2014 marks the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. I’ve noticed the media and politicians are arguing about the worth and success of the Great Society and accompanying War on Poverty. To me the answer is simple, certainly it’s been worth it and just as certainly it has not perfectly met the two major goals set forth.
The Great Society was to begin the elimination of poverty in America as well as create a society of equal opportunity, free of the historical biases and barriers of race, creed, gender, age, ethnicity, and skin color. Its critics look at the last 50 years and flatly declare it a failure. But note, America has always been a work in progress and altering centuries of accepted social and economic normality can’t happen with the flip of a switch. The switch of change is not on/off, it is linear like the dimmer on a lamp or the volume control of a radio. It can advance by lesser or greater degrees but it can also be turned backward. So, as one president or congress comes into the room the lights may brighten while another may seek the dark.
Since 1964 the volume has been on a roller coaster ride. Programs like Johnson’s turned the level up and brought about great advances in economic opportunity and social justice. Today, Americans who walk to a different beat have never been freer. But, with every degree of advance there has been resistance. The linear switch does not always turn freely and smoothly. Those who, for whatever reasons, fear change stand ready to impede the efforts of those who welcome it.
What is so difficult for me to understand is why anyone would want to resist the goals set forth by President Johnson. How can anyone who says they support and defend the US Constitution and the ideas expressed in our foundational documents not want to see America truly strive to become a nation where all are created equal and guaranteed the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Lyndon Johnson wasn’t asking people to do anything different from what has always been expected, to continue seeking the attainment of the ideal. To live up to its promise.
Take a look at the fundamental request made by Johnson in 1964. How can you not find them worthy?
“So will you join in the battle to give every citizen the full equality which God enjoins and the law requires, whatever his belief, or race, or the color of his skin?
Will you join in the battle to give every citizen an escape from the crushing weight of poverty?
Will you join in the battle to make it possible for all nations to live in enduring peace as neighbors and not as mortal enemies?
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?”