Burning bras, rebel teenagers, rioting black Americans, burning cities, angry students and happy hippies are only a few amidst a veritable panoply of symbols of an exploding and ebullient young America struggling to find itself throughout the vibrant fifties and sixties, an era of unprecedented consumerist frenzy and economic prosperity. Both the decades of the fifties and of the sixties brought amazing, novel and revolutionary changes to the American domestic scene which, whether or not the President and his administration's passions lay in international affairs or in domestic policies, were sure to greatly mobilize the presidential position, and with the expansion of modern communication technologies these happenings infiltrated the eyes of the entire world. Precisely how and why American officials responded the way they did to the internal pressures pulsating in the hearts of the American people greatly determined the way the United States are shaped today.
[...] Although McCarthy's astonishing claims were always totally unfounded (as his fiery declaration that 205 members of the State Department were affiliated to the Communist party), they were avidly swallowed by the general opinion as the only truth, even when proved false. In such an atmosphere of fear, escalated daily by McCarthy's new sensational accusations beamed into the living rooms of America, the television embodying a new weapon of mass indoctrination, it seemed like people wanted and delighted in believing the ‘reds under the bed' scare. [...]
[...] The domestic pressures of the fifties were undoubtedly weaker or not yet as fully expressed as during the sixties and thus confronted the Republicans under Eisenhower with a moderately tense and complex situation. Nonetheless the modern Republicanism of the period did very little for civil rights whilst it did achieve some undeniable advances on the social level. Kennedy's response to the domestic problems America faced under his presidency was rather feeble although well-intentioned, but paved the way to great social justice brilliantly advocated and established through the Democrat Johnson's presidency up till 1968, despite an inner landscape of rebellious confusion, violence and chaos. The Republicans therefore appear to have [...]
[...] And in order to convince these fundamentally and profoundly racist politicians to approve the increase if not simply the giving of civil rights to Black Americans, the United States required a very strong and able president who would not flinch at the thought of losing certain votes in future elections. Does Eisenhower conform to this model? Only the analysis of his policies and political moves during his presidency will give us keys to a better comprehension of the Republican response to the domestic issues they were challenged with in the fifties. Eisenhower's appointment to the presidential position came at the core of the greatest of America's dim moments of exploding anti-communist hysteria, and Ike inherited the dark force of McCarthyism from Truman. [...]
[...] Important in considering a president's domestic successes and failures lies also the foreign background, which for young Kennedy was particularly demanding and delicate, notably in the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the Berlin wall confrontation, the escalation of the Vietnam ordeal and most importantly in the Cuban Missile Crisis where the world veritably felt on the verge of the Third World War, but an atomic war whose destructive capacity would put a premature end to humanity's passing on Earth. Let us also not forget that Kennedy died prematurely, being tragically assassinated at the term of his third year of mandate, at the peak of his political and fatherly career, and therefore did not have the opportunity to put all his legislation quite to the test. [...]
[...] Lyndon Johnson was a worthy follower of the Democrat legacy of the New and Fair Deals, modernized by Kennedy's only barely initiated New Frontier, whose social aspirations were condensed and strengthened in Johnson's ‘Great Society' which ambitioned to perfect capitalism. Johnson was cringingly unpopular during his mandates, despite having won a landslide election in 1964 and being deeply committed to improving the lives of America's poor and disadvantaged, and therefore gets a very tough deal from History. Through his Great Society never had America seen so much being done for its poor and for civil rights, yet the general climate of rebellion and discontent overlooked these major social advances of tremendous importance. [...]
Online readingwith our online reader
Content validatedby our reading committee