President Obama evoked the memory of former President Lyndon Johnson on Thursday, insisting that the government should play a central role in combating inequality and curing broader societal ills.

“Today, we remain locked in this same great debate, about equality and opportunity, and the role of government in ensuring each,” Obama said from the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum in Austin, Texas, honoring the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act.

Obama, who has called combating income inequality the chief cause of his remaining years in office, said he was fighting for many of the same ideals championed by Johnson. And Obama reflected on the powers of the presidency as they relate to affecting social change.

“You’re reminded daily that in this great democracy, you are but a relay swimmer in the currents of history, bound by decisions made by those who came before, reliant on the efforts of those who will follow to fully vindicate your vision,” he said.

“But the presidency also affords a unique opportunity to bend those currents by shaping our laws and by shaping our debates, by working within the confines of the world as it is, but also by reimagining the world as it should be,” he added.

Obama took aim at those who have criticized his vision of government.

“As a master of politics and the legislative process, [Johnson] grasped, like few others, the power of government to bring about change,” he said.

"I have lived out the promise of LBJ's efforts," Obama declared.

Obama has pursued an unabashedly progressive agenda in his second term, on issues ranging from health care to immigration and government spending.

Conservatives counter that the president is pursuing big-government solutions that have divided the nation.

The president, with a nod to his own health care blueprint, noted how Johnson was chastised for signing Medicare into law. Obama's approval ratings have taken a beating in the wake of the glitch-filled rollout of his signature domestic initiative, Obamacare.

Still, Obama said his own policies, like Johnson’s, would stand on the right side of history.

“What LBJ understood is equality required more than the absence of oppression,” Obama said. “It required the presence of economic opportunity."