This paper will examine how public opinion in the United States influenced the decisions made in Washington during Johnson’s years. The paper examines a number of opinion polls conducted by Gallup during the Johnson’s era which would shed light on the issue of media’s impact upon Johnson. …
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According to the study conducted Bernstein writes that Lyndon Johnson’s presidency had started with the catastrophe of John Kennedy’s assassination and closed in the mire of the Vietnam War. This short sentence, however, embraces five painful years of turmoil, racial conflicts and riots, student unrest, and to cap it all, demonstrations by the war opponents. This period is considered a highly trying time to be a president, especially of the United States in their capacity of a leader of the free world, as well as the standard of democracy and rule of law. On the other hand, President Johnson appeared to be somehow tragically short-changed – according to Bernstein – being inevitably charged with the wrongs, he has never been credited with the rights of the then internal and international situation. The aforesaid might account for the fact that Lyndon Johnson is ranked relatively low among the American presidents. Nevertheless, his presidency is believed to have started more or less successfully – having won a landslide victory over Barry Goldwater in 1964, which had given him a comfortable Democratic majority willing to work with him, Johnson took the responsibility to unite the nation after the Dallas assassination and persuaded the Congress to enact his massive legislative program, which gained popularity as the Great Society program – a term coined by Johnson in a speech at the University of Michigan in 1964. 6. By that time, Lyndon Johnson was beginning to become more and more involved in a conflict, which, in actual fact, had begun nine years earlier, namely in 1955, and which, according to Lunch and Sperlich, was of little concern to two-thirds of the American people7. Thus, the choice between guns and butter, or in other words between investment in public goods and defense - a dilemma which is thought to have emerged at some point in the twentieth century - appears rather characteristic of Lyndon Johnston’s presidency. Moreover, while Johnston was a priori constrained by the Cold War arms race, and the Soviet/Communist aspirations to dominate the system of international relations, he strived to achieve a comfortable domestic economic and social climate, which to cater for the Great Society vision. In order to expand on the existing literature concerning the ‘Guns vs. Butter’ metaphor, this paper will examine how public opinion in the United States influenced the decisions made in Washington during Johnson’s years. The paper also attempts to assess the degree to which Johnson’s decisions to escalate, or seek a negotiated end to, the Vietnam War could be seen as a reaction to American public opinion; as well as the extent to which the lack of public support for the conflict in Southeast Asia overshadowed Johnson’s efforts to build the “Great Society”, and contributed to a deterioration of his public image. In doing so, the paper examines a number of opinion polls conducted by Gallup during the Johnson’s era, as well as articles of The New York Times, which would shed light on the issue of media’s impact upon Johnson. The newspaper articles would also present a clue in the change of public perceptions of failure and success during the Vietnam War, the progress and evolution of the anti-war movement, and the recognition, or lack thereof, in Johnson’s attempts to build the ‘Great Society’. South Vietnam in 1964 – a Limited war for Limited Objectives The number of American military advisors in Vietnam had already been increased to about 16 000 by 1963, and according to Dallek, although President Kennedy appeared willing to commence withdrawal after his reelection8, the American involvement in what the general public considered by then a civil conflict in a faraway country was more or less a fait accompli. In marked contrast to Lyndon Johnson’
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