More Great Society

With regard to the post below, commenter rab wants to know: “If Matt’s intent is to ‘debunk’ a ‘myth’, maybe he should address some of the reasons why people think the Great Society programs were a failure first.”

Sure. I don’t think this is too difficult. There were tons of domestic policy shifts undertaken under the “Great Society” rubric. Taken as a whole, the package was extremely successful. But several Great Society initiatives were either poorly designed or else outright failures. At around the same time there were political backlashes against cultural liberalism and liberal approaches to things like crime and national security. As a result of those backlashes, conservatives moved into political ascendancy. One of several consequences of this is that the “Great Society” concept has come to be identified with the unpopular elements of the Johnson-era domestic agenda — AFDC, “maximum feasible participation,” etc. But the Great Society programs that made the biggest difference — notably Medicare, Medicaid, and Title I federal aid to education — remain so extremely popular that conservative politicians don’t dare mount frontal assaults on them.