A behind-the-scenes study of Lyndon Baines Johnson’s presidency.
“He was a crass political operator and liberal idealist,” Politico contributing editor Zeitz (Lincoln's Boys: John Hay, John Nicolay, and the War for Lincoln's Image, 2014, etc.) says about his complex subject, “an unbridled opportunist and steadfast champion of the poor, a southern temporizer and civil rights trailblazer, a progressive hero and bête noire of the antiwar Left.” Beginning with John F. Kennedy’s final days and ending with Richard Nixon’s rise to power, the author embarks on a fine-grained exploration of LBJ’s Great Society. More specifically, Zeitz zeroes in on the many players in LBJ’s administration, including, among many others, Jack Valenti, Horace Busby, Bill Moyers, Walter Heller, Richard Goodwin, and Abe Fortas. The author walks readers through the difficulties Johnson encountered passing the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1966, his notorious “War on Poverty,” the implementation of life-changing initiatives such as Medicare, and the relentless situation in Vietnam. Though it’s easy to remember Johnson as the president who led the war in Vietnam, Zeitz reminds us of many other elements of his presidency, especially his efforts to integrate and end race disputes. In what is an extremely detailed account of a highly controversial presidency—one that attempted to address and resolve issues that are, unfortunately, still around today—the author offers his readers a red flag: we must wake up to the fact that many of today’s significant issues are not new, and we must look to the lessons of the past to continue in the footsteps of all those who have tried so hard to build a better society. “Even as this book goes to print,” writes the author, “the enduring value of the Great Society is no longer an academic question or political talking point but instead a real-world concern.” Refreshingly, the only real change today is that women have come to occupy increasingly influential roles in the administrations that followed.
An enlightening look at the political foundations of 20th-century hope.