On This Day

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Yoichi R. Okamoto, White House Press Office

On This Day: Lyndon Johnson Presents Plans for “Great Society” in State of the Union

January 04, 2012 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Jan. 4, 1965, in his State of the Union address, President Lyndon B. Johnson outlined the goals of his “Great Society,” a series of domestic programs designed to advance civil rights and aid those in poverty.

Johnson Introduces “Great Society”

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President Johnson had first introduced his dreams for a Great Society in a May 22, 1964 speech: “The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time.”

In his first State of the Union address since being re-elected in a landslide, Johnson explained to Great Society to a national viewing audience. “He requested ‘doubling the war against poverty this year’ and called for new emphasis on area redevelopment, further efforts at retraining unskilled workers, an improvement in the unemployment compensation system and an extension of the minimum wage floor to two million workers now unprotected by it," described The New York Times. “He called for new, improved or bigger programs in attacking physical and mental disease, urban blight, water and air pollution, and crime and delinquency.”

The Great Society Programs

The Great Society legislation included “War on Poverty” programs, many created under the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, which established jobs and youth volunteer programs as well as Head Start, which provided pre-school education for poor children. Johnson’s social welfare legislation also consisted of the formation of Medicare and Medicaid, which offered health care services for citizens over 65 and low-income citizens, respectively.

On the subject of civil rights, the Great Society included the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbidding job discrimination, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 protecting minorities’ right to vote, and the Voting Rights Act of 1968 prohibiting housing discrimination.

The Great Society also addressed a wide range of societal needs, such as funding for the arts, environmental protection and urban development, though it is the social welfare and civil rights bills that it is most remembered for and judged upon.

Johnson’s hopes for a Great Society were undermined by the war in Vietnam, which forced restrictions on domestic spending and destroyed his popularity. He chose not to run for re-election, and many of his Great Society programs were cut of de-funded by subsequent Republican presidents. Parts of the Great Society did have a lasting impact, however, particularly the civil rights legislation of the creation of Medicare and Medicaid.
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