Guns or Butter: The Presidency of Lyndon Johnson
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Lessons Learned: LBJ Announces He Will Not Seek Reelection | Council on Foreign Relations
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Strangely, that war figures little in Bernstein's account, which favors domestic over international matters. His passing remarks are often as revealing as his larger analyses: For example, when Johnson learned that Interior Secretary Stewart Udall had named Washington's new federally owned stadium after LBJ's old rival Robert Kennedy, the president killed an order for a new million-acre national park in southern Arizona, Udall's former congressional district.
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Such small moments add much to the larger picture that Bernstein so skillfully paints. The author's mastery of historical materials is evident on every page of this useful and welcome book. Kirkus Reviews. The presidency of Lyndon Johnson was a pivotal moment in twentieth-century American history.
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From the decisive social programs of the Great Society, to the triumph of the Civil and Voting Rights Acts, to the catastrophe of the Vietnam War and domestic unrest, it was an era of dramatic accomplishment and wrenching tragedy. In Guns or Butter, renowned historian Irving Bernstein brings those five climactic years of the sixties vividly to life, from the moment Lee Harvey Oswald aimed a rifle from the window of the Texas School Depository to the tense ballot-counting that put Richard Nixon in the White House in Bernstein's book is a narrative masterpiece, filled with sharply drawn character sketches and swiftly moving accounts of events that range from deals cut in the Senate cloakroom, to police charging after protesters on the streets of Selma, to Vietcong commandos bursting into the American embassy in Saigon.
And we see a tired, distracted president pacing in his bathrobe around a table model of the besieged Khe Sanh garrison, examining aerial photographs and casualty reports. Equally important, Bernstein offers a deft assessment of Johnson's successes and failures, from his legislative programs to his futile pursuit of the war in Vietnam to his failure to boost Hubert Humphrey's presidential campaign in The author not only retells the maneuvering that brought the president's plans into law, he also analyzes and explains their impact, from the Voting Rights Act to Medicare.
The Great Society, Bernstein concludes, was a triumph, but Johnson's attempt to have both guns and butter, to pursue massive domestic initiatives together with a bitter undeclared war, led to runaway inflation that ultimately undermined his presidency. From the dark moments after Kennedy's assassination in , to the heady days of legislative victories of , to the bloody crescendo of riots, assassinations, and military battles in , Johnson's administration was a defining moment in modern American history.
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In Guns or Butter, Irving Bernstein brilliantly captures both the events and the meaning of those momentous years.