Gnomicon 103

If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.

Gnomicon  103
Monday 20 August 2012

Read gnomica 1-100 here!

101     102

“World War II was the last government program that really worked.”
George Will (4 May 1941 – )

This conservative columnist makes an arresting point.  It is certainly beyond question that WW II ‘worked’ for the American government, and its aftermath initiated a long period of pretty upbeat times for the nation.

Could one reasonably say that today, deep in the most divisively vitriolic presidential campaign of my lifetime, we are a confident, forward-looking people?  I think not.

What happened?

From my personal perspective, it started to turn in the course of the wretched (but do note the long overdue civil rights movement!) sixties, ushered in by the kind of horrendous political assassination one used to associate with some Central and South American dictatorships.  And this was the unhappy decade when Kennedy cranked up Viet Nam and Johnson continued it and created the ‘Great Society’ – guns and butter, remember?  History is long, and the time since the sixties has been short, but I don’t think anybody could seriously claim that America’s Southeast Asia adventure was a “government program that really worked.”  As for the Great Society, no question that race relations are, if not perfect (but better than in, say, Mali or the Congo!), certainly much more equitable as a result, but on the ‘reduction of poverty’ front, I have my suspicions.  In spite of good things this domestic initiative accomplished, I am of the belief that one could not (as Clinton apparently did not) in fairness claim that it was a “government program that really worked.”  Really worked, that is!

During the seventies everything the government programs were meant to achieve somehow ended up going south, and bad as things were under Nixon, Carter’s catastrophic bungling in Iran seems in retrospect a fittingly emblematic coda to a feckless administration utterly out of its depth.  During the next decade things started out pretty upbeat, but at the end of the Reagan (and Bush I) administration there was certainly a sense that, yes, the lights were on in the White House but nobody was home.  The Clinton years were great for the stock market but, again, in retrospect, it would appear that it also helped to lay the foundation for much of the financial chaos that was to rock the nation and the world in the new century – a chaos that government programs, mushrooming in both number and individual extent, and the multifarious acolytes servicing them seemed incapable of dealing with.  Nor, surely, could anyone reasonably aver that six-gun George’s spectacularly ill-advised follow-up in the Middle East on the old man’s early nineties involvement there has turned into anything remotely akin to a “government program that really worked.” Obama, it is true, did, as he said he would, (kind of) get us out of Iraq … and then immediately turned around and (as he had never to my recollection said he would) plunged us into that bottomless pit of corruption known as Afghanistan where even Alexander the Great in 329 BCE hit the brick wall around the Hindu Kush as it were – and Obama ain’t the warrior Alex was!

Well, admittedly these observations are somewhat selective … but — bottom line – Will’s thinking about “the last government program that really worked” is pretty much spot on.

And now, not even heaven knows what’s in store for us, regardless of who loses in November!  I mean, do you think the country is in better shape today than it was four years ago?

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3 Responses to Gnomicon 103

  1. Al Cram says:

    In a word….No.

    I am old and a bit cynical these days. I sometimes think Ike was the best in my lifetime with Reagan close behind. Ike warned us against the military industrial complex, built the interstate and played golf(which in my mind is a lazy waste of good outdoor exercise time), but it did keep him from trying to build a larger bureaucracy for the tax payers to support. I would argue that the interstate was a successful endeavor. Try to imagine getting the produce that feeds this nation from coast to coast without it. Of course some might argue that the.same money spent on railroads might have been better. Still, you would have to truck it from the rail line to every grocery store in America. I think we would be in eternal traffic gridlock.

  2. Chuck says:

    I do believe that a government, any government, has a responsibility to its people. How much responsibility is the question.
    I didn’t read Will’s column but the WW II G.I. Bill and the following such bills gave millions of veterans a change for education that they might otherwise not have had. And as a result, higher education meant, or use to mean, higher wages and higher wages means higher taxes and more government income.
    So, a person can’t really claim that government programs don’t benefit the people and the government in the end.
    People who deal in absolute terms far too narrow.

  3. laohutiger says:

    Both writers make valid points (though I take exception to the one on golf, Al!!). I see the GI Bill as a part of WWII (and all these subsequent forever wars). And of course governments are necessary and should serve the people (but as Chuck says, how much?). Thus, when it comes to telling me how many ozs of a soda I can drink, well, then the regulatory flood gates are opened and we shall all be infantilized by the infant bureaucratic minds we did NOT elect to parent us. Ike’s Interstate works are indubitably a great program and somewhat modulate Will’s comment — nice catch on that one!
    Yes, cultural troglodyte that I now am, I guess I’d really like it to be the way it was under Truman and Eisenhower — but since the time of Hesiod (8th/7th century BCE) it’s always been life in an iron age present looking wistfully back to that golden age past (the never really did exist anyway!).
    MUCH appreciate the comments!

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