As the nation awaits the vote by the House of Representatives today on Health Care Reform, Lyndon Johnson may be somewhere smiling. If passed and signed into law, health care legislation may arguably be the most important piece of legislation passed since 1965. That year saw the passage of some of the most sweeping legislation this country had seen since the New Deal. The New Deal saw the federal government take an active role in the economy; the Great Society saw the federal government take an active role in the welfare of its people.
…I am concerned about the whole man. I am concerned about what the people, using their government as an instrument and a tool, can do toward building the whole man, which will mean a better society and a better world.
…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 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
Lyndon Johnson simply wanted to make the United States a better place. He thought that the United States with all of its riches could and should take care of its own. A New Dealer at heart, Johnson wanted the government to do what the people could not.
For his whole life, Lyndon Johnson knew nothing but poverty. A former school teacher, Johnson’s life experiences drew him to helping the poor fro rural electrification to education. As a congressman in the 1930s, the New Deal permeated every form of government in the United States. For 20 plus years, Johnson served the people of Texas as a congressman and then Senator. He knew Congress inside and out and was a politician’s politician – he knew how to make a deal and what buttons to push.
After Kennedy’s Assassination, Johnson was elected President in his own right and took it upon himself to pass the second largest amount legislation in the 20th century behind the New Deal and declared a War on Poverty.
What All Was in The Great Society…
Johnson gets a lot of flak for how he handled Vietnam and rightfully so. However, he does not get enough credit for his own domestic agenda. The Great Society swept across the cultural landscape in hopes of creating a better society where all children had opportunity. Regardless of race of economics, Johnson wanted every child to live the American dream.
No president passed more Civil Rights legislation than Johnson. Johnson’s legislation marked the end of segregation and the beginning of a new era for all of America’s citizens. The Great Society also included many other programs such as VISTA – Volunteers in Service to America. This was Johnson’s Peace Corps at home. Head Start, Food Stamps, and Upward Bound were all aimed to help feed and give opportunity where there was not before. Johnson passed more environmental legislation than any other president. Before George W. Bush called himself the education President, Johnson passed sweeping reforms with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (which is still in effect today), Bilingual Education, and Higher Education reform. He also started PBS and the National Endowment for the Humanities along with many cultural centers across the nation.
The Social Security Act of 1965…
Government run health care has been taking place since 1965. Public health care was not a new idea. It is an idea over 100 years in the making. From the Progressive Era to Harry Truman, health care was something some saw as a right, while others saw as a need, and some saw as no need. What Medicare and Medicaid have done is to take care of our nation’s elderly (age 65 and over) for over 45 years.
The Legacy – Three Points of View
1. The Great Society created a welfare state which the US didn’t recoil from until welfare was reshaped in the mid 1990s. It has cost trillions of dollars to maintain over forty-five years. It created a society dependent on the government to take care of its people. If you are a senior citizen, there remains no incentive to get your own health insurance.
2. The Great Society righted the wrongs of injustice, segregation, and inequality. It has fulfilled the mission of the ethos of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.”
3. The Great Society is a mixed bag. Some programs have been highly successful and worthy programs while others have been failures. Programs on civil rights, the environment, education, and culture have raised our country to new levels while food stamps and welfare programs gave many no incentive to get off of them. In fact, many saw the incentive was to stay on them. Welfare reform in the 1990s changed that for the better. However, it was the Great Society which gave the current President everything he needed to lift himself up.
The question now remains: what will this new Health Care law do over time? Will it be remembered fondly in 40 years? Or will it be remembered at all?