Thursday, January 21, 2010

First State of the Union Speeches - Lyndon Johnson

With President Obama poised to deliver his first State of the Union address - it is interesting to look back at the first State of the Union addresses by other Presidents. The Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia has a compilation of speeches beginning with Lyndon Johnson's first State of the Union address.

Johnson's speech is best remember for his Civil Rights agenda and for his War on Poverty but I found this line the most telling:
Above all, we must release $11 billion of tax reduction into the private spending stream to create new jobs and new markets in every area of this land.
Above all his many legislative wants and wishes - Johnson knew that he had to first "stimulate" the economy. Not with government spending but with tax cuts to the real creators of jobs - the private citizens and the private sector. Johnson emphasizes, "We need a tax cut now to keep this country moving." If a President suggested this today he would be painted as providing "tax breaks for the rich" instead of simply acknowledging the true underpinnings of how our economy works.

Johnson sought to accomplish his aims not by increasing federal spending and involvement in every aspect of people's lives but "with an actual reduction in federal expenditures and federal employment." He wanted to insist on "a dollar's worth for a dollar spent." He wanted "a substantial reduction in federal employment.... While maintaining the full strength of our combat defenses." Tax cuts and reduced government spending? Lyndon Johnson - the forerunner of the Tea Party movement? Who knew?

Too bad that such great rhetoric was not backed up with actions. Instead Johnson's "Great Society" programs started a path of government programs and involvement in almost every aspect of American lives that we still have to deal with today. (To be fair - FDR was the real path blazer in this regard - Johnson just raised the practice to an art form.) Want a concrete example? How about this:
We must provide hospital insurance for our older citizens financed by every worker and his employer under Social Security, contributing no more than $1 a month during the employee's working career to protect him in his old age in a dignified manner without cost to the Treasury, against the devastating hardship of prolonged or repeated illness.
No more than $1 a month? Yeah right. The sprawling growth of a government program couldn't be more evident. Don't get me wrong - I'm not against Medicare or Medicaid but I am against a politician promising it will only cost the taxpayer X when in truth everyone knows the real cost will both be much more and basically forever.

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