The Fraying Consensus
IN the immediate aftermath of the 1964 election, a majority of American voters had appeared ready to repudiate the ideology of the Goldwater wing of the Republican party, and to proceed to the second stage of a liberal revolution: to move government beyond what had been achieved by the New Deal, toward genuine equal opportunity for blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities by conducting a major assault on poverty in behalf of a more equitable, color-blind system of economic distribution.
The civil rights movement, under the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr., picked up momentum, riveting public attention throughout the first half of 1965 as television news broadcasts showed Alabama state troopers beating nonviolent demonstrators who sought the right to vote, culminating in the "Bloody Sunday" police clubbing of blacks at the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma. Lyndon Johnson, backed by the strongest Democratic majorities in Congress in twenty-five years, won approval of the most substantial expansion of the federal government for the poor and the black in the nation's history. The 1964 election was widely read as a decisive repudiation by the voting majority of the conservative opposition to civil rights—and, to a considerable degree, as a repudiation of the whole conservative agenda.
Throughout 1965, the public responded with overwhelming support for the Democratic party and for Johnson's Great Society. Pollster Lou Harris found that voters approved of every major element of the Johnson program by overwhelming margins, including voting rights for blacks, federal aid to education, and medical care for the aged. The lowest ap