President Obama’s Squandered First Term
LBJ’s “Great Society” was the perfect blueprint, but was mostly ignored by the Obama Administration.
The American left, with the President entrusted to carry Liberalism’s mantel, has squandered a once-in-a-generation opportunity.
We blew not only the chance to pass desperately-needed legislation not seen since Great Society programs of the 1960s – but to actually alter the national consciousness when it comes to perceptions about government and public policy and ways to make society and our lives better.
Think about that for a moment — actually changing the way people think about their government and their leaders. Improving dialogue. Creating an honest platform for deliberation and debate. Solving actual problems without demagoguery and scare tactics.
On virtually every issue critical to the future of this nation, the Obama Administration has not only dropped the ball, it didn’t even take the field. Two words I’d use to describe President Obama’s management style and actions during his first term would be – abdication and compromise. Abdication from becoming the champion of the working class, and compromise to the point of surrendering without a fight on virtually every important issue before it even enters the legislative assembly line in Congress.
Between January 2009 — when President Obama initially took office — and the midterm congressional elections held 21 months later — when the predictable backlash occurred and Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives, thus erecting the gauntlet of governance that would lead to current gridlock — the liberal agenda had a rare window of opportunity not open since LBJ won in the 1964 presidential election.
When President Obama walked into the Oval Office on January 20, 2009, this was the situation in Washington:
(1) A bold, new charismatic President with great vision enjoyed widespread national and international popularity
(2) Democrats (his party) controlled of the House of Representatives
(3) Democrats (his party) controlled of the Senate
(4) The economy was in shambles — creating national outrage and impetus for sweeping change and reform
All the pieces were perfectly in place. But from day one, the clock was also ticking. And, it was ticking fast.
Given the cyclical nature of politics and public opinion, President Obama had just shy of two years to ram every possible liberal program through Congress imaginable. Things like universal health care. Ending two ludicrously-priced unnecessary wars and cutting back on costly international engagements. Retooling the national budget towards massive infrastructure improvements, thus creating millions of new jobs. Reforming Wall Street and the sick mentality that got us into this mess. And so forth, and so on.
The blueprint was already in place. It just had to be followed. Where could this blueprint for change be found? This is an easy answer for those who know their history.
In 1964, LBJ destroyed Barry Goldwater in an electoral landslide. He resumed his presidency with a clear national mandate and complete control over the legislative branch (not just in terms of Democratic control, but so far as LBJ’s superior skills at persuasion).
The years 1964 and 1965 were a golden era for liberalism. In fact, LBJ’s first term (discounting the period when he assumed office in the aftermath of the Kennedy Assassination) included a staggering number of accomplishments on every level which reshaped this nation for the better. He remains arguably our most underrated president, especially from the left.
Consider this list of accomplishments by LBJ in juxtaposition to what the current president has done:
— Virtually every important piece of legislation relating to civil rights was passed with LBJ deserving most of the credit, due largely to his sheer force of personality (the evidence on this point is irrefutable, even among his critics).
— Medicare and Medicaid began, ultimately improving the quality of life for tens of millions of seniors (think about how important these programs are to our seniors, especially today).
— The War on Poverty was launched (things like federally-subsidized housing give this a certain stigma now, but several components of the package remain in place and have proven effective).
— A government program called the Jobs Core began.
— VISTA, a domestic version of the Peace Corps, was created.
— The Food Stamp program began, with the goal of eliminating malnutrition, especially in children (sure, lot’s of money has been wasted and the program has been mismanaged, but LBJ deserves considerable credit for recognizing a national problem and coming up with a possible solution, flawed as the ultimate outcome might have been).
— The Higher Education Act, massively increasing aid to colleges was passed (which is one of the reasons this nation continues to be the global citadel of higher education — in other words because we spend on education like a Socialist nation — let’s be frank here and give the S-word some props).
— The Teacher Act was enacted, providing incentives for good teachers to go to zones where they were desperately needed (one reason why good teachers still teach in inner-cities and impoverished rural areas is because of incentives contained in this legislation).
— The National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities was created, supporting art and culture.
— The Public Broadcasting Television (PBS) was created, the first non-commercial national television network (if you like watching all the great shows on PBS, thank Lyndon Johnson).
— Federal museums and institutions were built and expanded – including the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Smithsonian.
— The Urban Mass Transit Act was passed, which provided federal matching funds for large-scale rail projects.
— The Motor Vehicle Safety Act was passed (in 1966), creating safer cars and roadways.
— The Fair Packaging and Safety Act was enacted, giving consumers knowledge of what was inside food products for the first time.
— The Wholesome Meat Act was passed, applying stricter federal standards to meat inspection.
— The Truth-in-Lending Act was signed (in 1968), requiring banks to disclose their fees, interest rates, and finance charges (the banks were violently opposed to this back then, showing that not much has changed).
— Numerous pro-environmental laws were passed, including The Wilderness Act, the Endangered Species Preservation Act, the Solid Waste Disposal Act, the Motor Vehicle Air Pollution Control Act, and other vital legislation, creating federal standards and controls on air and water (President Nixon would later enact a phase two of this agenda. Even Nixon saw the light of day on this issue, in contrast to many of today’s anti-environment Conservatives).
— The Federal Minimum Wage was increased multiple times (so much for the nonsense that raising the minimum wage kills jobs — since the unemployment rate actually declined from Nov. 1963 to Jan. 1969, the period during which LBJ held office — from 5.7 percent to 3.4 percent).
SOURCE: CLICK HERE
LBJ was a flawed man and his presidency deserves a mixed grade, to be sure. His hawkish nature and willingness to engage in the Vietnamese Civil War (I refuse to call it the “Vietnam War,” as the actual conflict was nothing more than a civil war in a sovereign nation) remains a baffling decision that derailed his ability to later lead and inspire on subsequent policies related to The Great Society.
Even now, half a century later, LBJ is treated unkindly by historians – put off by his personal abrasiveness and utter lack of charisma. Too bad that most historians are still hopelessly under the spell of the President Kennedy myth, arguably the most overrated president in history. Translation: Kennedy did virtually nothing in terms of advancing progressive policies. LBJ did virtually everything. Or, at least attempted to. And trying is everything.
Yes indeed, the blueprint for change was there and it was clear. All President Obama had to do was look back on the proven 1964 game plan and use his considerable national popularity and undeniable skills in communication to sell a new domestic agenda to the American people. After all, if LBJ could sell his Great Society program to mainstream America with his obvious albatrosses in style and personality, imagine what great communicator President Obama with all the charm and magnetism could do if he was so determined. The potential was revolutionary.
Instead, what a tremendous disappointment these last four years have turned out to be.
President Obama has been a failure not because he has been one of us — which means being a liberal. His presidency has been a crushing disappointment, because — the fact of the matter is — he has been one of them.
One thing’s for sure: He’s no LBJ.