Remaking American Politics: Political Transformation From the 1930s to the Present


Roughly a year after signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, President Johnson remarked in his 1965 commencement address at Howard University: “It is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates. This is the next and the more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity. We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result. To this end, equal opportunity is essential but not enough.” Almost 50 years after landmark advances in civil rights during the Johnson Administration, many in the United States are critically examining Johnson’s legacy; and the perception of LBJ being a failure due to Vietnam is shifting to a view that civil rights would not have progressed or the Great Society would not have happened without the tenacity and will of LBJ himself. This course explicitly examines three critical moments in modern American history and the various personalities and events that shaped the nation that exists today. More explicitly, this course maintains the view that every few generations, the United States has a painful and important dialogue about freedom, rights, and the role of government in society. And the outcome of this dialogue results in a critical political transformation of government and society. LBJ and the Great Society is certainly one of those moments in time. This class will also examine the monumental sociopolitical changes and shifts in American attitudes and ideology made during the Great Society but also during the FDR and Obama administrations. The discussion of Obama will be incomplete, of course, but will focus on the role of government and health care, the reactions to enlarging the government, and therefore will include discussion of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. The course will examine the historical record during each administration and draw on political, historical, and journalistic accounts to make sense of the administration at the time. We will also critically assess, in an interdisciplinary manner, the impact and legacy of the various sociopolitical changes during each transformational moment to determine if general trends and findings can emerge about political transformations or if these were sui generis events. The tools that we will use to study and assess these three moments will draw on all of the social sciences, as well as history and various tools from visual and material culture. Background in modern American history and culture is required.