27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
The Peak of the Great Society,
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America (Hardcover)
Patterson's look back at 1965 primarily focuses on three issues: Vietnam, LBJ's "Great Society" and civil rights. He brings these issues together into his main thesis which is that 1965 was both the peak of the Great Society -- and of our belief in government -- and the year that set the stage for what we think of as the turbulent 60's.
1965 began with about 23,000 "military advisors" in Vietnam and ended with 185,000 combat troops on the ground. Even though President Johnson privately acknowledged that a military victory was unlikely, he escalated the war and did so while being untruthful with the American people. 1965 sowed the seeds for the "credibility gap" that helped disenchant many people with government.
In part, LBJ tried to keep his actions in Vietnam quiet because he was afraid the truth would upset his ambitious and expensive legislative agenda. Viewing Congress today, it's hard to believe the incredible quantity of significant legislation that was passed in 1965: Medicare/Medicaid, education reform (ESEA), immigration reform, the "War on Poverty" and, of course, the Voting Rights Act -- just to name a few!
As a political pro, Johnson knew he had limited time to get his bills passed before he would become "Lame Duck Lyndon", but this lead to hasty action. Legislation was passed quickly, but some of the new initiatives were flawed and the flood of bills created administrative overload and confusion. Johnson over promised and then under delivered, building disappointment and frustration among people who were becoming more and more rights-conscious.
It was in the area of civil rights that Johnson achieved greatness. Patterson traces events from March's "Bloody Sunday" at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma to signing of the Voting Rights Act in August. He shows that despite progress, the civil rights movement was starting to fragment as the continued value of non-violence was being questioned and civil rights leaders began to address the impact of both poverty and the war in Vietnam. Specifically, events such as the Watts Riots (just 5 days after the Voting Rights Act was signed) made it clear that economic opportunity was as important as the right to vote.
The only weak points in the book are where Patterson looks at pop culture in an effort to illustrate the changes taking place in society. Despite naming his book after "Eve of Destruction", the great song performed by Barry McGuire, Patterson's comments about pop culture feel a bit forced. He is on much firmer ground when discussing the political & military arenas.
Overall I enjoyed this very informative, well written and thoughtful book.