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Johnson's Great Society

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Lyndon Johnson was a very interesting person with grandiose ideas and ideals. John Andrew III provides us with great detail about the legislation that President Johnson passed, wanted to pass, and the legislation that did not pass through Congress.

While these details are great Andrew fails to elaborate, and in some cases mention, key issues related to the Vietnam War, the major players of the Civil Rights Movement, the use of the media, and describing Lyndon Johnson as a person. Andrew mentions the Vietnam War only in passing to state the reason for the financial distress of the country.

The Civil Rights Movement is not covered in detail and the only people mentioned are Martin Luther King, Jr. and Andrew Young. Andrew mentions that the majority of Americans in poverty were white, yet the image of the welfare programs was the poor black family. There is no explanation of how that image reached mainstream America. Further, Andrew begins by telling us that Lyndon Johnson was feared because of his abilities to negotiate and make a deal, yet in the subsequent chapters President Johnson is said to be "a lame duck with little power."

There is no detail provided about Johnson's abilities or how he lost his abilities to make a deal.
Andrew creates a vivid picture of Congress during Lyndon Johnson's administration. The reader can sense the tensions, political maneuvering and racial tensions between the members of the House and Senate. However, the reader does not receive the same vivid imagery of President Johnson's political maneuvering.

The description of Lyndon Johnson as a person does not permeate past the introduction. Andrew starts to paint a clear picture of Johnson as a hard working empathetic man who is insecure about himself in comparison with John F. Kennedy, but also a man who is able to pass legislation by reaching across party lines and making a deal. However, when discussing the passing of the legislation associated with the Great Society Andrew credits the successes to the election of 1964 which gave Democrats an overwhelming majority. There is no mention of the negotiating abilities feared by Democrats and Republicans alike. In fact, Andrews goes from describing Johnsons' negotiating ability to calling him "a lame duck with little power" and offers insufficient explanation to justify such a drastic change. To Andrews' credit, he does focus primarily on the legislation and the reasons there succeeded or failed. However, it is impossible to separate the legislation of Johnson's presidency from Johnson as a person and the major events that took place during Johnson's administration.

The Civil Rights Movement and the Black Militant Movement played a great role during Johnson's presidency, even more so than during President Kennedy's administration. Andrews explains in detail how Congress and mainstream America went from viewing the problems facing African-Americans from a matter of civil rights to a race issue. Andrews provide details about the riots in Watts and Detroit and how Congress responded by focusing on punishing rioters rather than dealing with the issues that caused the riots.

However, Andrews provides little detail about the major personalities of the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Militant Movement. Andrews provide more details on the statistics of the riots and the areas affected. While Andrews does depict the pervasive racism in Congress he fails to give the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Militant Movement the attention it warrants when discussing Lyndon Johnson and the legislation of his administration.

Andrews does a great disservice to the Vietnam War as well. While reading the introduction, one gets the sense that Andrews recognizes the impossibility of discussing the Great Society without discussing the Vietnam War and its effects on Americanism and our policies abroad as well as at home. However, Andrews did exactly what he stated was impossible; he discusses the Great Society without providing much detail about the effects of the Vietnam War. Andrews mentions the Vietnam War only in relation to the financial strain it had on America, and therefore made some legislation difficult if not impossible to pass through Congress. He also discusses how the Vietnam War was blamed for taking away funds that should have been used for the War on Poverty.

The Vietnam War had a major effect on not only our country's finances, but it also affected the way Americans viewed themselves and their country. The Vietnam War was in part the reason for the disenchantment of not only African-Americans but whites as well. Andrews missed an opportunity to explore the non-financial implications of the Vietnam War.

Andrews gives the reader a little insight into Lyndon Johnson's discomfort with the media. He tells us that Lyndon Johnson was a very smooth, charismatic and intimidating person yet he turned into an old-fashioned, stiff robot in front of the camera. However, Andrews fails to discuss the role media played in sculpting America's views and therefore sculpting legislation. It is understood that Andrews' main focus is on the legislation of the Great Society, but you cannot deny the implications the media had on the views of politicians, mainstream America, and finally the legislation that is dictated in large part by politicians and mainstream America. Andrews discusses the image of the "other American" which was predominately white and living in rural areas.

This image was soon replaced by the poor African-American families waiting for a government hand-out. Andrews does not answer the obvious question of why is the image of social welfare reform the poor black family when the majority of poor Americans were white. Andrews tells us that white America, primarily in the North, viewed the Civil Rights Movement in an empathetic light. However, they viewed the Black Militant Movement as a threat. Andrews misses a key opportunity to discuss how both movements used the media to further their cause. Also, the media's effect on American's views about the Vietnam War and President Johnson's inability to effectively use the media played a major role in the creation of the Great Society.

John A. Andrews III wrote an excellent book on the statistics of the Great Society programs and the cause and effect of them. The information provided is accurate and supported with great sources. Andrews does not paint a biased picture, in fact, he seems to go above and beyond to provide an impartial and statistic based analysis on the Great Society. This appears to be in response to the extreme positions taken by liberals and conservatives alike. However, the layout of the book coupled with the lack of background information and details can easily confuse the occasional history reader. Andrews gives no definition of what it meant to be a Democrat versus a Southern Democrat during Johnson's administration. The lack of emotional and psychological background combined with an overwhelming abundance of statistics makes Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society a great factual account of a tremendously emotion time in history. You cannot give the facts without adequate explanation of the emotions.


Andrew III, John A. Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society. The American Ways Series.
Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1998.

Craig Cunningham is a published author in the areas of family and criminal law.  In addition to being an attorney, he is also a professor and will educate his clients regarding their case and the law. Clients are able to reach him through several outlets such as, email, cell phone, office line and fax. He will never keep his clients in the dark. With any new developments, he will definitely keep clients informed. For more information please visit at

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