COMMENTARY | George Will not so much commemorates but laments the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s speech in which he first proposed that slew of social welfare programs that have become known as “the Great Society.”
The speech was delivered in the midst of the 1964 presidential race in which LBJ was about to deliver Barry Goldwater the mother of all landslides and incidentally elect vast liberal majorities in the Congress to carry out his social welfare schemes. It has turned out to be the greatest tragedy in American history, institutionalizing the nanny state that oppresses Americans to this day.
Charles Murray documented the social pathologies that attended the Great Society in his 1984 book “Losing Ground.” Murray’s conclusion was that the social welfare programs of the 1960s and 1970s removed the incentive for tens of millions of people to better their own lives. The resulting spike in illegitimate births, family breakups, and other ills followed as night follows the setting of the sun. The book led to welfare reform in the 1990s and a resulting economic boom. Will notes that things have only gotten worse in the Obama era, largely because the president has cheerfully reversed a lot of those Clinton/Gingrich era reforms.
Will does see a silver lining, albeit a bitter sweet one.
“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.”
Skepticism of the government’s ability to do things is a healthy attitude, all things considered. This is especially true when one considers that LBJ was the author of a more famous disaster, that being the Vietnam War. He may have been a consequential president, but he was a failure whose failures reverberate through the ages. The current president has proven the point by trying to expand on Johnson’s policies, with similar results.