Cumberland Times-News

January 13, 2014

We’ve stopped promoting the general welfare

Cumberland Times-News

— “We the People of the United States in Order to ... Promote the general Welfare... .” This is the beginning to the preamble to the Constitution.

Doesn’t “general Welfare” mean all Americans have a right to expect their basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, safety, education, health care to be provided by our large family known as the U.S. Government?

If so, then we live in an entitlement society, for which I am quite grateful.

A little more than 150 years after our Constitution was adopted, the U.N. ratified its charter that contained these same benefits extended to all earth’s residents.

A major architect of this document was President Roosevelt’s wife, Eleanor, and FDR was the first U.S. president to take seriously the constitutional mandate to “promote the general Welfare” by implementing core social security, public assistance as well as a host of other public programs.

President Johnson was the next national leader to assume the mantel of “general Welfare” by declaring a “War on Poverty” 50 years ago.

LBJ proposed and enacted numerous social projects such as civil rights, voting rights, Medicare, Medicaid, work training, and Head Start, among others.

How has the war gone? Did the U.S. win? In his Jan. 3 Times-News commentary, “ ‘War on poverty’ a losing battle at age 50,” columnist Cal Thomas responds in the negative. Undoubtedly millions more feel the same way.

All these individuals point to the same fact that in 50 years since ‘64 the poverty rate has only declined by about 4 percent. In ‘64 it was 19 percent and is now still as high as 15 percent.

On the other hand, my view — shared by countless others — is that the real reason poverty levels continue to be relatively high despite LBJ’s anti-poverty efforts is twofold.

First, LBJ made a foolish blunder in ‘67 by rapidly escalating U.S. involvement in a senseless, idiotic shooting war in southeast Asia. The resources required to fight poverty were diverted to fighting Vietnamese.

Even with this gigantic pullback in financial support for the War on Poverty, in only 10 years from 1964 to 1974 the 19 percent rate fell to 11 percent.

“Conservative” Republican President Nixon, who by today’s standards would clearly be known as a “liberal,” continued LBJ’s work to defeat poverty.

The second reason for the failure to significantly lower U.S. poverty, and most likely the greatest factor, came in 1981 when President Reagan took office by campaigning against government services to help the poor, and while in office for eight years proceeded to wage war against the “War on Poverty.”

Reagan’s well-known phrase, “Government is not the solution. Government is the problem!,” sums up his domestic policy. The Gipper seemed to have forgotten the constitutional mandate that “We the People” are the government, i.e., the U.S. is us.

Based upon column, Thomas gives his prescription for curing poverty: “Stay in school; get married before having children and stay married; work hard, save and invest.”

When I read this I was struck with a glaring revelation. It appears Thomas subscribes to the contemporary philosophical perspective known as egoism.

In other words, if I stay in school, work hard, save and invest, then I will not be poor. Isn’t it the Christian way to place others before self? Don’t Christians believe the only way to receive is to give? That the more given, the more received?

It’s because of this that I want to give more in taxes to our giant family known as the government, so that the family elders (aka President and Congress) may fulfill their constitutional duty to “Promote the general Welfare.” In return I and everyone else will receive unfathomable benefits.

R. Steele Selby