Grossman, Jordan M

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  • Publication
    Lyndon Johnson's Unfinished Legacy: The 1964 State of the Union Address and the "War on Poverty"
    (2007-01-02) Grossman, Jordan M
    Despite Lyndon Johnson’s impressive record as a congressman and senator, the ruthless legislative effectiveness and extraordinary expansion of domestic activity that would later characterize his time in the Oval Office did not appear inevitable, or even likely, to most of the country in late November 1963. With an assortment of stalled legislation remaining from his predecessor and a host of Kennedy advisors kept on at the White House to maintain the appearance of stability, it appeared at the outset that the Johnson administration would simply be an encore performance of Camelot, with the star being portrayed by a miscast understudy. Yet, in the seven weeks between the Dallas tragedy and the president’s annual message to Congress, Johnson’s bold and personal embrace of an evocative issue, considerable political skills, and dogged lobbying efforts primed the dramatic opening act of a new presidency and Johnson’s personal legacy: the declaration of an “unconditional war on poverty” in the 1964 State of the Union address. This paper demonstrates that Johnson had mutually reinforcing goals for the speech which introduced his wide-ranging moral crusade to eradicate poverty: asserting his administration as independent from Kennedy’s while channeling residual support for the slain president into political momentum for his own agenda. It concludes with a discussion of why Johnson’s “War on Poverty” legacy endures, yet remains incomplete.