“With your courage and with your compassion and your desire, we will build a Great Society. It’s a Society where no child will go unfed, and no youngster will go unschooled.”
Do those lofty promises sound familiar? Lyndon B. Johnson assured us of that 50 years ago.
Similar words are often echoed today.
LBJ’s promise of a Great Society in '64 was to be an end to poverty and society’s woes. He claimed: “Government isn’t an enemy of the people,” but many today aren’t convinced.
The “Great Society” was a set of American domestic programs first announced by President Johnson on May 22, 1964. The main goals of the reforms were the elimination of poverty and racial injustice. The Great Society in scope and sweep resembled Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.
The terms “social injustice” and “income inequality” are still often used vernacular by many politicians all these years later.
The most ambitious and controversial part of the Great Society was its initiative to end poverty. Johnson launched an unconditional war on poverty in the first months of his presidency with the goal of eliminating hunger and deprivation from American life.
Yet, the programs of The Great Society contributed to the destruction of African American families which had survived centuries of slavery and discrimination. They began to rapidly disintegrate in the liberal welfare state that subsidized unwed pregnancy and changed welfare from an emergency rescue to a way of life.
The War on Poverty began with a $1 billion appropriation in 1964 and spent another $2 billion in the following two years, which spawned into dozens of other programs.
Trillions have been spent over the last 50 years to vanquish poverty, yet it endures.
Unlike the New Deal, which was a response to a severe financial and economic calamity, the Great Society initiatives came just as the United States’ post-World War II prosperity was starting to fade.
Johnson’s opponent, Barry Goldwater, a Republican, said: “I’ve heard all those promises that government can provide you everything ... for years ... it’s nothing more than a pipe dream.” Although Goldwater lost the election in 1964, 27 million people believed in his conservative philosophy of smaller government, lower taxes and individual freedom. Many believe Barry Goldwater’s campaign was the beginning of the conservative movement. Many believe 2008 was the birth of the tea party, another conservative movement.
Johnson won the election with 61 percent of the vote and he carried all but six states. Democrats gained enough seats to control more than two-thirds of each chamber of Congress and the House became known as the most liberal since 1938.
The Democratic Party and Republican Party both offered freedom to the segregated. However, it came in various forms. The Democratic approach was government will provide. On the other hand, the Republican approach was one that it’s not the government’s moral obligation to do such things.
The food stamp program was made permanent in 1964. Medicaid was created a year later and welfare recipients, of all ages, received medical care through that program. The legislation overcame bitter resistance from the American Medical Association — doctors thought the idea was Socialized Medicine.
Ironically, fifty years later nationalized medicine, in the form of ObamaCare, is here.
Have we learned anything from these attempts at social engineering? Evidently not, because 33 percent of high school graduates never read another book after leaving school. 42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college. 57 percent of new books aren’t read to completion. 70 percent of adults in the US haven’t been to a bookstore in the last five years and 80 percent of families didn’t buy or read a book last year.
If one read an hour per day in a chosen field you would be an expert in seven years.
There is no historical record of any successful socialistic system that garnished individual liberty or freedom and boasted of prosperity among the masses; on the contrary, such forms of rule are always plagued by malpractice, infringement and violation of rights, abuse, corruption and injustice.
I’m convinced conservatism has been around since the dawn of time, in one form or other, but there’s always been an opposing force in opposition to it.
• Greg Allen’s column, Thinkin’ Out Loud, is published bi-monthly. He’s an author, nationally syndicated columnist and the founder of Builder of the Spirit in Jamestown, Indiana, a non-profit organization aiding the poor. He can be reached at www.builderofthespirit.org or follow him on Twitter @GregAllencolumn.