I. Liberalism at High Tide
A. The Unrealized Promise of Kennedy's New Frontier
John F. Kennedy's record in Congress was unremarkable, but with a powerful political
machine, his family's fortune, and a handsome and dynamic appearance, Kennedy won
the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960.
Kennedy defeated his Republican opponent, Vice President Richard M. Nixon, in an
excruciatingly close election.
Although his administration projected energy, idealism, and glamour, Kennedy was a
cautious, pragmatic politician.
At his inauguration, Kennedy declared that a “new generation” was assuming leadership,
calling on Americans to cast off complacency and self-indulgence and serve the common
Though Kennedy's idealism inspired many, he failed to redeem these campaign promises
to expand the welfare state.
Moved by the desperate conditions he saw when he campaigned in Appalachia in 1960,
Kennedy helped push poverty on to the national agenda.
Kennedy won support for a $2 billion urban renewal program, legislation that offered
incentives to businesses to locate in depressed areas, and established a training program
for the unemployed.
Kennedy promised to make economic growth a key objective; economic advisers argued
that infusing money into the economy by reducing taxes would increase demand, boost
production, and decrease unemployment.
Congress passed Kennedy's tax cut bill in 1964, ushering in the greatest economic boom
since World War II, but some liberal critics of the tax cut pointed out that it favored the
wealthy and that economic growth alone would not eliminate poverty.
10. Kennedy's economic efforts were in their infancy when he fell victim to an assassin's
bullet on November 22, 1963; the murder of the president touched Americans as had no
other event since the end of World War II.
11. President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed a commission headed by Chief Justice Earl
Warren, which concluded in September 1964 that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone,
assassinated Kennedy, and that Jack Ruby, who killed Oswald two days later, had also
12. 1Debate continued over how to assess Kennedy's domestic record, which had been
unremarkable in his first two years, but had suggested an important shift in 1963 with his
proposals on taxes, civil rights, and poverty.
B. Johnson Fulfills the Kennedy Promise
Lyndon B. Johnson assumed the presidency with a wealth of political experience and
fierce ambition, but his coarse wit, extreme vanity, and Texas accent repulsed those who
preferred the sophisticated Kennedy style.
Johnson excelled behind the scenes, where he could entice or threaten legislators into
support of his objectives.