On November 22nd, 1963, the world was forever changed by the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The New Frontier with its goals of exploring the “uncharted areas of science and space,” solving the “unsolved problems of peace and war,’ conquering the “unconquered problems of ignorance and prejudice” and providing answers for the “unanswered questions of poverty” was soon to be the stuff of legend, not unlike the subject of JFK’s favorite Broadway musical, Camelot. A mythical time and place inhabited by knights in white shining satin armor. A world where love reigned supreme. Then, as a nation mourned, perhaps as much for itself as it’s fallen president, the seemingly impossible happened. An unlikely hero in the guise of our new sheriff rode into town. Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson, a tall political drink of whitewater from Texas if there ever was one took over the reins of governance and to everyone’s surprise, laid out an ambitious and expansive, presidential agenda based on economic and social equality he called the Great Society.

At its core, the Great Society was an acknowledgement of our wealth, abundance and prosperity, and a challenge for us to use our wisdom, imagination, initiative and indignation to advance the quality of American civilization. LBJ declared a war on poverty and inequality. We would fight in the cities, where  we needed only unleash the imagination and innovative forces hidden within the cities to make them great. We would fight in the countryside and make America strong, free and beautiful by protecting nature, the food we ate, the water we drank and the air we breathed. We would fight for our future by making every classroom a place where every child could enrich their minds and enlarge their thoughts and talents. For then and only then, would we be a great society.

LBJ promised a new era of cooperation, “a creative federalism, between the National Capital and the leaders of local communities” and he asked us all to join in the battle to build ‘a richer life of mind and body” culminating in a new society “where the demands of morality, and the needs of the spirit, can be realized in the life of the Nation.” He delivered.

LBJ’s federal legislation, programs and presidential accomplishments included:

Food Stamp Act of 1964

Economic Opportunity Act, and Work Study 1964

 

Revenue Act of 1964

Civil Rights Acts of 1965 and 1968

Voting Rights Act of 1965

Housing and Urban Development Act of 1965

Social Security Amendments of 1965.

Medicare and Medicaid 1965

Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act 1965

Elementary and Secondary Education Act

Higher Education Act, and Head Start 1965

Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965

National Endowment for the Arts 1965

Appointed Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court 1967

Apollo 8 (First Manned Flight to the Moon) 1968

Gun Control Act of 1968

Public Broadcasting Act 1968

Congress would go on to pass 206 of LBJ’s Great Society initiatives.

Today, we have a president with one “major” legislative accomplishment to his “credit,” the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act 2017 which is in essence a tax giveaway to the wealthiest Americans and an exacerbation of an already out of control corporate welfare state. Our cities are not prosperous. Our countryside is not clean. Our children are not educated. LBJ left office in 1969, 50 years ago. What have we done?

Next week, Vietnam.

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