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John Gardner - Engineer of the Great Society
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Engineer of the Great Society timeline: 1964 - 1968
"What we have before us are some breathtaking opportunities disguised as insoluble problems."
John Gardner, 1965 speech

On July 27, 1965, John Gardner was sworn in as the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, a federal agency with a multi-billion dollar budget, 150 programs, and more than 100,000 employees (later, this department was split into the Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services). It was a big jump for Gardner who had just 35 employees working for him at Carnegie Corporation, but when President Lyndon Johnson personally asked him to undertake the assignment, he accepted.

Video clip  Video from the film:Gardner Accepts President Johnson's Offer to Serve as HEW Secretary

Gardner joined an administration with one of the most ambitious policy agenda in American history. President Johnson wanted to create the "Great Society" -- to end poverty, promote equality, improve education, rejuvenate cities, and protect the environment. It was an ambitious agenda, and as the HEW Secretary, Gardner became intimately involved in developing and implementing this agenda. He played a large role in enforcing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, making sure that federal funds were not distributed in a discriminatory way. He undertook the huge task of launching Medicare, which brought quality health care to senior citizens; oversaw a massive investment in education with the passage of the landmark Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 that redefined the federal role in education and targeted funding to poor students; and presided over the creation of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

more information  Learn more about The Civil Rights Movement

Video clip  Video from the film:Gardner Discusses his Work on Civil Rights

more information  Learn more about The Corporation of Public Broadcasting

For Gardner, his time at HEW was a political education, and President Johnson was his teacher. Working together, they had some great success; according to one estimate, 195 million Americans were affected by programs supervised by Gardner. Yet, the Great Society and Johnson's "War on Poverty," had their critics. Some said that it added layers of bureaucracy, and wasted money on hand-outs to people who did not deserve them. At the same time, Johnson's insistence to vigorously pursue American involvement in Vietnam while spending billions of dollars on domestic problems placed a large strain of the economy. Something had to give.

more information  Learn more about The Great Society

more information  Learn more about The Vietnam War



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1964 Congress passes the landmark Civil Rights Act
   Congress passes the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which escalates US involvement in the Vietnam War
1965 John Gardner sworn in a Secretary of Health Education and Welfare
   Congress passes the Voting Rights Act and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
  Race riots in Watts, a neighborhood in Los Angeles, California, kill 34 and injure 1,000
1966 John Gardner launches the Medicare program to provide health care to senior citizens
1967 Johnson signs the Public Broadcasting Act into law, a commitment in funding that Gardner proposed a few years earlier
1968 North Vietnamese launch the Tet offensive, a turning point in the war