Lyndon Bains Johnson was born on August 27, 1908 in a small town near Johnson City, Texas. He went to school at Southwest Texas State Teachers Collage where he learned compassion for the poverty of others when he taught students of Mexican descent (Kearns 2). He graduated in 1930. Four years later he married a woman named Claudia Taylor and together they had two children, Lynda and Lucie. Johnson became President at the age of 55 when President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed. When he took oath, he had twenty six years of political experience and he was ready to take on the job of the President of the United States of America. It was at this time that he introduced to the American people the concept of a Great Society (Evans 4). The Great Society was a government sponsored set of programs that had and still has a distinct effect on our lives today. In the spring of 1964, he had begun to use the phrase “great society” as a way to describe his goals. In 40 years, he wanted to rebuild the entire urban United States. He wanted to prevent an ugly America which was full of polluted air, water and food, disappearing fields and forests, and crowded recreational areas (Wicker 1). President Johnson wanted to start a society that would soon become a Great Society. He had a vision of a society that was problem free and he spent most of his life dedicating himself to this goal. His agenda was to aid education, attack on disease, start a medical care program fight poverty, control and prevent crime, and the push for peoples right to vote (Fitch 1). He wanted America to be a society that was better than any other (Cayton 778). One of the many problems that Johnson wanted to fix was poverty. Kennedy had begun to start a poverty program, but since he was unable to continue it, Johnson had to finish it. The Economic Opportunity Act was passed in the summer of 1964. This act created Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), which sent volunteers to help people in poor communities. It also set up something called Community Action Program. This was to give the poor a voice in determining housing, health, and education policies in their own neighborhoods (Cayton 778).
Even though the war on poverty was one of his biggest challenges, the Civil Rights Act was also one of his biggest issues. The Great Society had its greatest successes in its first years. There were two Acts that helped the Great Society. One of them was the Voting Rights of 1965. This ensured the right to vote for all (Cayton 779). Congress passed the Voting Rights Act to assure minority registration and voting. The other was the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It outlawed racial discrimination in public accommodations. Despite the beginning of new antipoverty and anti-discrimination programs, distress and disturbance in black ghettos troubled the Nation. President Johnson steadily put forth his influence against segregation and on behalf of law and order, but there was no early solution (Evans 24). Another act called the Immigration Act eliminated the amount that had discriminated against all immigrants from areas outside northern and western Europe.
Another area Johnson wanted to address was Medicare. Before Johnson, Harry Truman came up with a plan that was a medical assistance plan, but it had never been passed into a law. In 1965, Johnson orchestrated the passage of the Medicare amendment to the Social Security Act. Medicare provided hospital coverage to persons over the age 65 and allowed them to participate in a program that shared the cost of other medical expenses. Medicare coverage for the people with disabilities was implemented in 1973. Johnson did not want older Americans to be denied the use of medicine. He also did not want them to have to spend all the money they had in the bank to pay for their medical bills if they became ill (Cayton 780).
There was another program called Medicaid. It was like Medicare, except that it was for people of all ages who could not afford their own private health insurance. This demonstrated the governments commitment to provide help to those Americans who needed it (Cayton 779). Other great Society measures were designed to help fight President Johnsons War on Poverty. Food Stamps program gave coupons to poor people to purchase food. Project Head Start prepared low-income preschoolers to succeed in grade school. Disadvantaged young people developed work skills in the Job Corps (Kearns 189).
Johnson was a firm believer in about Federal Aid for education. He was always looking out for the best of children and did not want them to go without education. He wanted to provide education for every child (Wicker 3). He was successful in his effort to provide funds for elementary and secondary education.Kennedy wanted a bill to aid public education but it did not pass it because Catholics insisted on equal support for private or Catholic schools. Johnson settled an action to provide aid to states based on the number of children from low-income homes. That money could then be given away to all schools including public, private, and parochial schools (Cayton 779). The nations educational system should find new ways to stimulate the love of learning and the capacity for creation (Wicker 2).
There were two Acts that aided Education in the year 1965. One Act was the Elementary and Secondary Education Act which federal aid given to education. It gave more than one billion dollars to help schools purchase materials and start special programs. The second Act was the Higher Education Act. This Act was federal money that was given to universities that created scholarships and low-interest loans for students (McFadden 2).
He was also looking out for the poor, so that they would not suffer or go hungry. Poverty must not be a barrier to learning and learning must offer an escape from poverty (Wicker 2). While Johnson was in office, congress passed a measure to give rent supplements to the poor. As a result, it created a new Department of Housing and Urban Development. The so-called Model Cities Act of 1966 approved $1.2 billion to improve housing, recreation areas, health , and education in economically depressed areas of cities across the country (Fitch 52). This also provided substantial aid to colleges and universities. The Great Society also reformed the restrictive immigration policy that had been in place since 1924. Johnson followed what Kennedy did not finish. Johnson accepted the idea that had been supported by Kennedy that carefully controlled budget shortage. To gain conservative support for Kennedys tax-cut bill, he agreed to cut spending. Once that was done, the measure passed, and it worked just as planned. As the tax cut went into effect, the Gross National Product (GNP) rose 7.1 percent in 1964, 8.1 percent in 1965, and 9.5 percent in 1966. The shortage, which many people feared would grow, shrank, while the revival of well-being generated new tax revenues. Unemployment fell, and inflation remained steady (Cayton 780).
Not everyone like the idea of a Great Society. In the beginning, the Great Society seemed enormously successful. Polls were taken and they said that Johnson was more popular than Kennedy had been. With everything else in this world, criticism began to surface. When all the demands were not met, failure set in. Middle-class American complained that too many of their tax dollars were being spent on the poor people. Other cities argued that Great Society programs put too much authority in the hands of the federal government, which could not possibly respond well to the particular needs of local communities across the nation (Cayton 781).
Others complained that the Great Society did not fundamentally change the distribution of wealth and power in a capitalist economy. Some critics charged that the program sought simply to maintain the middle class and to provide the poor with middle-class values, but not middle- class incomes. Antipoverty measures were criticized for not allotting enough money to carry out their stated goals. His inability to keep that conflict under control undermined and finally ended the Great Society (Cayton 779).
In conclusion, the Great Society was a huge success, but with it came controversy. People essentially felt the government had to much involvement in peoples lives. Although many people disliked the general idea of government assistance. The poor did not go hungry, the sick were cared for, the children received better education, and there was less crime in our nation. This was all because of Lyndon Bains Johnson. Johnsons ideas and the guide to his ambitions was an America in which everyone shared in the progress and responsibilities of the country. Furthermore, he believed that no individual should be deprived of the essentials od a decent life. The Great Society was not just a government sponsored set of programs, it is the legacy that Lyndon Bains Johnson has left us and it has made an everlasting impression on the American people.