Fifty years ago today President Lyndon Johnson delivered his “War on Poverty” State of the Union speech before Congress. In it Johnson declared “unconditional war on poverty in America.” And in a few years following the speech a flurry of programs were passed under the banner of the “Great Society,” including food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid and Head Start.
While we at the Virginia Black Conservative Forum don’t agree with everything included on the Great Society agenda we believe those on the Right must be willing to acknowledge the successes of the war on poverty as well as its many shortcomings.
In fifty years, malnutrition, starvation, homelessness and hunger have largely been eliminated in this country. In the mid-60s, Bobby Kennedy made his famous poverty trek through Appalachia and the rural South and was shocked by the level of need he encountered. He was particularly troubled by the babies who were unresponsive with “distended bellies.”
If Kennedy or any other politician were to make a similar trip today, the scene would be quite different….due largely to Great Society programs. But a great deal of work still needs to be done. After fifty years, and tens of trillions of dollars spent (more than the Vietnam War, the two Iraq Wars and the Afghan effort combined), our poverty rate sits higher than when President Johnson left office, millions find themselves trapped in a cycle of generational dependency, having lost hope for a brighter future.
Ultimately the Republican Party must come up with an agenda to counter the failures of the Left. And such efforts must transcend race, sex, etc. It must be an agenda that speaks to the American desire for upward mobility and it must appeal to an American people who have all but given up on the American dream.
We here at VBC encourage the Republican Party to look back to figures such as Jack Kemp and Ronald Reagan who’s vision and values were inclusive, forward thing and inspiring. Their ideas served as an effective counter to failures of Johnson’s Great Society and are the key to future conservative and Republican successes can be found therein.