(NNPA)—President Obama thinks big and acts big. It has surprised many, and there was confusion as to just where he was going and why. I have reached a conclusion. The health care bill, cap and trade, stimulus bill, card check, auto takeover, student loans, etc., have been great leaps into the future which resemble, in fact, emulate, President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s Great Society. It is the Great Society on steroids. Similar modus operandi, but it is certainly a different time and that is where the comparison causes conflict. Let’s take a look at the two presidential agendas.
LBJ came into office via the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The Soviet Union was a major threat to us. Race relations were at a low and poverty was immense. Television was now showing these ills daily and there was a need for a big change in America. We were crying for leadership and Johnson came up with the idea of the Great Society. He announced his proposal via a speech at the University of Michigan in April 1964. He formed 14 task forces (sound familiar?) dealing with foreign affairs, domestic policies such as agriculture, civil rights, education, efficiency and economy, health, income maintenance, fiscal cooperation, natural resources, pollution of the environment, preservation of natural beauty, transportation, and urban problems. The action started in 1965, after he won a super mandate from the 1964 election.
The campaign of 1964 was vicious. Two things the Republican challenger, Barry Goldwater, claimed he would do if elected were: 1) Repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964; and 2) Wage war in Vietnam. These two things were considered extremely radical. Blacks, Hispanics, women, and immigrants were terrified of losing the greatest gain of the civil rights struggle, the Civil Rights Act. Middle America was equally terrified of waging a war that could induce the evil empire of the Soviet Union into World War III. Johnson played off these fears and won in a landslide. He had a super mandate.
Not only did he have a super mandate, the Senate and House became overwhelmingly Democratic. The Senate was controlled by Democrats by a margin of 68-32. The House had a Democratic margin of 295-140. LBJ with his splendid political savvy mastered this very well. He pushed his agenda through Congress with ease. Of the 87 bills he introduced, 84 were passed. That is a winning rate of 96 percent. He owned this nation!
His programs went into effect. Programs such as food stamps, national education funding, Medicare, Medicaid, U.S. Department of Transportation, Job Corps, Head Start, Consumer Protection, and especially environment laws (Clear Air, Water Quality and Clean Water Restoration acts, Wilderness Act, Endangered Species Preservation Act, National Trails System Act, Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, Land and Water Conservation Act, Solid Waste Disposal Act, Motor Vehicle Air Pollution Control Act, National Historic Preservation Act, Aircraft Noise Abatement Act, and National Environmental Policy Act). Overwhelming would be an understatement. President Johnson increased the size of the federal government exponentially. This was the beginning of a federal deficit that is now overbearing to our economic means.
Yes, LBJ went “crazy” but he had the political capital to do it. His major flaw was getting tricked into the Vietnam War by the military industrial complex. He didn’t heed President Eisenhower’s warning as he left office. There we were neck deep in a full scale war. A war we could not possibly win as the Japanese and French before us found out. Such was the unpopularity of this vile war that President Johnson, despite all his other political gains, would not run for reelection. He stepped aside and Republican Richard M. Nixon was elected president with 35 percent of the Black vote.
Now comes President Obama who is racing to get his equally grandiose agenda passed. However, he doesn’t nearly have the political capital of LBJ. He is trying to do this without enough “ammunition” or “troops.” Thus, he is mired in political inertia. He is not listening to the voters and it will cost him in this mid-term election. The little mandate (compared to LBJ’s) is withering away. He passed the stimulus and health care bills but that is about it. The stimulus apparently failed and the health care bill will face repeal with the upcoming 112th Congress.
He, too, is mired in a war we cannot win. However, he didn’t start Afghanistan and he can take credit for ending it (like President Ford with Vietnam).
But his insistence on this new Great Society is out of touch with the real world. We are in debt and that debt will cause us to lose our standing in the world and lower our quality of life. A real hero would address the debt and get us out of it. That is where this president should go with his agenda.
(Harry C. Alford is co-founder, president, CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Website: www.nationalbcc.org. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)