In his first 3 months of office, Kennedy sent 39 messages and letters to Congress asking for reform legislation — messages dealing with health care, education, housing and community development, civil rights, transportation, and many other areas. His narrow margin of victory in 1960, however, had not seemed a mandate for change, and an entrenched coalition of Republicans and conservative southern Democrats in Congress had prevented the achievement of many of Kennedy's legislative goals by the time of his death.

Johnson, who in 1964 won an enormous victory over the Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater, and carried on his coattails a large Democratic congressional majority, proceeded with consummate political skill to enact this broad program.

Johnson launched his War on Poverty, which focused on children and young people, providing them with better education and remedial training, and Congress created a domestic Peace Corps (VISTA). Huge sums went to the states for education. Medicare was enacted in 1965, providing millions of elderly Americans a kind of security from the costs of illness that they had never known before. Following Kennedy's Clean Air Act of 1963, the Water Quality Act of 1965 broadened the effort to combat pollution. New national parks were established, and a Wilderness Act to protect primeval regions was passed. The Economic Development Administration moved into depressed areas, such as Appalachia. Billions were appropriated for urban redevelopment and public housing.