Political Hay

LBJ’s List and the Conservative Challenge

Obama dismisses the Great Society's trillions as chump change. Conservatives had better learn from that.

By 6.10.08

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Somewhere, Lyndon B. Johnson is insulted.

Claiming victory in the race for the Democrats' nomination, Senator Barack Obama said this:

"Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal..."

Excuse me? You mean all those LBJ Great Society programs didn't provide care for the sick, secure good jobs for the jobless and take care of the environment? On the off-chance the Internet has a space limitation, let's settle for a partial listing of LBJ's efforts for the sick, the jobless, the environment and more as reflected in the list of legislation he proudly compiled and boasted of in his presidential memoir The Vantage Point. The list begins at the end of 1963, when he took office following JFK's assassination, and continues through his last full year, 1968. The titles are as LBJ himself listed them:

College Facilities
Clean Air
Vocational Training
Indian Vocational Training
Manpower Training
Federal Airport Aid
Farm Program
Pesticide Controls
International Development Association
Urban Mass Transit
Water Resources Research
Federal Highway
Civil Service Pay Raise
War on Poverty
Truth-in-Securities
Medicine Bow National Forest
Ozark Scenic Riverway
Administrative Conference
Food Stamps
Housing Act
Nurse Training
Revenues for Recreation
Library Services
Federal Employee Health Benefits
Wilderness Areas

Still with me? Good, because that's only a partial list of what LBJ was so proud of but which Obama apparently feels just wasn't enough. Perhaps Obama has a point. After all, the above is only a partial listing reflecting LBJ's work for just one month of 1963 and only a portion of 1964. Let's move on to 1965, again with space prohibiting a full listing of what Senator Obama seems to feel were LBJ's inadequacies in just not getting the job done:

Medicare
Aid to Education
Higher Education
Four Year Farm Program
Department of Housing and Urban Development
Housing Act
Social Security Increase
Fair Immigration Law
Older Americans
Heart, Cancer, Stroke Program
Drug Controls
Mental Health Facilities
Health Professions
Medical Libraries
Vocational Rehabilitation
Anti-Poverty Program
Arts and Humanities Foundation
Aid to Appalachia
Water Pollution Control
High Speed Transit
Community Health services
Water Resources Council
Water Desalting
Juvenile Delinquency Control
Retirement for Public Servants'

I can hear the chorus growing now. Stop! Stop with the list already! OK. But I warn you, we're not even done with 1965 yet. With 1966, 1967 and 1968 still to go I hate to leave out things like Child Nutrition, Rent Supplements, Clean Rivers, Child Safety, Narcotics Rehabilitation, Water Research, Water for Peace, Air Pollution Control, Education Act, Deaf-Blind Center, Safe Streets, Wholesome Poultry, School Breakfasts, Aircraft Noise Abatement, Better Housing, Oil Revenues for Recreation, Juvenile Delinquency Protection, Guaranteed Student Loans, Gun Controls, Aid-to-Handicapped Children, Hazardous Radiation Protection, and Dangerous Drugs Control.

Is it any wonder that the ghost of LBJ is fuming? All of this and more, oh so much more, and suddenly here comes this Obama guy insisting that only by electing him can America "begin" to " provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless" and cite the Obama-era as the time "our planet began to heal..."

Begin? What was all of this LBJ stuff costing Americans into the trillions? Democrats as skin-flint right-wingers?

Seriously. What has Barack Obama been doing since he was elected a United States Senator four years ago? Has he ever set foot in any of the mammoth concrete boxes crowding the streets of Washington, DC? Has he been inside them to see the hordes of very well-paid bureaucrats who are busy looking over the shoulders of 300-plus million American citizens to make sure they are obeying every last one of the millions of regulatory jots and tittles that enforce LBJ's list?

A PROBLEM HERE is that some Republicans and conservatives have lost the understanding of what it means to be conservative. Politely put, they have lost their way. They fail to ask of Obama why he feels the federal government has been so lacking if the above list -- a partial list, I would remind you -- was such a stunning success. Why, for example, did Community Organizer Obama have to, by his own admission in his recent victory speech, walk "arm-in-arm with community leaders on the South Side of Chicago and (watch) tensions fade as black, white, and Latino fought together for good jobs and good schools"?

Fight for good jobs and good schools? You mean to say that after all those LBJ achievements such as (partial list again) "Vocational Education," "Nurse Training" "Vocational Rehabilitation," "Manpower Training" "Summer Youth Programs," "Aid to Education," "Higher Education," "Education Act," "College Aid Study," and "School Breakfasts," the South Side of Chicago has nothing to show for it?

Well. Interesting, yes?

Why is this so? The reason that Democrats complain of poverty, bad schools and lousy jobs is that -- in places where liberalism rules -- this is exactly what one does find. Take a trip to Detroit and check in on the public school system. Hop on down to New Orleans and see what was going on there before -- not after -- Katrina hit. The failure of LBJ-style liberalism is writ large, for all the world to see. And the answer of Senator Obama is -- more! More! More! MORE!

The disturbing thing in all this is that there are in fact Republicans out there -- no names please -- who look at a list of LBJ's legislation and immediately assume the posture of what Goldwater called the dime store Republican. You know the approach. "I agree with my distinguished opponent in principle, but I would reduce the funding for this program by..."

WHICH BRINGS US HOME to the central fact for conservatives in this election season. The Obama policies -- which are in fact the LBJ policies as presented by a better orator -- will in fact fail. The principle behind them -- government control -- simply does not work. If it did Medicare and Medicaid would not be headed toward financial ruin, Social Security would be in the black as far as the eye can see, and the citizens of New Orleans, like the school children of Detroit -- beneficiaries one and all of LBJ's largesse -- would be in an infinitely better place than they are today.

Forty-four years ago this year the seeds of the conservative success that would flower with the leadership of Ronald Reagan were firmly rooted in the landslide that elected Lyndon Johnson. It is not without irony that the power to transform the liberal agenda into the list LBJ cited so proudly in his memoirs eventually backfired and backfired badly, fueling the Reagan Revolution. Lyndon Johnson took FDR's New Deal and ran the string out to its logical conclusion in the American system -- and Americans, appalled at the cost, the bureaucracy, the extravagance and the incompetence, finally rebelled. The bill for LBJ's list had come due.

Barack Obama has without doubt now lashed himself irrevocably to the 21st century version of LBJ's domestic agenda. What should disturb liberals is that even if Obama manages to make it past John McCain in the general election, he is headed for a presidency, like LBJ's, that will leave a legacy of failure. LBJ's failures, reinforced by the mercifully brief disaster of Jimmy Carter, helped ensure the defeat of seven post-LBJ Democratic presidential nominees who voluntarily assumed his mantle. Even the supposedly unbeatable Bill Clinton could not muster fifty percent of the vote in either of his elections, something Ronald Reagan had no problem with in the three-way 1980 election. To underline the point, after watching Clinton spend his first two years trying to jam an LBJ-style health care plan through the Congress, Americans gave control of both House and Senate to the GOP for the first time in over four decades.

Just as oysters need irritation for pearls, the next golden age of conservatism hovers at the edge of an Obama presidency.

YET WHETHER OBAMA or McCain wins the White House, the challenge for conservatives in 2008 is to illustrate conservative principles with a sharp and vivid clarity. To understand them, to teach them -- and yes to fight for them. Relentlessly, no matter who is president or who controls the Congress. To fight in Washington, sure. On the campaign trail, yes. But most particularly in the media, making the case no matter what Republican candidates or office holders do or do not do.

If the Republican Party of 1964 learned anything -- and they didn't learn it all at once way back then either -- it is that elections are about principles, not candidates. The paradigm-shifting 1964 election was not about Goldwater any more than the 1980 election was about Reagan or the 2008 election is about McCain. In the post-1964 world, conservative principles faithfully understood and represented will win. When you run from them, in an elusive search for the fool's gold of a phantom popularity with liberals, you will lose. You will lose an election or you will lose your office or you will lose your legacy.

More to the point? If you call yourself a conservative yet think it's your job to add to LBJ's list, you will deserve to lose.

Jeffrey Lord is the creator, co-founder, and CEO of QubeTV, an online conservative video site. A Reagan White House political director and author, he writes from Pennsylvania.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.