initial surprise of members of the previous administration. Many initiatives, such as immigration policy reform, did not begin to show results until the next president's term. VERDICT Zeitz effectively demonstrates how Johnson assembled one of history's most productive White House staffs: an amalgam of committed John F. Kennedy holdovers along with new talents from academia, the newspaper world, and think tanks. For all history readers.-Frederick J. Augustyn Jr., Lib. of Congress, Washington, DC © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter 1 Put the Ball Through the Hoop Seated behind his desk in the Oval Office, Lyndon Johnson appeared pensive and subdued when, on the evening of Thursday, November 28, 1963, he delivered brief remarks to the nation. It was 6:15, and LBJ was only in the sixth full day of his presidency. "Tonight, on this Thanksgiving, I come before you to ask your help, to ask your strength, to ask your prayers that God may guard this Republic and guide my every labor," he began. "All of us have lived through 7 days that none of us will ever forget. We are not given the divine wisdom to answer why this has been, but we are given the human duty of determining what is to be, what is to be for America, for the world, for the cause we lead, for all the hopes that live in our hearts." Reading with deliberate care from a prepared text, the president acknowledged what was surely on every American's mind: "A great leader is dead; a great Nation must move on. Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or to lose." The day before, LBJ had delivered his first speech before a joint session of Congress-a solemn and widely acclaimed address in which the new president pledged to pick up the mantle from John F. Kennedy and secure passage of the New Frontier's sweeping but stalled policy agenda, including a major tax cut that Kennedy's advisers believed would stimulate the economy; aid to primary and secondary education; and hospital care for seniors. Dozens of LBJ's former colleagues from Dixie sat in stone-cold silence as Johnson affirmed to stirring applause that "no memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy's memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long. We have talked long enough in this country about equal rights. We have talked for one hundred years or more. It is time now to write the next chapter, and to write it in the books of law." Now, on Thanksgiving, Johnson doubled down, asking his countrymen to join him in prayer "for His divine wisdom in banishing from our land any injustice or intolerance or oppression to any of our fellow Americans whatever their opinion, whatever the color of their skins--for God made all of us, not some of us, in His image. All of us, not just some of us, are His children." For most Americans, Thanksgiving week marked the start of the holiday season. For Lyndon Johnson, it signaled the beginning of an intense, yearlong sprint to prove that he could break the logjam, achieve the New Frontier, and surpass it beyond even the wildest expectations of John Kennedy's supporters. It would be no easy lift. "I think the Congress looks more powerful sitting here than it did when I was there in the Congress," Kennedy remarked roughly a year before his death. For well over two decades, a coalition of conservative southern Democrats and northern Republicans had stymied the expansion of domestic policies first established during the New Deal era. In the Senate, an institution that the journalist William White once dubbed "the South's unending revenge upon the North for Gettysburg," conservatives made frequent use of the filibuster to prevent social welfare and civil rights legislation from coming to a vote, while in the House powerful southerners kept such measures forever bottled up in committee. Now, in a sharp rebuke to Kennedy's promise of dynamic action and national rejuvenation, the conservative coalition had all but ground the government to a halt. Not only did the House and the Senate refuse to take up key New Frontier measures. They also refused to pass eight of twelve routine appropriations bills, thus leaving whole parts of the government unfunded and operating on a continuing resolution that set spending at the previous year's levels. Congressional Quarterly deemed the state of affairs "unprecedented," while Walter Lippmann, the dean of American journalism, bemoaned the "scandal of drift and inefficiency" that had beset Washington. "This Congress has gone further than any other within memory to replace debate and decision by delay and stultification. This is one of those moments when there is reason to wonder whether the congressional system as it now operates is not a grave danger to the Republic." Yet as Harry Truman famously asserted, the buck stopped with the president. A week before Kennedy's assassination, the columnist James Reston noted "a vague feeling of doubt and disappointment about President Kennedy's first term. . . . He has touched the intellect of the country, but not its heart. He has informed but not inspired the nation. He is the most popular figure, but he has been lucky in his competition. . . . [H]is problem is probably not how to get elected but how to govern." Such was the state of affairs when Lyndon Johnson entered the White House. LBJ first came to Washington as a young congressional staff member in the early 1930s before returning to Texas in 1935 to serve as state director of the National Youth Administration (NYA), a marquee New Deal jobs project. Two years later, and against all odds, he won a special election to Congress at age twenty-eight. An ardent supporter of Franklin Roosevelt, Johnson established a more liberal voting record than most southern Democrats with whom he served in the House. Though he consistently opposed legislation to abolish the poll tax and to make lynching a federal crime, he joined northern Democrats in supporting expanded rights for organized labor, greater administrative oversight of business and industry, and funding for public works. Notably, he continued to do so long after most of his southern Democratic colleagues forged an informal alliance with northern Republicans to oppose the Roosevelt administration. On the strength of his New Deal credentials, FDR strongly backed Johnson in a special election to fill an unexpired Senate seat in 1941. LBJ most likely won the primary (in Texas, as throughout the South, the only vote that mattered), but party rivals stole it from him in a brazen display of election-night ballot fraud. Though in the coming years he aligned himself more closely with his state's oil and gas interests, when he ran a second time for the Senate in 1948, Johnson was once again recognized as the liberal option. After achieving a razor-thin primary victory over the conservative former governor Coke Stevenson-this time, it was likely LBJs allies who stole the election-Johnson drifted rightward during his two terms in the Senate, in part out of recognition that Texas was moving strongly in that direction and in part to curry favor with the chamber's powerful southern chairmen, most notably Richard Brevard Russell of Georgia. Johnson delivered his maiden floor speech in opposition to civil rights, turned against former New Deal allies who now stood accused of communist loyalty, and, in his time as Democratic leader after 1953, cooperated closely with the Eisenhower administration. Many of the liberals in his caucus came to despise LBJ, particularly after he neutered their civil rights bill in 1957. They correctly perceived that he wanted to pass a weak bill in order to make his prospective presidential candidacy in 1960 palatable to northern Democrats but unobjectionable to his fellow southerners. On the day that he assumed office, very few people knew what to make of Lyndon Johnson. Was he simply a pragmatist who, deep in his heart, remained an ardent New Dealer? Or was he a southern conservative who would betray John Kennedy's unfinished legacy? If Johnson's belief system was a matter of wide speculation, few observers doubted his keen understanding of Congress. LBJ knew that conservative Democrats, in loose cooperation with Republicans, had willfully manufactured a bottleneck of important legislation to form a bulwark against Kennedy's civil rights bill. Only when liberals capitulated and withdrew the Civil Rights Act would southern Democrats consent to bring Kennedy's tax stimulus to a vote and fund the many government initiatives-including bridges, highways, post offices, and defense projects-that their more liberal and moderate colleagues hoped to deliver to hometown constituents. Johnson knew the playbook because, as a freshman senator, he had helped to write it. As long as conservatives could hold the government hostage, much as they had in 1949, when they successfully fought back Harry Truman's civil rights agenda, they could forestall consideration of Kennedy's New Frontier agenda, including civil rights legislation that lay dying on the Hill. It took LBJ less than a day to spring into action. In a series of phone calls before and after Thanksgiving 1963, the new president highlighted the imperative of using his political capital to clear the logjam; then, and only then, would members of Congress feel at liberty to bring civil rights and other New Frontier measures to a vote. In the meantime, however, he would keep up the pressure. On Saturday, November 30--just over a week after assuming the presidency--LBJ asked the former Treasury secretary Robert Anderson, a Republican and outspoken fiscal conservative, to intervene with Howard Smith, the chairman of the Rules Committee, which had broad authority to prevent legislation from proceeding to the House floor. Johnson reminded Anderson that "this country is not in any condition to take that kind of stuff . . . and that's going to hurt our people. And it's going to hurt the conservatives." Anderson agreed to speak with Smith and to convey the president's willingness to support a seldom-used measure--a discharge petition--to bypass Smith's committee altogether and bring the legislation directly to the full House. Playing the other side just as artfully, Johnson placed a call to Dave McDonald, the president of the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) and a member in good standing of the liberal coalition. "They've got to petition it out," the president instructed. "That means we got to get 219. We'll start at about 150 Democrats; that means we got to get 60, 70 Republicans." The president spoke with the passion of a true believer ("we've been talking about this for 100 years. And they won't give us a hearing on this thing, so we got to do something about it") and implored McDonald to fire up his union's formidable lobbying operation--not only to support the discharge petition in the House, but also to move the tax and appropriations bills through committee. Before and after the Thanksgiving holiday, Johnson repeated these conversations time and again, at once lining up support for a discharge petition in the House while affirming the need to clear the logjam of tax and spending bills before making a final push on civil rights in the Senate. Among those who understood the president's strategy was Senator George Smathers, a conservative Democrat from Florida who ultimately opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 but who represented a faction of the southern caucus that was disinclined to grind all government to a halt indefinitely over civil rights. The "sooner we can get a civil rights bill over with," he told Johnson, "get that part of it ended and out of the way, the better off the South's going to be, and the better off the North's going to be, and the better off everybody's going to be. And they wouldn't hide behind the tax bill--and hide behind a lot of other bills, just on the pretense of being against them when the real fact is they're against the civil rights bill." Without prompting--and without the knowledge that LBJ had been making a similar case to his economic advisers for several days--Smathers suggested that the president make a concerted effort to woo Harry F. Byrd, the deeply conservative chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. If Johnson were willing to indulge Byrd's obsession with fiscal discipline and bring the 1964-1965 federal budget under $100 billion, then the chairman might allow the tax cut to clear through his committee. "Wish you'd feel Byrd out," LBJ agreed, "and give me a pretty good, full report." Unknowingly, George Smathers would help set in motion a chain of events whose consequences would be far reaching. The strategy that Lyndon Johnson developed in the first week of his presidency had a profound but highly calculated effect. The pressure that his supporters placed on Howard Smith--and the chairman's realization that a discharge petition, if successful, would permanently undermine his authority--persuaded the cantankerous Virginian to allow the Civil Rights Act to reach the House floor. Beginning with outreach from Smathers, LBJ simultaneously courted Harry Byrd until the patrician senator effectively agreed to swap budget cuts for a tax stimulus. With major economic legislation now cleared through Congress, the president had paved the way for passage of long-awaited civil rights legislation. Just before the Thanksgiving holiday, some of Johnson's advisers cautioned him that presidents should not spend valuable capital on hopeless causes. "Well," he purportedly replied, "what the hell's the presidency for?" LBJ ultimately brought his budget under $100 billion, pushed Kennedy's tax cut through Congress, and secured passage of the Civil Rights Act-all by late June 1964. He accomplished these measures while also declaring an "unconditional war on poverty" and creating the blueprint for the Great Society--the most ambitious domestic agenda since the New Deal. Though LBJ's early success owed in part to his mastery of legislative strategy, equally fundamental were efforts by advocacy groups-religious and lay alike-on behalf of civil rights and social justice legislation. Above all, Johnson benefited from a deep well of public support in the wake of Kennedy's assassination. The president's approval ratings, which fluctuated between 70 percent and 77 percent throughout the spring, owed at least as much to the country's determination to lock arms with its new leader as to LBJ's policy and political triumphs. Unlike most of his predecessors, LBJ did not enjoy the benefit of a transition period to build the team that would help him, in turn, build his vision. Instead, he had little choice but to improvise on the spot--to pull a trusted friend like Jack Valenti along with him to the White House or entreat old hands from his House and Senate days to join him on a new and unfamiliar journey. These handicaps notwithstanding, in that first year of seemingly unrestrained activity and accomplishment--from the time of Kennedy's death to his own election to the presidency in late 1964--Johnson assembled an ad hoc staff that defied the expectations of even the most cynical Washington hands. They were a "coalition government" of Kennedy and Johnson men--a "strange amalgam of Austin and Boston, of cool, brainy Easterners and shrewd, folksy Texans, of men who had always been fiercely loyal to him and men who had fought and belittled him before the 1960 Los Angeles Democratic convention," according to Charles Roberts, who covered the White House for Newsweek . "It is some kind of tribute to Isaiah and the LBJ Way that the transition went as smoothly as it did." Excerpted from Building the Great Society: Inside Lyndon Johnson's White House All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.


Table of Contents

Prefacep. xi
Introductionp. 1
Chapter 1 Put the Ball Through the Hoopp. 11
Chapter 2 Participation in Prosperityp. 39
Chapter 3 Second Dayp. 58
Chapter 4 Revolutionary Activityp. 76
Chapter 5 Frontlashp. 94
Chapter 6 A Frustrating Paradoxp. 121
Chapter 7 Completing the Fair Dealp. 144
Chapter 8 Get 'Em! Get the Last Ones!p. 164
Chapter 9 The Fabulous Eighty-Ninthp. 184
Chapter 10 Guns and Butterp. 209
Chapter 11 Backlashp. 236
Chapter 12 You Aren't a Man in Your Own Rightp. 265
Chapter 13 The Thirty-first of Marchp. 283
Conclusionp. 306
Acknowledgmentsp. 321
Notesp. 323
Bibliographyp. 353
Indexp. 363
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