How do Kennedy's 'New Frontier' and Johnson's 'Great Society' compare?

Background Information

As the Civil Rights campaigns grew, Presidents could no longer sit by and ignore the state of American society. In particular, John F. Kennedy (JFK) and his Vice-President and successor, Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ), proposed two similar plans to tackle issues of increasing public concern.

JFK and ‘The New Frontier’

Kennedy made a speech about his plans when elected President, and said that:

We stand today on the edge of a new frontier – the frontier of the 1960s, a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats. The new frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises.

Kennedy’s new domestic policy was called The New Frontier. His aim was to eliminate poverty, inequality, and severe need for all Americans, including Black African Americans.

JFK wanted to introduce changes to society and the economy. He proposed an ambitious system of health insurance called Medicare. This was meant to be medical help for the elderly. He also championed a Civil Rights Bill; however, none of these were passed. Whilst in office, JFK faced significant opposition from a strong Republican party. The Republicans have always resisted government ‘interference’ / overreach.

JFK also intended to introduce an education law to give more money to schools. He increased benefits, raised the minimum wage and established training schemes for the unemployed. JFK had charisma and public support, but he did not have a good relationship with Congress, and his ideas were often rejected.

How do Kennedy's 'New Frontier' and Johnson's 'Great Society' compare?, figure 1

At his inauguration speech, in which he introduced his idea of the New Frontier, JFK famously said “ask not what your country can do for you… ask what you can do for your country”.

Successes of the New Frontier

  1. Civil Rights: The CEEO only helped those already in the government and did nothing to find jobs for the millions of unemployed African-Americans. He also attempted to get MLK to all off his march on Washington as he believed it might make some politicians in Congress resist civil rights even more.
  2. The economy: In some cases the new equipment meant fewer workers were needed. By 1963, 4.5 million people were unemployed – only 1 million fewer than 1960. Also, unemployment was twice as high for African – Americans.
  3. Healthcare: The U.S. Congress defeated all of JFK’s proposals for Medicare.
  4. Decreasing poverty: The minimum wage was only helpful to those in work, and the loans to improve housing were only useful if the person could afford the loan repayments.
  5. Education: JFK’s efforts to provide funding for schools was denied. Congress was dominated by Southern politicians and they refused support his plans after they had clashed with him over Civil Rights.

How do Kennedy's 'New Frontier' and Johnson's 'Great Society' compare?, figure 2

The donkey is the unofficial symbol of the Democratic Party. JFK was a Democrat, but one reason he faced so much difficulty in getting ‘New Frontier’ laws passed was because he struggled to ‘reach across the aisle’ to Republicans.

Who were JFK and LBJ?

John F. Kennedy was the 35th President of the United States, and Lyndon B. Johnson was the 36th. They were both Democratic Presidents, elected off the backs of campaigns which promised to address social change.

JFK was elected in 1961, and took over from the Republican, Dwight Eisenhower. JFK served as President for two years, until he was assassinated in 1963.

How do Kennedy's 'New Frontier' and Johnson's 'Great Society' compare?, figure 1

JFK speaking to Congress.

As JFK’s Vice-President, LBJ took over after the assassination in 1963, and was then re-elected as President in 1965. In many ways, LBJ was expected to carry on JFK’s work, especially soon after the assassination.

How do Kennedy's 'New Frontier' and Johnson's 'Great Society' compare?, figure 2

This photo shows Johnson being sworn in as President on board Air Force One - the official aeroplane of the President of the United States. This happened only hours after JFK was shot. He is standing next to Jackie Kennedy, JFK’s widow.

Failures of the Great Society

  1. Civil Rights: In 1964 __and __1965,African-Americans in Harlem, New York and Watts, Los Angeles rioted after African-American men were shot by police officers. The riots disheartened Johnson. Johnson would be confronted by more urban unrest in 1968, when massive riots broke out in response to Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.
  2. The economy__: __Programs were costly to run and increased national debt. Social Security and Medicare took the largest part of the budget.
  3. Healthcare: Of all the programmes, Medicare and Medicaid were the most expensive to run. Republicans hated these plans, and continued to try and derail them. This continues today.
  4. Decreasing poverty: By 1968, unemployment was on the increase and there was widespread rioting in the poorer areas of some cities. One of the main legacies of the “war on poverty” was an increased cynicism about what the government can achieve.

Define the following terms:

Your answer should include: JFK / LBJ / law / access / healthcare
John F Kennedy
Your answer should include: President / 1961 / assassinated / New Frontier
Lyndon B. Johnson
Your answer should include: JFK / Vice President / President / 1963 / Great Society
The New Frontier
Your answer should include: JFK / domestic / policy / poverty / inequality
The Great Society
Your answer should include: LBJ / domestic / policy / continue / New Frontier / end / poverty