John F. Kennedy and the Politics of Expectation • With his New Frontier program, Kennedy promised to “get America movingagain”through vigorous governmental activism at home and abroad.
Kennedy campaigned on the issues of civil rights legislation, health care for the elderly, aid to education, urban renewal, expanded military and space programs, and containment of communism abroad. • Poised to become the youngest man ever elected to the presidency and the nation’s first Catholic chief executive, Kennedy practiced what became known as the “new politics,” an approach that emphasized youthful charisma, style, and personality more than issues and platforms.
A series of four televised debates between Kennedy and Nixon showed how important television was becoming to political life; voters who listened to the 1960 presidential debates on the radio concluded that Nixon had won, and those who watched it on TV felt that Kennedy had won. • Kennedy won only the narrowest of electoral victories, receiving 49.7 percent of the popular vote to Nixon’s 49.5 percent; a shift of a few thousand votes in key states would have reversed the outcome.
The Kennedy Administration • A host of trusted advisors and academics – “the Best and the brightest” – flocked to Washington to join the New Frontier. Not everyone was enchanted though, and the new administration got into hot water.
Fidel Castro overthrew Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959; Cuban relations with Washington deteriorated after Castro nationalized American-owned banks and industries and the United States declared an embargo on Cuban exports. • Isolated by the United States, Cuba turned to the Soviet Union for economic and military support. • In early 1961, Kennedy attempted to foment an anti-Castro uprising; the CIA-trained invaders were crushed by Castro’s troops after landing at Cuba’s Bay of Pigs on April 17.
Kennedy went before the American people and took full responsibility.
The Peace Corps, the Agency for International Development, and the Alliance for Progress provided food and other aid to Third World countries, bringing them into the American orbit and away from Communist influence.
Funding for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and its Mercury program won support; on May 5 1961, Alan Shepard became the first American in space, and, in 1962, John Glenn manned the first U.S. Space mission to orbit the earth.
Kennedy could not mobilize public or congressional support for his New Frontier agenda; he managed to push through legislation raising the minimum wage and expanding Social Security benefits, but a conservative coalition of southern Democrats and western and midwestern Republicans effectively stalled most liberal initiatives.
After Kennedy’s assassination, the Tax Reduction Act (the Kennedy-Johnson tax cut, 1964) marked a milestone in the use of fiscal policy to encourage economic growth.
New Tactics for the Civil Rights Movement • One of the most notable failures of the Kennedy administration was its reluctance to act on civil rights. • After the Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-in, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) helped to organize the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in order to facilitate sit-ins by blacks demanding an end to segregation.
The Congress of Racial Equality organized freedom rides on bus lines in the South to call attention to segregation on public transportation; the activists were attacked by white mobs. • Attorney General Robert Kennedy sent federal marshals to Alabama to restore order; most southern communities quietly acceded to the Interstate Commerce Commission’s prohibition of segregated interstate vehicles and facilities.
When thousands of black demonstrators, organized by Martin Luther King Jr. marched to picket Birmingham, Alabama’s department stores, television cameras captured the severe methods used against them by Bull Connors. • President Kennedy responded to the incident on June 11, 1963, when he went on television to promise major legislation banning discrimination in public accommodations and empowering the Justice Department to enforce desegregation. • Black leaders hailed Kennedy’s speech as the “Second Emancipation Proclamation,” yet on the evening of the address,Medgar Evers, the president of the Mississippi chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was shot and killed.
To rouse the conscience of the nation and to marshal support for Kennedy’s bill, civil rights leaders launched a massive civil rights march on Washington in 1963, which culminated in the “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr. • King’s eloquence and the sight of blacks and whites marching together did more than anything else to make the civil rights movement acceptable to white Americans; it also marked the highpoint of the civil rights movement and confirmed King’s position as the leading speaker for the black cause.
Southern Senators continued to block the civil rights legislation, and violence by white extremists shocked the nation when the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Al. killed four black Sunday school students.
Kennedy Cold Warrior • A resolute cold warrior, Kennedy proposed a new policy of flexible response measures designed to deter direct attacks by the Soviet Union, which resulted in the defense budget reaching its highest level as a percentage of total federal expenditures in the Cold War era and greatly expanding the military-industrial complex.
U.S.-Soviet relations further deteriorated when the Soviets built the Berlin Wall in order to stop the exodus of East Germans; the Berlin Wall remained a symbol of the Cold War until 1989. • The Cuban missile crisis was the climactic confrontation of the Cold War, which occurred in October 1962, when American reconnaissance planes flying over Cuba photographed Soviet-built bases for ICBMs, which could reach U.S. targets as far as 2,200 miles away.
In a televised address, Kennedy confronted the Soviet Union and announced that the United States would impose a “quarantineon all offensive military equipment” intended for Cuba. • After a week of tense negotiations, both Kennedy and Khrushchev made concessions: the United States would not invade Cuba, and the Soviets would dismantle the missile bases. After the Cuban missile crisis Kennedy softened his Cold War rhetoric and began to strive for peaceful coexistence; in 1963 the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union agreed to stop testing nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, in space, and underwater; underground testing would continue.
A new Washington-Moscow telecommunications “hot line” was established so that leaders could contact each other quickly during potential crises. • Despite efforts at peaceful coexistence, the preoccupation with the Soviet military threat to American security remained a cornerstone of U.S. policy; the Cold War, and the escalating arms race that accompanied it, would continue for another twenty-five years.
The Kennedy Assassination • On November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas, President Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald; Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as president. • Kennedy’s youthful image, the trauma of his assassination, and the sense that Americans had been robbed of a promising leader contributed to a powerful mystique that continues today. • This romantic aura overshadows Kennedy’s mixed record of accomplishments; he exercised leadership in foreign affairs, but some remain critical of his belligerent stance toward the Soviet Union and lack of attention to domestic issues
Lyndon B. Johnson and the Great Society The Momentum for Civil Rights
Johnson won the 1964 election in a landslide and used his energy and genius for compromise to bring to fruition many of • Kennedy’s stalled programs as well as many of his own. Those legislative accomplishments—Johnson’s“Great Society”—fulfilled and in many cases surpassed the New Deal liberal agenda of the 1930s.
On assuming the presidency, Lyndon Johnson promptly pushed the passage of civil rights to appeal to a broad national audience and to achieve an impressive legislative accomplishment, which he hoped would place his mark on the presidency. • The Civil Rights Act passed in June 1964; its keystone, Title VII, outlawed discrimination in employment on the basis of race, religion, national origin, or sex.
The Civil Rights Act forced desegregation of public facilities throughout the South, yet obstacles to black voting remained. • To meet this challenge, civil rights activists mounted a major civil rights campaign in Mississippi known as “Freedom Summer,”which established freedom schools, conducted a voter registration drive, and organized the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
The reaction of white southerners to Freedom Summer was swift and violent; fifteen civil rights workers were murdered, and only 1,200 black voters were registered. • To protest these murders, in March, 1965, King and other civil rights activists staged a march from Selma to Montgomery; the marchers were attacked by mounted state troopers with tear gas and clubs, all of which was shown on national television that night.
Calling the episode “an American tragedy,” President Johnson redoubled his efforts to persuade Congress to pass the pending voting-rights legislation. • On August 6, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which suspended the literacy tests and other measures most southern states used to prevent blacks from registering to vote.
The Twenty-fourth Amendment’s outlawing of the federal poll tax, combined with the Voting Rights Act, allowed millions of blacks to register to vote for the first time. • In 1960 in the South only 20 percent of blacks of voting age had been registered to vote; by 1964 the figure had risen to 39 percent, and by 1971 it was 62 percent.
More than a quarter of a million Americans, including 50,000 whites, gathered on the Mall in the nation's capital on August 28, 1963, to pressure the government to support African Americans' civil rights. Martin Luther King Jr. mesmerized the crowd with his "I have a dream"speech.
When Johnson beat out Republican senator Barry Goldwater for the presidency in 1964, he achieved one of the largest margins in history: 61.1 percent of the popular vote. • Johnson used this mandate not only to promote the civil rights agenda but also to bring to fruition what he called “The Great Society.”
Wherever he acted, Johnson pursued an ambitious goal of putting “an end to poverty in our time”; the War on Poverty” expanded long-established social insurance programs, welfare programs (like Aid to Families with Dependent Children and Food Stamps), and public works programs. • The Office of Economic Opportunity, established by the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, created programs such as Head Start, the Job Corps, Upward Bound, Volunteers in Service to America, and the Community Action Program.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 authorized $1 billion in federal funds to benefit impoverished children; the Higher Education Act provided the first federal scholarships for college students. • Federal health insurance legislation was enacted; the result was Medicare for the elderly and Medicaid for the poor.
The creation of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1965 supported artists and historians in their efforts to understand and interpret the nation’s cultural and historical heritage. • Another aspect of public welfare addressed by the Great Society was the environment; Johnson pressed for expansion of the national park system, improvement of the nation’s air and water, and increased land-use planning.
At the insistence of his wife, Lady Bird, President Johnson promoted the Highway Beautification Act of 1965. • Liberal Democrats brought about significant changes in immigration policy with the passage of the Immigration Act of 1965, which abandoned the quota system of the 1920s.
By the end of 1965, the Johnson administration had compiled the most impressive legislative record of liberal reforms since the New Deal; it had put issues of poverty, justice, and access at the center of national political life, and it expanded the federal government’s role in protecting citizens’ welfare. • By the end of the decade, many of its programs were under attack; limits that confronted it were the political necessity of bowing to pressure from various interest groups and limited funding for its programs.
The results of the War on Poverty were that the poor were better off in an absolute sense, but they remained far behind the middle class in a relative sense. • Democratic support for further governmental activism was hampered by a growing conservative backlash against the expansion of civil rights and social welfare programs. • After 1965, the Vietnam War siphoned funding away from domestic programs; in 1966 the government spent $22 billion on the war and only $1.2 billion on the War on Poverty. As Martin Luther King Jr. put it, the Great Society was “shot down on the battlefields of Vietnam.”
America in Vietnam: From Truman to Kennedy Into the Quagmire, 1945–1968
America in Vietnam: From Truman to Kennedy • Beginning in the 1940s, the United States became interested in supporting an anti Communist government in Vietnam. U.S. policymakers feared that the loss of any pro-Western government would prompt a chain reaction of losses in the region, termed the “domino effect.”
President Kennedy increased American involvement in the region, but after his assassination, top U.S. advisors argued that a full-scale deployment was needed in order to prevent the defeat of the South Vietnamese. President Johnson moved toward the Americanization of the war with Operation Rolling Thunder, a protracted bombing campaign that failed to incapacitate the North Vietnamese.
Vietnam was once a part of a French colony but was occupied by Japan during World • War II; after the Japanese surrendered in 1945, Ho Chi Minh and the Vietminh proclaimed Vietnam an independent nation, which began an eight-year war the Vietnamese called the French War of resistance. • Ho called on President Truman to support the struggle for Vietnamese independence, • but Truman ignored his pleas and instead offered covert financial support to the French.
Truman’s reasons for supporting the French were concerns that newly independent countries might align with Communists; maintaining good relations with France, whose support was crucial to the success of the new alliance: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); and the strategic roles Indochina was seen to play in reindustrializing Japan.
In 1950, Soviet and Chinese leaders recognized Ho Chi Minh’s republic in Vietnam; in turn, the United States recognized the French-installed government of Bao Dai. • Truman and Eisenhower provided military support to the French in Vietnam; Eisenhower argued that aid was necessary in order to prevent non-Communist governments from collapsing in a domino effect. • The 1954 Geneva accords partitioned Vietnam temporarily at the seventeenth parallel and committed France to withdraw its forces from the area north of that line and provided that voters in the two sectors would choose a unified government within two years.
To prevent a Communist victory in Vietnam’s election, Eisenhower saw to it that a pro-American government took power in South Vietnam under the leadership of Ngo Dinh Diem. • Realizing that the popular Ho Chi Minh would easily win in both the North and South, Diem called off the reunification elections that had been scheduled for 1956, a move the United States supported.
After France removed itself from the region in 1956, America replaced it as the dominant foreign power in the region. • Though Vietnam was too small a country to upset the international balance of power, Eisenhower and subsequent U.S. presidents viewed Vietnam as a part of the Cold War struggle to contain the Communist threat to the free world.
Between 1955 and 1961 the Eisenhower administration sent Diem an average of $200 million a year in aid and stationed approximately 675 American military advisors there. • In 1960, North Vietnam organized opponents in South Vietnam into the National Liberation Front (NLF); Kennedy increased the number of American military advisors, but sent no line troops, and also sent economic development specialists.