The Fierce Urgency Of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, And The Battle For The Great Society

Paperback | December 22, 2015

byJulian E. Zelizer

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A majestic, big-picture account of the Great Society and the forces that shaped it
 
Between November 1962, when he became president, and November 1966, when his party was routed in the midterm elections, Lyndon Johnson spearheaded the most transformative agenda in American politics since the New Deal. In just three years, he drove the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, the War on Poverty, and Medicare and Medicaid, among a raft of other progressive initiatives. Dubbed the Great Society, it was an agenda whose ambition and achievement have never been matched, and it remains largely intact fifty years on. In The Fierce Urgency of Now, Julian E. Zelizer takes the full measure of the story in all its epic sweep. He provides unprecedented insight into the battles that raged inside Congress and the administration, and examines the often bitterly divided forces at play in the country—from religious groups and civil rights activists to labor unions and the media—during the tumultuous years when our political sights were set on the ideal of a Great Society.

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A majestic, big-picture account of the Great Society and the forces that shaped it   Between November 1962, when he became president, and November 1966, when his party was routed in the midterm elections, Lyndon Johnson spearheaded the most transformative agenda in American politics since the New Deal. In just three years, he drove the...

Julian E. Zelizer is the Malcolm Stevenson Forbes, Class of 1941, Professor of History and Public Affairs at Princeton University and a fellow at New America. He is the author of numerous books on U.S. political history, including Jimmy Carter, Arsenal of Democracy, and Governing America.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:384 pages, 8.3 × 5.4 × 0.8 inPublished:December 22, 2015Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0143128019

ISBN - 13:9780143128014

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Lyndon Johnson hated being vice president. He was at heart a legislator who had been relegated to the sidelines of legislation. For almost three years he had watched John F. Kennedy fumble most of the big domestic issues of the day, either because the president was unwilling to take on the toughest challenges of the moment, or because he was too afraid of the political fallout, or because he knew he lacked the ability to win the legislative battles he faced on Capitol Hill. At the time of Kennedy’s death, most of his major domestic initiatives—including civil rights, a tax cut, federal assistance for education, and hospital insurance for the elderly—were stalled in Congress or had not yet been introduced there. Kennedy and his advisers had made a conscious decision to keep Lyndon Johnson out of their inner circle, despite his extensive experience on Capitol Hill, for fear that his well-known thirst for power would cause problems for the president.At 4:00 a.m. on November 23, 1963, the day after Kennedy’s assassination gave him the presidency, Johnson reclined on his bed, his top advisers arrayed around him for an impromptu meeting. He mapped out a grand vision for his team. The new president told Jack Valenti, Bill Moyers, and Cliff Carter, with “relish and resolve,” according to Valenti, “I’m going to get Kennedy’s tax cut out of the Senate Finance Committee, and we’re going to get this economy humming again. Then I’m going to pass Kennedy’s civil rights bill, which has been hung up too long in the Congress. And I’m going to pass it without changing a single comma or a word. After that we’ll pass legislation that allows everyone anywhere in this country to vote, with all the barriers down. And that’s not all. We’re going to get a law that says every boy and girl in this country, no matter how poor, or the color of their skin, or the region they come from, is going to be able to get all the education they can take by loan, scholarship, or grant, right from the federal government.” After pausing to catch his breath, almost as if exhausted by his own ambitions, the president concluded, “And I aim to pass Harry Truman’s medical insurance bill that got nowhere before.”Jack Valenti’s recollection of that moment perfectly portrays the Lyndon Johnson who had suddenly become the nation’s leader. He was a creature of Congress, a legislator by character and long experience, who was determined to push through a transformative body of laws that would constitute nothing less than a second New Deal.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus:A sort-of-liberal president faces an intransigent, obstructionist Congress: We mean Lyndon Johnson, of course, and the class of 1966. Zelizer, a lucid writer, doesn't need to cherry-pick to line up parallels with today…A smart, provocative study.”Publishers Weekly: “Zelizer paints Johnson as a flawed—opportunistic, domineering, ambitious—yet impressive leader, who took advantage of a perfect storm of legislative and governmental conditions to push through an unprecedented number of projects and achievements; a president who gambled greatly while his party and a liberal majority were in ascendancy and won accordingly…His focus on the conflict between conservative and liberal factions is even more timely in today’s climate. Zelizer writes with an expert’s deep understanding of the subject.”