The Best of Intentions

Irwin Unger, Author
Irwin Unger, Author Doubleday Books $27.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-385-46833-6
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Highly relevant to today's debate over Newt Gingrich's ""Contract with America,"" Unger's incisive reassessment of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs helps explain why the middle class lost faith in the campaign to rescue the poor. A Pulitzer- winning historian at New York University, Unger believes that President Kennedy's New Frontier masked a weak commitment to domestic reform, and he considers JFK's record barren compared with Johnson's pivotal legislation creating Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, the war on poverty and other programs. But black-militant excesses, misspending, pork-barrel projects and a perceived lack of results alienated the middle class, in Unger's analysis. He portrays Nixon as a bigot who considered the Great Society a payoff to blacks and Hispanics but who nevertheless was unable to dismantle it. In Unger's estimation, the Great Society's antipoverty drive largely failed as LBJ envisioned it--as a means of creating opportunity--but he emphasizes that insufficient funding of education, antipoverty and other programs may have been responsible for its poor results. (Apr.)
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