Guns or Butter: The Presidency of Lyndon Johnson

Irving Bernstein, Author Oxford University Press, USA $45 (656p) ISBN 978-0-19-506312-7
Bernstein (Promises Kept: John F. Kennedy's New Frontier) takes readers on a tour of the Johnson presidency, emphasizing the merit of LBJ's domestic policies and the consummate political skill he brought to enacting them. He shows Johnson deftly assuaging the nation after the trauma of JFK's assassination in 1963 and setting about enacting Kennedy's legislation and his own Great Society programs. We see how he overcame suspicions about his own civil rights record and shepherded the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. With his landslide election in 1964, Johnson went ahead with the butter of his legislation: the war on poverty, medicare, education, the Voting Rights Act, immigration reform and the environmental policy. With his domestic programs well underway, he turned to Vietnam. Although the war was a Kennedy legacy, Johnson had begun to put his own stamp on it in 1964 when U.S. ships were attacked off the Vietnam coast and Johnson rammed through Congress the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. Despite an intensification of bombing and an increase in the number of U.S. troops, he began to lose the Vietnam war. Then he lost credibility after the Tet Offensive in 1968. Bernstein shows what went on behind the scenes and gives wonderful sketches of the participants. For example, on a ``Hawk Scale,'' Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield of Montana rates a -6, while Secretary of State Dean Rusk ``was a wavering +6.'' Bernstein has written an in-depth and perceptive history of the administration of one of America's most able, colorful and tragically flawed presidents. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1996
Release date: 01/01/1996
Genre: Nonfiction
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