The name-calling and differences in viewpoint between Republicans and Democrats are not as new as they seem. For decades the Republicans have used the term “democratic socialism” or just plain “socialism” to describe the Democratic party’s belief that the Federal government has a responsibility to provide some support services to less fortunate Americans and the belief that these supportive services will help “lift” people up out of poverty. For decades the Republicans have argued that these are not the concerns of our Federal government and that such programs are singularly ineffective at changing poverty levels. Although Republicans are more intransigent in their views than they have ever been, they can find evidence to back up their arguments. However, the Democrats, if they were so inclined, could also find evidence to back up their arguments that such programs have achieved results.
The Republicans have been citing, lately and ad infinitum, the failures of the social programs of the Great Society. Lyndon Johnson, who took office after Kennedy was assassinated, wanted “to use his power aggressively to eliminate poverty and spread the benefits of prosperity to all.”
Wikipedia says that;
With the exception of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Great Society was not a widely discussed issue during the 1964 presidential campaigns. Johnson won the election with 61% of the vote, the largest percentage since the popular vote first became widespread in 1824, and he carried all but six states. Democrats gained enough seats to control more than two-thirds of each chamber in the Eighty-ninth Congress with a 68-32 margin in the Senate and a 295-140 margin in the House of Representatives. The political realignment allowed House leaders to alter rules that had allowed Southern Democrats to kill New Frontier and civil rights legislation in committee, which aided efforts to pass Great Society legislation. In 1965, the first session of the Eighty-ninth Congress created the core of the Great Society. The Johnson Administration submitted eighty-seven bills to Congress, and Johnson signed eighty-four, or 96%, arguably the most successful legislative agenda in U. S. Constitutional history.
In the area of Civil Rights:
· Civil Rights Act of 1964 – forbade job discrimination/segregation of public accommodations
· Voting Rights Act of 1965- assured minority registration and voting/suspended use of literacy and other voter-qualification tests/federal court lawsuits instituted to stop discriminatory poll taxes/appointed federal voting examiners in areas with low voter participation.
· The Immigration and Nationality Services Act of 1965 abolished the national-origin quotas
· The Civil Rights Act of 1968 banned housing discrimination/extended constitutional protections to Native Americans on reservation.
War on 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.”
· Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 – created Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) to oversee an array of community-based antipoverty programs. (spent $1b in 1964, $2b in following two years)
· Job Corps – purpose was to help disadvantaged youth develop marketable skills
· The Neighborhood Youth Corps – established to give poor urban youths work experience/encourage them to stay in school
· Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) – domestic Peace Corps – concerned citizens placed with community-based agencies to work towards employment of the poor
· Model Cities Program – urban redevelopment
· Upward Bound – assisted poor high school students entering college
· Legal Aide – legal assistance for the poor
· The Food Stamp Act of 1964
· Community Action Program – initiated local Community Action Agencies charged with helping the poor become self-sufficient
· Project Head Start – offered preschool education for poor children
· Community Health Centers – funding was provided to expand access to health care
· Social Security – major amendments were made in 1965 and 1967/ increased benefits/ expanded coverage/ established new programs to combat poverty and raise living standards.
· AFDC payments – 35% higher in 1968, still insufficient and uneven
· Elementary and Education Act of 1965 – ended a long-standing political taboo by providing significant federal aid to public education programs to schools with a high concentration of low-income children/made Head Start a permanent program
· Higher Education Facilities Act of 1963 – increased drastically the colleges and programs available for education beyond high school, including improving college libraries, new graduate centers, new technical institutions and new community colleges (many).
· Higher Education Act of 1968 – offered federal aid to local school districts in assisting them to address the needs of children with limited English-speaking ability (expired in 2002)
· Social Security Act of 1965 authorized Medicare
· Welfare recipients in 1966 received medical care through the Medicaid program which was created in 1965 under Title XIX of the Social Security Act of 1965
· Arts and cultural institutions:
· National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities – 1965
· Public Broadcasting Funding – 1967 (CPB Corporation for Public Broadcasting/private non-profit), Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), National Public Radio (NPR)
· Kennedy Center – 1971
· Smithsonian Institution art museum (1930’s) added the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
· 1966 – created cabinet-level Department of Transportation
· 1964 – Urban Mass Transportation Act
· 1966 – National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act/Highway Safety Act
· Consumer Protection:
· Assistant Secretary of Labor, Esther Peterson, 1st presidential assistant for consumer affairs
· 1965 – Cigarette Labeling Act – required warning on cigarette packages
· The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act – requires products to identify manufacturer, address, clearly mark quantity and servings
· 1966 – Child Safety Act
· 1967 – Flammable Fabrics Act
· 1967 – Wholesome Meat Act
· 1968 – Truth-in-lending Act
· 1968 – Wholesome Poultry Products Act
· 1968 – Land Sales Disclosure Act
· 1968 – The Radiation Safety Act
· Clean Air, Water Quality and Clean Water Restoration Acts and Amendments
· Wilderness Act of 1964
· Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966
· National Trails System Act of 1968
· Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968
· Land and Water Conservation Act of 1965
· Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1965
· Motor Vehicle Air Pollution Control Act of 1965
· National Historical Preservation Control Act of 1966
· Aircraft Noise Abatement Act of 1968
· National Environmental Policy Act of 1969
· Labor – Prevailing wage provisions were extended to cover fringe benefits/several increases to federal minimum wage
Wow! It is amazing what an unchallenged President and his/her Congress can accomplish. Newt Gingrich made a prediction on Meet The Press this past Sunday that this configuration will obtain for the Republicans in 2012; they will not only win the Presidency, but also both Houses of Congress. I have a number of difficulties trusting anything Newt Gingrich has to say and I sincerely hope he is wrong about this. I can, however, see, especially after this stunning summary of the way the Great Society changed America, why the Republicans would wish for their turn in political nirvana. They would rapidly proceed to undo the accomplishments of the Great Society.
Typing this list has been very revealing to me. These are the times I lived through. Of course, I guess I have never stepped back and taken an overview of these years. I actually worked in two programs made possible by the Great Society. I worked for Head Start, once as a teacher’s aide in a summer program, and once as a researcher with the SU Psychology Department on a grant, to look at the effectiveness of the Head Start Program. I worked for another Great Society Program originally called SEEK, then Cooperative College Center, then Educational Opportunity Center, designed to send adults on to college. I worked in this program for 24 years. It was and is an excellent program and I swear it has made a difference in the lives of many students who were sent to colleges and graduated and went on to employment in the community. Many of these programs helped shine attention on the needs of minority groups and helped quell some rather serious political unrest in a number of American cities in 1964 (NYC and LA) and 1968 when hundreds of cities had major riots.
Wikipedia’s way of summing up the views of the opposing sides is as effective as any so I will use it here. “Alan Brinkley has suggested that ‘the gap between the expansive intentions of the War on Poverty and its relatively modest achievements fueled later conservative arguments that government is not an appropriate vehicle for solving social problems.”
“One of Johnson’s aides, Joseph A. Califano, Jr. has countered that ‘from 1963 when Lyndon Johnson took office until 1970 as the impact of his Great Society programs were felt, the portion of Americans living below the poverty line dropped from 22.2 percent to 12.6 percent, the most dramatic decline over such a brief period in this century.’ The percentage of African-Americans below the poverty line dropped from 55 percent in 1950 to 27 percent in 1968.”
“Libertarian economist Thomas Sowell argues that the Great Society programs only contributed to the destruction of African American families, saying ‘the black family, which had survived centuries of slavery and discrimination, began rapidly disintegrating in the liberal welfare state that subsidized unwed pregnancy and changed welfare from an emergency rescue to a way of life.’”
While I know many would agree with this I think this is like saying that when the British who grew so close to each other in the Blitz will never again achieve this level of national intimacy without another crisis. We have what is clearly a case of the dialectic at play here. Remove trauma and an adjustment will occur; remove trauma long enough and other more positive adjustments will occur.
The Republican in my backyard mentioned the words “Great Society” at least four times in conversation. This sent me running to my computer to refresh my memory, so my friendly “opponent” inspired this post.