LBJ's Neglected Legacy: How Lyndon Johnson Reshaped Domestic Policy and Government

By Clement, Bell Julian | The Journal of Southern History, November 2016 | Go to article overview

LBJ's Neglected Legacy: How Lyndon Johnson Reshaped Domestic Policy and Government


Clement, Bell Julian, The Journal of Southern History


LBJ's Neglected Legacy: How Lyndon Johnson Reshaped Domestic Policy and Government. Edited by Robert H. Wilson, Norman J. Glickman, and Laurence E. Lynn Jr. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015. Pp. xii, 481. Paper, $29.95, ISBN 978-1-4773-0253-8; cloth, $85.00, ISBN 978-14773-0054-1.)

This volume collects thirteen articles from social scientists, policy academics, and historians examining Great Society civil rights, education, social welfare, and urban policy and the mechanics of the Lyndon B. Johnson administration's budgeting and evaluation practices. The chapters are bookended by introductory and concluding essays from editors Robert H. Wilson, Norman J. Glickman, and Laurence E. Lynn Jr., who aim to redirect attention to the impacts of Johnson administration domestic policy, which, contributor Robert Dallek argues, have been overshadowed by sour memories of the war in Vietnam.

While there has been no dearth of attention to Great Society critique in the years since Johnson left office (and the pile of books has only grown during the current cycle of fiftieth anniversaries), here the editors promise a specific, potentially fertile inquiry. Moving beyond evaluation of the programmatic successes and shortcomings of Johnson-era initiatives, they undertake to consider the extent to which governance frameworks created during the Johnson years have shaped subsequent national domestic policy choices.

In this worthwhile effort, LBJ's Neglected Legacy: How Lyndon Johnson Reshaped Domestic Policy and Government falls short. Much of each chapter is taken up in reviewing policy approaches before the Johnson administration and in rehearsing the particulars of Great Society policy breakthroughs--all well-trodden ground. Contributors consider factors in Great Society programs' initial success and performance over the longer term, but insufficient attention is paid to the promised inquiry. Did Johnson succeed in making lasting changes in the methods of national policy making and, if so, what have been the consequences for subsequent policy changes?

The essays do offer some insights into the factors behind the contemporary successes of some Great Society initiatives. Two chapters from Gary Orfield, on civil rights and education policy, suggest that an important factor in success was the Johnson administration's willingness and ability to offer holistic solutions to complex social problems--to hit the problem of the underprivileged with civil rights and education and antipoverty programming. Jorge Chapa's essay on voting rights highlights the importance of energetic executive commitment to the goal and to aggressive enforcement through the initial willingness of the Justice Department to back the promise of the Voting Rights Act with litigation. A lucid chapter from Elizabeth Rose suggests the importance of grassroots investment in the Head Start program, a savvy political choice made by the Office of Economic Opportunity to ensure the program's longevity. Glickman and Wilson's chapter on Johnson-era urban policy is a reminder of the importance of the administration's willingness to simply spend money on and create new government agencies (including the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1965 and the Department of Transportation in 1966) around a policy goal.

The collection also provides useful reflections on factors influencing the extent of the impact of Great Society policies since the end of the Johnson presidency. Succeeding chief executives' inclination to pay attention to a policy area looms large. …

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