GREAT SOCIETY

During the 1960s, there was a time where America was “great”: President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s Great Society. He passed legislation that has continued to affect the lives of Americans today, most notably Medicare and Medicaid. Medicare and Medicaid have always been around in my lifetime, along with the other policy passed at the same time. These policies, such as Head Start programs, Federal student loans, Medicare and Medicaid, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities have been around for as long as I can remember, and are a normal, albeit mostly unnoticed, part of my life.

In our history class recently, we learned about President Johnson’s Great Society — the time during which these programs were created. The goal was to improve the quality of life for Americans — especially Americans that had been historically underserved by their government. Many citizens reaped huge benefits from this time, receiving health care, job training, funding for the arts, and school preparation for children. It was a great time for the American government, which was sticking close to its founding ideals. The government was truly providing for its citizens the protection of their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness through these programs — which is the goal of government. It was also a time of great expansion of government involvement in its citizens’ lives, which met mixed reactions.

While the government expanded into Americans’ lives during the course of Johnson’s presidency, it soon overextended itself, and with involvement in the Vietnam War, the American government could no longer afford the Great Society programs. Furthermore, not all Americans benefitted equally from these changes — while poor whites might have been enjoying a higher quality of life, poor African Americans in the inner cities saw riots, violence, and little improvement to their lives.

However, it should be noted that LBJ’s presidency did include major improvements for non-white Americans. President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was a landmark act barring discrimination based on both race and sex in employment. He also passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, banned literacy tests and other measures to prevent African Americans from voting. These two acts were major victories of the Civil Rights movement and had immense effects, such as increasing the number of elected people of color by a huge percentage. LBJ also passed the 1965 Immigration Act, which eliminated the pro-white-European quotas and opened immigration to the world.

It has been quite interesting to learn about the Great Society and the accomplishments of the Johnson presidency as so many of these programs are under threat. Stricter quotas on immigration loom; the Supreme Court recently has taken down some protections of the Voting Rights Act; Medicare and Medicaid would be severely crippled by the proposed Trump Care; Federal funding for the Arts is shrinking. While every measure of LBJ’s presidency was not a success, many of his programs and policy were successful in improving the lives of Americans, and have remained successful for 50 years. As President Trump aims to repeal so many of these acts one by one, I wonder, what will we do without such programs? What will Americans who rely on Medicare do? What about the art that will never be created without funding? What about the votes that won’t be voted and the voices that won’t be heard without voting protection laws? Furthermore, the political reality of today is about as different as one can get from the experience that LBJ had politically — no one could pass as much policy today as he did then.  While I am sure that no current president could match the sheer amount of legislation passed as the Great Society, can one president single handedly repeal this legislation? Is such a feat even possible today?

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