The sad legacy of the Utopian “Great Society”

Despite frequent calls for “honest dialogue” about race, especially regarding the Negro race, in America there can be no display of integrity with this issue because it has become virally political, industrialized and federalized. Mongers profit by perpetuating the worn down conflict with fear and falsity. This endless controversy reeks with fraudulence and political mischief. How can anyone have a plain, frank and truthful debate under these conditions?

We have been piped down a rough, dangerous path of cultural clash by sometimes well-intended people whose thoughtless actions have led to negative social consequences. And racial reverends take full advantage of long past sins and omissions. Fifty years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, despite only rare cases of overt racial discrimination, promoters of racial tensions still get attention from the American press to make us believe the myth that, although “less identifiable,” generational black cultural dysfunction is based on discrimination rather than wrong choices and dependency on government. Of course, all this results in predictable demands for more payoffs and federal intervention in our lives.

Last May the Wilmington (N.C.) StarNews published a Washington Post article and two opinion pieces that support the argument.

Allen Johnson, the editorial page editor of the Greensboro News and Record, wrote under the headline: “An honest dialogue about black men.” Mr. Johnson commented on several “forceful and provocative” letters he published that contained such expressions as: “Black culture will not accept their lack of responsibility…the horrendously self-destructive culture of black males…The victim mentality in the black community needs to be addressed.” Johnson wrote that these were views “that needed to be heard.”

Yes, they do. But we need to look back at the past 50 years to understand why American black people have devolved into an apparently suicidal culture—enabled by confiscated wealth, white guilt and political slight-of-hand. A George Will column adjacent to Johnson’s explains much of it—federal government social programs designed to “end poverty and racial injustice.” Americans have bought into this utopian fallacy “good and hard,” as H. L. Mencken might say.

Sound and fury trumpeted by President Lyndon B. Johnson and his Democrat controlled Congress starting in 1964 began a series of federal dependency policies that wreaked havoc on black families: “male flight from work and family breakdown.”

Mr. Will discussed a new booklet by Nicholas Eberstadt titled, “The Great Society at Fifty: The Triumph and the Tragedy.” It was a triumph for Johnson’s unconstrained visions, but a tragedy for the American black family structure. Sadly, this vision was blurred by the politics of emotion rather than reasoned analysis.

Between 1959 and 1966, the year Johnson’s “War on Poverty” was started, the poverty rate went down from a little over 22 percent to a bit less than 15 percent. But, as we so often have found (but don’t learn from it); bad policies frequently result from politics and politicians.

It’s easy to mislead most Americans who don’t understand or take no interest in their civic responsibilities (books on the failures of American education have been written on this subject). A properly functioning republic requires an informed, reasoned and participatory citizenry. We, the People, gave that away starting in the 60s.

At our peril, when we default on our constitutional control of government, state bureaucracies fill the void. Recently, Rep. Paul Ryan noted: “Government has crowded out civil society in many ways.” Still, he and other national political operatives continue to excuse—or in many cases contribute to—the relentless encroachment on our freedom by supporting restrictive and intrusive federal laws, mandates, regulations and court decisions.

Within two years—1965-1967—LBJ bullied the 89th compliant Congress to spew out 200 federal laws—many actually added to our social problems.

Karen Tumulty in a “Great Society” article published May 18, 2014 in the Washington Post described the criticism of “Johnson’s America”: “…programs perpetuated the problems they aimed to solve, stirred social discontent and worked mostly to the benefit of the massive, intractable bureaucracies they created.”

The legacy of irresponsible federal activism in the 1960s has left us a divided nation with cultural chaos, loss of individual freedom and a growing dependency class of people. In my opinion, it’s doubtful that we can recover from that sad legacy. Ironically, the political classes who support these federal policies cause the greatest social destruction on those people they profess to want to “help.”

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About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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