Following a discussion of the balance between program cuts and a possible tax increase in the next budget cycle, President Johnson mentioned a protest that a group of poverty activists from Syracuse, New York had staged at his Texas ranch. Mayor Daley, who a few moments before had urged the president to focus on job creation as the core of the anti-poverty effort, vigorously objected to the idea that the poor should control the community action programs that the War on Poverty had established in many communities. The inclusion in the Economic Opportunity Act of a provision that community action should encourage the "maximum feasible participation" of the poor had produced clashes between activists and many city governments over the purpose and nature of the programs. This conversation excerpt presents a strong statement of one side of this controversy -- a perspective shared by many mayors around the U.S.
In this conversation excerpt, Senator Abraham Ribicoff (a former governor of Connecticut and former secretary of health, education, and welfare under President Kennedy) outlines problems with the Office of Economic Opportunity's organization and operation, its process of policy formation, and its relationship with with other executive agencies and departments. Suggesting that OEO is merely an example of a broader problem, Ribicoff urges the President to undertake a general reorganization of the executive branch.
In this brief excerpt from a call the day after his victory in the 1964 presidential election, Lyndon Johnson outlines his agenda to Pennsylvania Senator Joseph S. Clark. In a moment of particularly sweeping ambition, the president compares his poverty program to the abolition of slavery.
On August 7, 1964, one day before the final House vote on the Economic Opportunity Bill, Lyndon Johnson expressed his underlying discomfort with the anti-poverty legislation as written by his aides and with the form of the War on Poverty that would result. Speaking with Special Assistant Bill Moyers, Johnson contrasted his own initial conception of the anti-poverty program as an extension of New Deal work programs such as the Civil Conservation Corps (CCC) and National Youth Administration (NYA) with its final character as an experiment in federally-sponsored social change. Johnson began the exchange by telling Moyers that "I'm going to re-write your poverty program."
This conversation excerpt demonstrates how President Johnson viewed the War on Poverty as a direct solution to the problems and tensions that had begun to produce rebellions in inner cities across the urban north. After Philadelphia Democratic City Committee Chairman Francis "Frank" Smith recounts the story of a fatal police shooting of an unarmed African American teenager in the city, the President responds by urging Smith to lobby Republicans to support the War on Poverty legislation that would soon be voted on in the House of Representatives.
Note: the clip and transcript include two separate excerpts from the conversation.
Throughout the period leading up to the passage of the Economic Opportunity Act, Lyndon Johnson frequently spoke of the War on Poverty in terms of improving the work habits of the poor and providing them with job and training opportunities. Conservatives were frequent targets of these appeals. This excerpt of a Johnson conversation with Texas Congressman George Mahon offers an example of such an effort to present the War on Poverty in terms of traditional goals and values.
In this conversation excerpt, President Johnson informs Mayor Daley that Chicago will be among the first cities to receive War on Poverty funds. The President's comments demonstrate his focus on the Job Corps as the core of the War on Poverty. In addition, it reflects an assumption by both men that the program will be controlled at the local level by the mayor's office. In practice, a provision in Title II of the Economic Opportunity Act that called for the "maximum feasible participation" of the poor in the War on Poverty's Community Action programs would lead activists to challenge such understandings in cities around the U.S.
President Johnson and Representative Phil Landrum of Georgia (the floor leader for the Economic Opportunity Act in the House of Representatives) discuss the attempt by a group of Catholic congressmen to block the Economic Opportunity Act in the House Education and Labor Committee. The Act would remain blocked unless sections of Title II were re-written to include funding for remedial education programs in Catholic schools. Some congressmen also hoped to use the issue as a bargaining chip to prevent the closure of naval bases in their districts. Johnson indicates his willingness to cut the community action provisions of the legislation (Title II) rather than give in to the congressmen's demands - even though this component of the bill constituted one of its most important elements. Nonetheless, the President clearly indicated in this conversation that his primary interest in the antipoverty legislation lay in the Job Corps camps and training centers of Title I, rather than in the Community Action provisions of Title II. The latter programs, however, would soon define the Economic Opportunity Act in the public mind.
In this excerpt from a conversation with Representative Frank Thompson (D-NJ), President Johnson explained his administration's position about the possible funding of Catholic school programs through the War on Poverty's community action provisions. The issue had exploded into controversy after Representative Hugh Carey (D-NY) had introduced an amendment to the Economic Opportunity Act that would allow such funding. Johnson argued that the problem would be better handled by placing a passage in the committee report that would prohibit any discriminatory use of the funds. He maintained that he and Poverty Director Sargent Shriver would see that parochial schools were treated fairly. Any other approach, he argued, would inflame anti-Catholic sentiment among conservative members of the House. He also recounted a story about how he had once been swimming in the White House pool with evangelist Billy Graham∇ when a Southern Baptist leader called to complain about alleged pro-Catholic bias. The conversation, and the underlying dispute, suggest the continuing tensions over the role of Catholicism in U.S. politics - even after the presidency of John F. Kennedy.
This clipping comes from a long conversation in which President Johnson and Speaker of the House John McCormack discussed the intransigence of the House Rules Committee and the controversy surrounding possible federal funding of parochial schools under the economic opportunity bill (which provided the legislative basis for the War on Poverty). The latter issue had emerged when Representative Hugh L. Carey of New York and other northeastern Catholic Democrats offered an amendment that would have authorized direct federal support for parochial schools under the bill's community action titles. The National Education Association, the largest of the two major teachers' unions, bitterly opposed any form of federal aid to religious schools. McCormack, a Massachusetts Democrat and a Catholic, had led an attempt to secure federal aid for parochial schools during the House fight over President Kennedy’s 1961 education bill. In doing so, he had been an ally of the same Catholic congressmen who had inserted the religious issue into the War on Poverty debate in 1964. As Speaker, however, he chose not to challenge the President on such an important piece of legislation. Earlier in the conversation, Johnson had reacted angrily to an attempt by Massachusetts Democrat (and Catholic) Tip O’Neill's to trade support of the poverty bill for a guarantee that the Boston Navy Yard would remain open. In this clip, the President returned to the subject of the navy yards and touched more sympathetically on the pressing economic issue of automation and unemployment in the industrial northeast.
With a vote imminent in the House of Representatives on the signature legislation of the War on Poverty, Special Assistant to the President for Congressional Affairs (and Johnson's 1964 campaign director) Larry O'Brien∇ revealed his secret to legislative success: "if we can just keep the boys that should be sober, sober, and the ones that should be drinking, drinking, that's our job for the afternoon."
The House had just passed the Southeast Asia Resolution (also known as the Tonkin∇ Gulf Resolution) by 414-0.
Johnson had spent much of the day on the phone with Sargent Shriver, the Peace Corps Director. Despite Shriver's clear resistance, Johnson named him the director of the War on Poverty effort earlier today. In tone and substance, this final call of the day differed remarkably from the three earlier discussions. After having dispensed with the question of whether Shriver would accept the position as the new coordinator of a domestic War on Poverty, Johnson delved into several policy areas and even touched on the issue of Shriver being a potential running mate for the fall. Expectedly, they explored the poverty issue, but the President also reached out to him on matters involving Panama, Latin America, and Vietnam, implying at one point that Americans had been involved in the assassination of South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem∇.
In this call to Walker Stone, editor in chief of Scripps-Howard newspapers, Johnson was still bubbling over positive coverage of German Chancellor Ludwig Erhard's visit to the LBJ ranch in December and was inspired by a letter received from J. Frank Dobie, a renowned Texas folklorist, University of Texas faculty member, and guest at the ranch during the visit of Chancellor Erhard. According to his secretaries, President Johnson would carry Dobie's letter "around in his pocket" for another week. Dobie's letter praised Johnson's "start" as one that combined "nobility with effectiveness" and recommended that Johnson seek the counsel of Walker Stone because "no other newspaper man I know knows as much and thinks as soundly." Here, Johnson asked Stone to spread another glowing report.
After exploring that issue, Stone asked Johnson to take things more slowly and not take health risks, to which the President complained about having his personal life restricted by the presidency. Then Johnson took the opportunity to prepare his old acquaintance for the upcoming State of the Union address. In a pithy section, Johnson defended his proposed poverty plans to this Oklahoma native by emphasizing that the programs would encourage work and improve productivity among poor African Americans, Mexicans, and Appalachians. After this call, Johnson followed up his concerns about Black Americans by taking a call from Whitney Young of the National Urban League.
The segment below is divided into two parts. The first covers the talk about Johnson's work pace. The second explores the state of the union address and the War on Poverty.
Walter Heller, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers whom Johnson had inherited from President Kennedy, was in the middle of an extended public relations effort that encompassed televised interviews and frequent meetings with print journalists who covered the nation's economic policies. Designed to tout the new administration's progressive but frugal fiscal policy, Heller's effort-along with accompanying face-to-face diplomacy undertaken by the President-were also expected to help Johnson pass the pending tax cut legislation, then bottled up in Harry Byrd's senate Finance Committee. Preparing to meet at the LBJ ranch after Christmas to begin laying out plans for what would become the War on Poverty, Heller and Johnson also discuss that proposal.
In late 1966, Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) Director (and Kennedy brother-in-law) Sargent Shriver contemplated resigning because of differences with the President over funding levels for the War on Poverty and frustration over perceptions that his effectiveness had diminished. In this conversation with Special Assistant Bill Moyers (who had recently submitted his own resignation), President Johnson expounded on the implications of a Shriver resignation, as well as on his views of the budgetary constraints on the War on Poverty, the consequences of street protests that cast the Vietnam War and the anti-poverty effort as mutually-exclusive budget items, and his difficulties with Robert F. Kennedy and other liberal Senators who supported an expanded poverty program. Near the close of this excerpt, Johnson commented on the lack of political pragmatism and reliability that he perceived among much of Shriver's staff at OEO, particularly in the still-controversial Community Action Program (CAP).