Archive for Thursday, January 18, 2018

Opinion: Overlooking why we lost trust in government

January 18, 2018


— Is there anything more depressing than a cheerful liberal? The question is prompted by one such, historian David Goldfield, who has written a large-hearted book explaining that America’s problems would yield to government’s deft ameliorating touch if Americans would just rekindle their enthusiasm for it.

Goldfield’s new book, “The Gifted Generation: When Government Was Good,” notes that in 1964 nearly 80 percent of Americans said they trusted Washington all or most of the time; today, about 20 percent do. Goldfield does not explain why trust in government waned as government’s confidence waxed. The question contains its answer.

He rightly celebrates the 1944 G.I. Bill of Rights, but misses what distinguished it from many subsequent social programs. It was intended as a prophylactic measure against unemployment and political extremism among millions demobilized from the military. It worked. Veterans overwhelmed campuses; Goldfield says that some in California resided in fuselages of half-built airplanes. Eligibility for the bill’s benefits was contingent upon having performed military service. The bill used liberal means — subsidies for veterans’ education and homebuying — to achieve conservative results: Rather than merely maintaining people as permanent wards of government, it created an educated, property-owning middle class equipped for self-reliant striving.

In contrast, much of the Great Society’s liberalism sought to de-moralize policies, deeming repressive those policies that promoted worthy behavior. This liberalism’s political base was in government’s caring professions that served “clients” in populations disorganized by behaviors involving sex and substance abuse. Surely this goes far toward explaining what Goldfield’s narrative leaves inexplicable:

Postwar America’s political process chose Harry Truman and then Dwight Eisenhower to preserve the post-New Deal status quo. And then it chose Lyndon Johnson over Barry Goldwater, who was (rightly) viewed as hostile to the New Deal’s legacy. But just 16 years later, the electorate, whose prior preferences Goldfield approves, made an emphatic choice that he considers a sudden eruption of dark impulses that hitherto were dormant. Goldfield does not distinguish, as Ronald Reagan did, between New Deal liberalism — of which the G.I. Bill was a culmination — and liberalism’s subsequent swerve in another direction. And he has no answer as to why the electorate, so receptive for so long to hyperactive government, by 1980 was not.

Goldfield flecks his narrative with fascinating facts: Not until 1943 did the government remove the racial classification “Hebrew” from immigration forms. Cornell University’s president promised to prevent Jewish enrollment from making the school “unpleasant for first-class Gentile students.” When Jonas Salk, who would invent the polio vaccine, applied for a fellowship, one of his recommenders wrote, “Dr. Salk is a member of the Jewish race but has, I believe, a very great capacity to get on with people.” That we cringe is a better metric of social progress than is government spending on social programs.

Goldfield’s grasp of contemporary America can be gauged by his regret that the income tax, under which the top 10 percent of earners pay more than 70 percent of the tax and the bottom 50 percent pay 3 percent, is not “genuinely progressive.” He idealizes government as an “umpire,” a disinterested arbiter ensuring fair play. Has no liberal stumbled upon public choice theory, which demystifies politics, puncturing sentimentality about politicians and government officials being more nobly and unselfishly motivated than lesser mortals? Has no liberal noticed that no government is ever neutral in society’s allocation of wealth and opportunity? And that the bigger government becomes, the more it is manipulated by those who are sufficiently confident, articulate and sophisticated to understand government’s complexities, and wealthy enough to hire skillful agents to navigate those complexities on their behalf? This is why big government is invariably regressive, transferring wealth upward.

During his long look backward through rose-tinted glasses, Goldfield, a Brooklyn native, pines for the days he remembers, or thinks he does, when his borough was defined by its devotion to the Dodgers (who decamped to Los Angeles in 1958). Such nostalgia is refuted by information: There still are seemingly millions of moist-eyed, aging members of the Brooklyn diaspora who claim to have spent every day of every summer of their halcyon youths in Ebbets Field (capacity 31,902). Actually, in the team’s greatest season, 1955, when it won its only World Series, attendance averaged 13,423, worse than the worst 2017 team average (Tampa Bay’s 15,670). The past — including government’s salad days, when it said it could create “model cities” and other wonders, and people believed it — was often less romantic in fact than it is in memory.

— George Will is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


Ken Lassman 3 months ago

Oh, George, you're upset by ANYONE who is cheerful, let alone liberals. Your mutterings predictably blame peoples' mistrust of government to liberal programs and say nothing about the mistrust engendered by the post-World War II McCarthy progroms, the assassination of the president and subsequent incomplete investigations, and the outright lies that both Democrats and Republicans used to justify the buildup in Vietnam and the loss of tens of thousands of Americans, many drafted into service that came out of that.

Go back to your diary and spew invectives all you want--just don't force your curmudgeonly bile onto the rest of us. We have to go to work, you know, and don't have the time to change our clothes after walking past your doorway.

P Allen Macfarlane 3 months ago

Americans began to distrust government because of the mess Johnson created with Vietnam, not because of the reasons Will cites.

Bob Smith 3 months ago

Johnson played the crap hand he was dealt by JFK.

Steve Hicks 3 months ago

Allen's right.

George Will misses the mark. Vietnam was when most Americans began to question our faith in our government. It had nothing to do with belief, or disbelief, in "New Deal liberalism:" that's Will's attempt to make history fit his Conservative narrative, and it's not true. (Note there are no quotation marks on Conservative: Will was a real, Goldwater, Conservative at the time.)

It's also off-the-mark to say Vietnam was Kennedy's fault. The first U.S. combat-deaths in Vietnam occurred during the Eisenhower Administration. Kennedy inherited that involvement, and was afraid aborting it would give Republicans political ammunition to charge he was "soft on communism." But Eisenhower inherited the Truman policy of sending U.S. military "advisers" to help the French fight Vietnamese communist guerrillas. And etc., etc. (Watch the first episode of Ken Burns' recent "The Vietnam War" for a fuller history of American involvement with Vietnam, beginning with Woodrow Wilson.)

Watergate did a great deal more damage to Americans' trust in their government, seeing what happens when government's power is in the hands of a lying crook. It's also worth noting that in the 1968 election Nixon's team engaged in treasonous contacts with foreign governments, to scuttle peace talks that Nixon feared would give his opponent an edge. (See the book "Chasing the Shadows," Ken Burns' Vietnam documentary, and Deja vu all over again today, isn't it ?.

But the one thing that did the most lasting damage to American's trust in their own government was obviously...since it's still the "conservative" mindset today...the belief that "government is the PROBLEM." It's hard to believe anyone would proclaim that anarchist principle as his (illogical) theory of governance when he became president: but Ronald Reagan did. And Reagan "conservatism" is still with us, and still undercutting American's basic faith in their government.

Vietnam hawk, Nixon apologist, Reagan admirer, George Will is the last person capable of an honest assessment for Americas' loss of faith.

Gary Stussie 3 months ago

"Reagan "conservatism" is still with us, and still undercutting American's basic faith in their government."

Right ... Conservatives are the ones responsible for a loss of faith in the Government!

What say you to this :

A four-page memo circulating in Congress that reveals alleged United States government surveillance abuses is being described by lawmakers as “shocking,” “troubling” and “alarming,” with one congressman likening the details to KGB activity in Russia. The memo details the Intelligence Committee’s oversight work for the FBI and Justice, including the controversy over unmasking and FISA surveillance.

House Intelligence Committee's vote, this morning, on releasing the memo to lawmakers was along party lines, with Democrats voting against making it available for all members.

NOW why would ALL the DEMs on the House Intelligence Committee not want to the memo released to all members of Congress which showed which American citizens were unmasked by Obama era FISA requests?

Ken Lassman 3 months ago

This is a bipartisan problem, Gary. You think Nixon's lies helped the American people trust their government? There is a long history of stupid coverups, power grabs and greed on both sides of the aisle so don't even try to make this a partisan rallying cry. And the only way to get out of "the swamp" is through bipartisan reforms. If the Republicans don't "get it" soon, then they will have this sin added to their long list, and the same goes with the Dems.

Steve Hicks 3 months ago

Back to the subject, Gary, what say you to this:

in his inaugural speech, a president tells the citizens of the United States that their "government is the PROBLEM !"

Do you think that might make American citizens lose trust in their government...which is the question under discussion here ?

Concentrate, Gary. Focus.

Gary Stussie 3 months ago

Government is the problem Steve ... Search any of the below and pick your source!

  • IRS Targeting Political Groups
  • Using FISA to spy on opposition party
  • Clinton email server
  • mueller aide fired strzok
  • who paid for Russian Dossier

... on and on.

If any single one of these abuses was against Democrats, we would not hear the end of it from you. Don't worry, President Trump will right the Ship of State!

Steve Hicks 3 months ago


Gary says: "Government is the problem Steve ..."

Thanks, Gary, for proving my point that "Reagan 'conservatism' is still with us, and still undercutting Americans' basic faith in their government."

Steve Hicks 3 months ago

We already knew that you're a Reagan "conservative," and believe his "government is the PROBLEM !" doctrine.

And that obviously, like Reagan, your slogan is as deep as you've thought about the matter.

Government is reality, Gary: always has been, always will be. The "no government" alternative (i.e., anarchism) doesn't exist in reality: never has, never will.

America exists in reality, Gary. So why would Americans care what enemy aliens from cloud cuckoo-land say about our politics and society ?

Bye-bye. Have a nice trip home.

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