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'Great Society'?

By Mark Alexander
web posted May 26, 2014

Protagonists of the New Democratic Party talk endlessly about "sustainability." Unless, of course, the context is national debt, national security or the future of Liberty.

Last week marked the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Baines Johnson's christening of his populist "Great Society" social welfare programs -- and the emergence of the so-called "War on Poverty." The catastrophic failure of his ill-advised social engineering programs includes an unsustainable accumulation of national debt, which is undermining both our nation's economic viability and national security. Notably, critical defense funding is now being reallocated to welfare programs.

The human tragedy of LBJ's soul-crushing "welfare" programs, however, is incalculable. A rapidly growing permanent underclass, one utterly dependent on the state for its day-to-day existence, now constitutes the Great Society.

In May of 1964, announcing his vision for the Great Society, LBJ, in an adulterated interpretation of our Declaration of Independence, proclaimed, "The purpose of protecting the life of our Nation and preserving the liberty of our citizens is to pursue the happiness of our people. Our success in that pursuit is the test of our success as a Nation." Our Founders intended this to be an individual pursuit, not a collectivist pursuit by the state.

He then outlined his objectives: "For in your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society. 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. ... [There are] three places where we begin to build the Great Society -- in our cities, in our countryside, and in our classrooms."

LBJ concluded, "Will you join in the battle to build the Great Society, to prove that our material progress is only the foundation on which we will build a richer life of mind and spirit? ... So let us from this moment begin our work so that in the future men will look back and say: It was then, after a long and weary way, that man turned the exploits of his genius to the full enrichment of his life."

By all rational measures, Johnson's Great Society was, and remains, anything but. It has proven a tragic failure on all counts, unless you are counting Democrat votes. His War on Poverty quickly morphed into a war on individual responsibility and self reliance, a war on free enterprise and ingenuity, a war on family and faith, a war on education and accountability, a war on inner city and rural achievement alike, and a war on economic sustainability and financial solvency. That all combines to form a multi-front war on the foundation of Liberty -- Constitutional Rule of Law -- by largely superseding the former with unconstitutional political mandates.

On LBJ's Legacy, conservative columnist George Will offers these observations in summary of an outstanding monograph, "The Great Society at Fifty," by Nicholas Eberstadt, a noted scholar in political economy at the American Enterprise Institute:

"In 1964, 76 percent of Americans trusted government to do the right thing 'just about always or most of the time'; today, 19 percent do. The former number is one reason Johnson did so much; the latter is one consequence of his doing so. ... [According to Eberstadt] 'the proportion of men 20 and older who are employed has dramatically and almost steadily dropped since the start of the War on Poverty, falling from 80.6 percent in January 1964 to 67.6 percent 50 years later.' Because work -- independence, self-reliance -- is essential to the culture of freedom, ominous developments have coincided with Great Society policies: For every adult man ages 20 to 64 who is between jobs and looking for work, more than three are neither working nor seeking work, a trend that began with the Great Society. And what Eberstadt calls 'the earthquake that shook family structure in the era of expansive anti-poverty policies' has seen out-of-wedlock births increase from 7.7 percent in 1965 to more than 40 percent in 2012, including 72 percent of black babies. Eberstadt asks: Is it 'simply a coincidence' that male flight from work and family breakdown have coincided with Great Society policies, and that dependence on government is more widespread and perhaps more habitual than ever? Goldwater's insistent 1964 question is increasingly pertinent: 'What's happening to this country of ours?'"

In stark (though predictable) contrast to that grim reality, The Washington Post offered its praise of the Great Society, noting that "LBJ prodded the 89th Congress, which was seated from January 1965 to January 1967, to churn out nearly 200 major bills. It is regarded by many as the most productive legislative body in American history..." The Post notes, "In the space of a few years came an avalanche of new laws, many of which were part of LBJ's War on Poverty: Civil rights protections. Medicare and Medicaid. Food stamps. Urban renewal. The first broad federal investment in elementary and high school education. Head Start and college aid. An end to what was essentially a whites-only immigration policy. Landmark consumer safety and environmental regulations. Funding that gave voice to community action groups."

The Post characterized this list as Great Society "achievements."

In reality, however, LBJ institutionalized the poverty he ostensibly sought to eradicate -- and at a great financial and social cost. How? By creating "Poverty Plantations," whose only "achievement" has been to keep poor folks addicted to (and thus enslaved by) government welfare subsistence and their Democrat masters. For generations, the Democrat Party has bet its political fortunes on the tried-and-true politics of disunity, dividing Americans by gender, race, creed, ethnicity and income. And the Great Society has certainly advanced that disunity.

The end of World War II largely capped FDR's "New Deal" socialist expansion, until Johnson's progressive "Great Society" 1964 platform heralded a plethora of new statist programs and policies. Ironically, another war, Vietnam, capped Johnson's socialist expansionism, but not the enormous price tag of the welfare and entitlement programs he added to that of FDR's programs. And now our nation faces its greatest internal adversary yet -- Barack Hussein Obama's unsustainable endeavor to nationalize our nation's health care.

So what to do?

Ultimately, the problem is not the "New Deal," the "Great Society" or ObamaCare. It is a political culture that advocates statist policies and wantonly violates its oath "to Support and Defend" the plain language of our Constitution. Compounding this problem is the reality that too few Americans are willing to take the measures necessary to stop this slide toward tyranny.

Recall that in 2009, when asked about the constitutional authority for "ObamaCare," then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded with indignation, "Are you serious? Are you serious?" Asked the same question, Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee (where Rule of Law once prevailed), responded, "I mean, there's no question there's authority. Nobody questions that."

Leahy is right in the sense that far too few citizens question constitutional authority, but the ranks of those who do ask that question are growing.

Again, recall that James Madison, author of our Constitution, wrote, "I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents. ... If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one. ... The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. ... The government of the United States is a definite government, confined to specified objects. It is not like the state governments, whose powers are more general. Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government. ... There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations."

Of course, anyone questioning the Left's orthodoxy and the constitutional authority of their policies will be subjected to all manner of criticism by their adoring Leftmedia sycophants. And, no small irony, this is especially true of every black conservative, such as Star Parker, Ken Blackwell, Larry Elder, Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Ben Carson, Jason Riley or Allen West.

These intrepid souls are among the bravest in American politics today.

There are, of course, many ways to take a stand for Liberty. If you're reading this message, you very likely are already standing somewhere in support of Liberty. But the contrast between the liberal mindset and conservative principles and values is deeply imprinted across our society.

On a political level, the only way to halt Obama's objective of "fundamentally transforming the United States of America" must begin with an end to the GOP's fratricidal infighting.

On a personal level, "in our cities, in our countryside, and in our classrooms," we can give our neighbors a hand up rather than a hand out to change lives one at a time. Hillary Clinton's notion of "it takes a village" is a metaphor for statist socialism, but the fact is, "it takes a community" of all of us working together to free our fellow Americans from the shackles of central government policies that have enslaved them.

This notion of encouraging self-sufficiency is nothing new.

In 1753 Benjamin Franklin wrote, "Repeal that [welfare] law, and you will soon see a change in their manners. [I]ndustry will increase, and with it plenty among the lower people; their circumstances will mend, and more will be done for their happiness by inuring them to provide for themselves, than could be done by dividing all your estates among them." Indeed, Franklin captured the spirit of a proverb some suggest was written more than 2,000 years earlier: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."

Democrats understand these principles, but they are "inconvenient truths" when it comes to co-opting constituencies. ESR

Mark Alexander is the executive editor of the Patriot Post.

 

 

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