There are articles these days celebrating 50 years of “the great society” as President Lyndon Johnson coined the term with the help of speechwriter Richard N. Goodwin. Yes, it was a big idea with a big plan that has calibrated America’s expectations. What is interesting is to contrast President Kennedy’s big idea with Johnson’s.
“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961
Kennedy wanted Americans to engage their government as participants. He wanted citizens to do as he did in serving his nation to the best of their ability. A government by the people means that government is an instrument controlled by people to address a nation’s needs that requires collaboration, consensus, and sharing to accomplish. It doesn’t mean that government is the enemy.
President Johnson wanted to address the big problems first such as ending poverty. If the nation ends poverty, it puts everyone on equal footing to do the best they can to lead a sustainable life. If we optimize liberty for all, than we have done our best to ensure a good life for all by supporting individuals and by relieving them from shackles of hate, intolerance, and discrimination.
“It rests on abundance and liberty for all. But that is just the beginning.”
Yet, as Johnson said, that is just a start. Today, we have not eliminated poverty and that is because the leadership among the political parties and wealthy and powerful Americans have not accomplished what is in their capacity to do. America has squandered the opportunity by engaging in wars that we cannot afford. We have taken our eye from invention and innovation that expand the economy and ensure upward mobile opportunity for all.
Today, this writer will take a walk along Lady Bird Johnson Park and over to LBJ’s memorial to reflect on their ideas and ideals.
Read a terrific story in the Washington Post today.
“The Great Society at 50
LBJ’s unprecedented and ambitious domestic vision changed the nation.
Half a century later, it continues to define politics and power in America.”