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#212: Lyndon Johnson Becomes President

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Lyndon Johnson is sworn in as president with Jacqueline Kennedy at his side hours after her husband's murder in Dallas
Lyndon Johnson is sworn in as president with Jacqueline Kennedy at his side hours after her husband's murder in Dallas

STEVE EMBER: Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION - American history in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember

This week in our series, we begin the story of President Lyndon Johnson.

(MUSIC)

WALTER CRONKITE (CBS TV): "From Dallas Texas, the flash, apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1 PM Central Standard Time, two o'clock Eastern Standard Time.

Lyndon Baines Johnson became America's thirty-sixth president suddenly.

WALTER CRONKITE: "Vice President Lyndon Johnson has left the hospital in Dallas. Presumably, he will be taking the oath of office shortly, and become the thirty-sixth President of the United States."

On November twenty-second, nineteen sixty-three, President John Kennedy was murdered.

Kennedy and Johnson, his vice president, were in Dallas, Texas. Kennedy was shot as his open car drove through the city. Within a few hours, Johnson was sworn into office. The swearing-in took place on the presidential plane, Air Force One, at Dallas' Love Field.

The plane returned to Andrews Air Force Base near Washington carrying the new president and the body of the former president.

At Andrews, President Johnson read a brief statement. He ended with these words: "I will do my best. That is all I can do. I ask for your help, and God's."

(MUSIC)

Before he was vice president, LBJ had served for many years in the Senate and the House of Representatives. He grew up in small towns in Texas. He finished high school at age fifteen. He traveled and worked for a few years before he entered Southwest Texas State Teachers College. There he was a student leader and a political activist.

In nineteen thirty-one a newly elected congressman asked Johnson to work for him as his secretary in Washington. Four years later, President Franklin Roosevelt appointed Johnson as Texas director of Roosevelt's National Youth Administration.

Senator Lyndon Johnson with his wife, Lady Bird, before flying to their home in Texas from Washington on August 25, 1955
Senator Lyndon Johnson with his wife, Lady Bird, before flying to their home in Texas from Washington on August 25, 1955

Two years after that, in nineteen thirty-seven, Johnson won a special election for a seat in the House of Representatives. He served in the House for twelve years. When the United States entered World War Two, Johnson was the first member of Congress at that time to volunteer for active duty. After the war, he ran for the Senate, where he also served for twelve years.

Johnson loved politics and became an expert in the operations of government. He would need all of that knowledge as president of a nation facing problems near and far.

(SOUND: Vietnam War gunfire)

When Johnson took office, communist forces were fighting South Vietnamese troops supported by the United States. Also there were continuing worries about nuclear war with the Soviet Union. At home, there was racial conflict. Many Americans were out of work, and there was the threat of a railroad strike.

Johnson began his presidency by working hard for legislation that President Kennedy had proposed. Johnson had voted against civil rights legislation when he served in the Senate. But now he urged Congress to support the idea, and Congress agreed.

The nineteen sixty-four Civil Rights Act barred discrimination against minorities in jobs and in restaurants and other businesses.

LYNDON JOHNSON: "We believe that all men are created equal. Yet many are denied equal treatment. We believe that all men have certain unalienable rights. Yet many Americans do not enjoy those rights. We believe that all men are entitled to the blessings of liberty. Yet millions are being deprived of those blessings -- not because of their own failures -- but because of the color of their skin."

The president said that such a situation could not continue in America. To treat people unfairly because of their race, he said, violated the Constitution and the idea of democracy.

Lyndon Johnson succeeded in getting Congress to pass more civil rights legislation in nineteen sixty-five and sixty-eight.

LYNDON JOHNSON: "Many of the issues of civil rights are very complex and most difficult. But about this there can -- and should be -- no argument. Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote... There is no reason that can excuse the denial of that right.  There is no duty which weighs more heavily on us than the duty we have to ensure that right."

Many southern states used so-called literacy tests as a way to deny blacks the right to vote.

LYNDON JOHNSON: "The Negro citizen may go to register only to be told that the day is wrong, or the hour is late, or the official in charge is absent. And if he persists and, if he manages to present himself to the registrar, he may be disqualified because he did not spell out his middle name, or because he abbreviated a word on the application.

President Johnson talks with civil rights leaders, from left, Roy Wilkins, James Farmer, Dr. Martin Luther King Junior and Whitney Young at the White House in January 1964
President Johnson talks with civil rights leaders, from left, Roy Wilkins, James Farmer, Dr. Martin Luther King Junior and Whitney Young at the White House in January 1964

"And if he manages to fill out an application, he is given a test. The registrar is the sole judge of whether he passes this test. He may be asked to recite the entire Constitution, or explain the most complex provisions of state law.

And even a college degree cannot be used to prove that he can read and write."

The Civil Rights Act of nineteen sixty-five said states could not prevent citizens from voting just because they could not read very well.

The nineteen sixty-eight law barred discrimination against blacks in housing.

Johnson was from the South. That -- and his ability to persuade people -- helped him get southern conservatives in Congress to support the civil rights legislation.

He also had other ideas for a better America. He called his plan the Great Society. He talked about it in a speech at the University of Michigan:

LYNDON JOHNSON: "The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time. But that is just the beginning. The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talents."

Johnson launched the War on Poverty, a series of bills designed to help the poor. But his efforts to pay for social programs and a war overseas led to inflation.

Vietnam was not the only place where Johnson used military force. In nineteen sixty-five he sent more than twenty thousand troops to intervene in the Dominican Republic. He worried that a revolution could lead to a communist takeover of that Caribbean nation.

(MUSIC)

Lyndon Johnson served the last fourteen months of President Kennedy's term. Then in nineteen sixty-four he ran for a full term. The Democratic Party strongly supported him and accepted his choice of Hubert Humphrey for vice president. Humphrey was a liberal senator from the state of Minnesota.

Unlike the Democrats, the Republicans had a difficult time choosing their presidential candidate. Delegates at the party's nominating convention finally chose Barry Goldwater. Goldwater was a strongly conservative senator from Arizona.

BARRY GOLDWATER: "Certainly, simple honesty is not too much to demand of men in government. And let our Republicanism, so focused and so dedicated, not be made fuzzy and futile by unthinking and stupid labels. I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."

The Republican candidate for vice president was William Miller, a congressman from New York State.

Americans voted in November of nineteen sixty-four. Lyndon Johnson won more than sixty percent of the popular vote. Still he had hoped for an even bigger victory. He wanted proof that Americans were voting for him, and not the shadow of John Kennedy.

In his inaugural speech, Johnson said his Great Society would never be finished -- it would keep growing and improving.

LYNDON JOHNSON: "I do not believe that the Great Society is the ordered, changeless and sterile battalion of the ants. It is the excitement of becoming -- always becoming, trying, probing, falling, resting and trying again -- but always trying and always gaining."

In nineteen sixty-five, he won congressional approval of Medicare, a health insurance program for Americans age sixty-five and older. President Harry Truman had called for such a plan twenty years earlier. Johnson presented Truman and his wife, Bess, with Medicare cards numbers one and two. Under Johnson, Congress also approved Medicaid, a health care program for the poor and disabled.

In nineteen sixty-seven, President Johnson appointed the nation's first black justice to the Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall.

ANTI-WAR DEMONSTRATORS: "Hell no, we won't go!"

Around the country, President Johnson faced growing opposition to the war in Vietnam. More and more American troops were dying.

Lyndon Johnson may have wanted to be remembered as a great president, but the war came to redefine his presidency. That will be our story next week.

(MUSIC)

You can find our series online with transcripts, MP3s, podcasts and pictures at www.unsv.com. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. I'm Steve Ember, inviting you to join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- American history in VOA Special English.

___

This was program #212.

1963年11月22号,美国总统肯尼迪遇刺身亡,副总统林登.贝恩斯.约翰逊成为美国第36任总统。

11月22号那天,肯尼迪和副总统约翰逊都在德克萨斯州的达拉斯。肯尼迪坐着敞篷车驶过达拉斯的路上遇刺,几小时后,约翰逊就在达拉斯拉芙菲尔德机场的总统专机--空军一号上宣誓就职了。

空军一号随后带着新总统约翰逊和已故总统肯尼迪的遗体返回首都华盛顿附近的安德鲁空军基地。约翰逊在安德鲁空军基地宣读了简短的声明。声明最后说:"我会尽力,这是我唯一能做的,我需要你们的帮助,也需要上帝的帮助。"

林登.约翰逊担任副总统前,曾在国会参众两院供职多年。他从小在德克萨斯州的小城镇里长大,15岁就读完了高中,毕业后,花了几年时间四处旅行,打工,最后回到西南德克萨斯州立师范学院读书,成为学生领袖和政治活动积极分子。

1931年,一位新当选的国会议员请约翰逊到华盛顿去,给自己当秘书。四年过后,富兰克林.罗斯福总统任命约翰逊为罗斯福全国青年局在德克萨斯州的负责人。

两年过后,约翰逊在1937年国会一次特别选举中获胜,成为美国联邦众议员,一干就是12年。美国加入二战后,约翰逊是第一个主动提出入伍服役的国会议员。战后他重归政界,当选联邦参议员,又干了12年。

约翰逊热爱政治,在政界多年的磨炼让他对政府的运作了如指掌。他接任总统后,恰恰需要这些经验,来解决国家面对的国内和国际上的种种问题。

约翰逊继任总统时,北越共产武装正在跟美国支持的南越部队作战。与此同时,美苏两国爆发核战争的可能性也是大家的一块心病。同时,美国国内种族冲突严峻,很多美国人失业,铁路罢工一触即发。

约翰逊上任后,大力推动肯尼迪总统在世时提出的立法。约翰逊担任参议员时,曾反对民权立法,但如今,他却极力要求,并最终得到了国会的支持。1964年通过的民权法案禁止在工作场所、餐馆和其他生意场所对少数族裔的歧视行为。

林登.约翰逊说:"我们相信人人生来平等;但是很多人都没能得到平等对待。我们相信人人都有与生俱来的权利,但是很多美国人都无法享受这些权利。我们相信人人都应享受自由,但是数百万人却被剥夺了自由,不是他们自己的失败,而是因为他们的肤色。"

约翰逊总统说,这种情况不能继续下去。因为种族的原因将人区别对待,违反了宪法和民主理念。在约翰逊的推动下,美国国会1965年和1968年又通过了更多的民权法案。

约翰逊总统说:"许多民权问题都很复杂,很棘手。但是在这个问题上,不应该,也不能够存在任何争议。每一个美国公民都必须有平等的投票权,没有任何理由剥夺他们的投票权。确保这项权力是我们肩负的最沉重的担子。"

当时,美国南方的一些州利用所谓的"文化考试"来剥夺黑人的投票权。约翰逊总统说:"黑人公民参加选民登记时,可能会被告知,日子错了,时间不对,管事的人不在。如果他坚持找到了负责注册的人,他也可能会因为没有拼出自己中间的名字被取消资格,或者是他在填写申请时某个字用了缩写。就算是他填好了申请表,他还得参加考试。登记官是唯一能决定他考试是否通过的裁判。他可能要背诵整篇宪法,或是解释州立法里最复杂的规定。即便是大学毕业证书也不能用来证明此人能读会写。"

1965年民权法案规定,各州不能因为公民读写能力差,就剥夺他们的投票权。1968年立法规定,在住房上禁止歧视黑人。

约翰逊来自南方,他的南方背景和他说服人的能力,都对他成功说服国会里的南方保守派支持民权法案起到了作用。他对美国的未来也充满了憧憬,提出了建设"伟大社会"的计划。他在密西根大学的一次讲话中说:"伟大社会以物质极大丰富和人人享受自由为基础,要求结束贫困和种族不公,这是我们决心做到的。但这还只是一个开始。在伟大社会里,每个孩子都能受教育,丰富自己的头脑,拓展自己的才华。"

约翰逊任期内,对贫困宣战,推出了一系列帮助穷人的法案,但是他用于社会救助项目和在海外打仗的花销,却造成了国内的通货膨胀。约翰逊出兵的地方不只越南一处。1965年,他曾派遣两万多兵力到多米尼加共和国,因为他担心那里发生的革命,会让这个加勒比海国家成为共产政权的天下。

林登.约翰逊做完前总统肯尼迪剩下的最后14个月的总统任期后,1964年参选连任。民主党大力支持他,并接受了他选择的副总统参选人休伯特.汉弗莱,汉弗莱是来自明尼苏达州的自由派参议员。

跟民主党人相比,共和党人在选择总统候选人方面,可是大费周折。共和党全国代表大会最后选择了来自亚利桑那州的铁杆保守派参议员巴里.戈德华特。戈德华特说:"没错,最基本的诚实是对政府官员很起码的要求。我们不要给清晰专注的共和党理念贴上任何轻率愚蠢的标签,把它们变得模糊不清,毫无用处。我想提醒大家,以捍卫自由为目的的极端主义不是坏事,我还想提醒大家,在追求公正时的温和也不是什么好事。"

共和党副总统候选人是来自纽约州的众议员威廉.米勒。在1964年11月的美国总统大选中,林登.约翰逊赢得了百分之60多的选票,但还是不如他希望的那么多。他希望能从压倒性胜利上看出,美国人民的票是投给他的,而不是投给约翰.肯尼迪的影子。

约翰逊在就职演说中表示,他的伟大社会永远不会建成,而是会不断发展和改进。约翰逊说:"我不认为伟大社会是有序的,毫无变化的,无菌的蚂蚁营。伟大社会将不断改善,始终在变,不断努力,摸索,失败,休整,再尝试,但是始终都在努力,而且不断进取。"

1965年,约翰逊提出的针对65以上老年人的医疗保健制度得到国会批准。美国前总统哈里.杜鲁门早在20年前就曾提出过这项计划。约翰逊把第一号和第二号保健卡正式颁发给杜鲁门夫妇。约翰逊任期内,美国国会还批准了帮助穷人和残疾人的医疗补助制度。1967年,约翰逊总统任命瑟古德.马歇尔为联邦最高法院大法官,马歇尔是第一个进入最高法院的非洲裔美国人。

与此同时,美国各地的反战浪潮不断高涨,美军士兵伤亡人数越来越多。林登.约翰逊希望后人把他看做一位伟大的总统,但是他的历史遗产势必要由越战来定义。

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