Study Guide

The Great Society Speech Main Idea

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  • Main Idea

    We've Got to Do Better

    In Lyndon Johnson's vision of a Great Society, America fell short in three specific areas:

    • Cities
    • The environment
    • Public education.

    Those trouble spots were closely linked to other issues that the president cared about deeply, particularly poverty and civil rights.

    When the president gave his Great Society speech to the University of Michigan's Class of 1964, he challenged the new graduates to think creatively and act responsibly. He also pledged to build a partnership between the federal government and local communities so that the people his programs were designed to help would have a say in how those programs were run.

    Questions About Main Idea

    1. Why was the Great Society a good topic for a graduation speech?
    2. What is "creative federalism"?
    3. What did the president mean when he said the Great Society is a "challenge constantly renewed"?

    Chew on This

    Wake up, people. Even Thomas Jefferson knew that "That government is best which governs least." The Great Society is out of control.

    The Great Society had the most dramatic and positive impact on American life since President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal.

  • Brief Summary

    The Set-Up

    JFK gets assassinated and LBJ steps up to the plate.

    The Text

    President Lyndon Johnson's plans? Restore crumbling cities, take better care of the environment, and improve public education. Over and out.


    Dudes, all Americans should get get a slice of the pie.

  • Questions

    1. How did the United States change between 1900 and 1960? How did those changes help or hurt American society?
    2. Critics of the Great Society describe LBJ as the Wizard of Oz—the man behind the curtain who promises big things but can't deliver. Is that a fair assessment? Why or why not?
    3. LBJ talks about being "condemned to a soulless wealth." What does that mean?
    4. Can poverty realistically be eliminated in the U.S.?
    5. The University of Michigan was where JFK laid the groundwork for the Peace Corps in 1960. How were the Peace Corps and the Great Society similar? How were they different?

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