Fifty-four years ago this month, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced the beginning of what would turn out to be America’s longest running war: the “War on Poverty.”
“This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America,” boomed Johnson, basking in the applause the grand declaration guaranteed him during his State of the Union Address.
That “war,” however, by its 50th anniversary had consumed more than $22 trillion in federal spending — while doing effectively nothing to lower the United States poverty rate.
Yet what deserves mention on this anniversary of Johnson’s “progressive” crusade is not simply its failure to cure poverty. Just as noteworthy is the stunning silence from big-government advocates regarding the war’s utter failure.
On one level, the silence from progressive champions of the entitlement system is unremarkable. After all, given the abysmal failure of their programs, drawing public attention to that reality is a clear political no-no.
But such general apathy among progressives regarding the actual results of their government-run solutions is a long-standing pattern.
And it says something important about where their priorities truly lie.
Whether it’s public education, socialized medicine, welfare and food stamps or any number of big-government initiatives, the actual results of progressive policy never seems to be objectively measured by its champions.
It’s as if the ostensible good intentions behind these big-government “solutions” shields them from being judged on their actual effectiveness.
After all, why aren’t more progressives upset that the unscrupulous are using food stamps to purchase lobster and champagne? Don’t such extravagances compound the cost of the program and hamper adequate assistance to Americans in genuine need?
Where’s the outrage over the utter failure of Europe’s many socialized healthcare schemes to reduce mortality rates from preventable diseases? British subjects diagnosed with breast cancer, but stuck with their government-run healthcare system, are significantly less likely to survive than Americans.
Why are the defenders of government-run K-12 education not seriously upset over the complete lack of educational improvement, despite the record amounts of money spent?
In fact, far from examining the waste, fraud, ineptitude and abuse of such programs, progressives merely champion the expansion of virtually each of them.
So why isn’t there a panic within the progressive movement to reform, if not at least audit, these ostensibly important programs? After all, every dollar saved by eliminating waste in welfare means another dollar available to help someone else in need. Every dollar saved by trimming the fat in public education means another dollar we can direct to “help the kids.” Each dollar saved by reducing government healthcare spending means another dollar available to help individuals with no coverage.
In short, if one believes it is government’s legitimate role to provide these services and programs, then maintaining the highest level of integrity within the programs — and actually achieving tangible results — should be paramount.
And yet, such concerns are largely ignored among progressives. When was the last time big-government advocates took to cable news to call for substantial accountability reform to food stamps, education spending or government healthcare rather than merely asking for an expansion of the program?
Their priorities, it seems, are more focused on earning cheap applause, than actually solving problems.
It’s a dynamic that is easy to understand. This is why large corporations, to boost their image, routinely donate to progressive causes. It’s why many college students — eager to be seen as compassionate and revolutionary — are quick to support progressive causes that sound nice, and seem well intentioned. And, unsurprisingly, it’s why many lawmakers eagerly spend our tax dollars to expand government programs, unconcerned over ensuring accountability for the programs’ eventual failure.
It is virtue signaling — not policy-making.
And while it currently seems to make for good politics, it does little to tackle the legitimate problems that beset our nation, our economy and our communities.
If results were half as important to modern progressives as virtue signaling, they would be working harder than anyone to hold government accountable, instead of endlessly feeding it more tax dollars.
No doubt, the “war on poverty” was a great bumper sticker slogan for President Johnson — and it certainly made it appear as if he was concerned about “doing something.”
But it clearly was not a solution.
Michael Schaus is communications director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute.