In his first days in office, President Joe Biden has signaled a willingness to disavow austerity policies and expand public benefits, sparking cautious optimism about whether his administration could succeed in minimizing damage done by the coronavirus pandemic.

But Biden is at risk of repeating similar mistakes made by President Lyndon B. Johnson, who promised more relief to the poor than he could deliver because of his decision to escalate conflict in Vietnam.

In 1964, Johnson won the presidential election on promises to eradicate poverty and inequality in the United States. Over the next two years, he and his allies in Congress established welfare programs — including Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps — that most Americans today could not imagine living without, even if they aren’t nearly as generous as they should be.

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