"We make a mistake when we assume some people are significant and others have no significance at all..." from The Tao of Public Service
The Battle for Significance
In the War on Poverty, the tide may now again be turning. Yet, if we truly wish to complete the task, we must engage in a battle for significance. All who strive must become warriors for significance; just as those who began the task. We must win that battle or risk losing this war.
The War On Poverty
In March of 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, as part of his Great Society program, launched the War on Poverty. He did this because he saw our national goal as "an America in which every citizen shares all the opportunities of his society, in which every man has a chance to advance his welfare to the limit of his capacities..."
However, by the late 1970's and early 1980's the Great Society War on Poverty initiatives had begun to come under wounding fire. According to columnist Paul Krugman in his article, The War Over Poverty, the attack narrative went like this:
Antipoverty programs hadn't actually reduced poverty, because poverty in America was basically a social problem -- a problem of broken families, crime and a culture of dependence that was only reinforced by government aid. And because this narrative was so widely accepted, bashing the poor was good politics, enthusiastically embraced by Republicans and some Democrats, too.
In many ways, this is still where we are at the present time.
The War Against the Insignificant Poor
In the United States of today, whether you know it or not, we are engaged in a battle for significance. The following quote defines the issue:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what...who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it...These are the people who pay no income tax...And so my job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
The speaker states that his "job is not to worry" about the 47%. As he saw the task of president, his job was to worry only about those who carry the burden of paying for those "dependent" on the federal government.
Why does he not worry about everyone? He does not have to worry about the 47% because they are not important. From the standpoint of the speaker and those who were listening with approval, the dependents are not important because they are not makers of wealth. For the speaker and his listeners only the makers of wealth are significant. Those who do not make wealth are insignificant: only the wealthy have value, those without wealth are worthless. And that is the issue.
Warriors for Significance: FDR and LBJ
The leaders of our nation who began The War on Poverty thought and felt otherwise. In his speech on the "Four Freedoms," President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said:
...We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression -- everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way -- everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want --everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear -- everywhere in the world...
We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age pensions and unemployment insurance. We should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care. We should plan a better system by which persons deserving or needing gainful employment may obtain it...
LBJ sought to build on FDR's efforts. In his speech entitled: Special Message to the Congress Proposing a Nationwide War on the Sources of Poverty he stated the following:
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