Good War vs. Great Society
By John Feffer
Foreign Policy in Focus
September 22, 2009
The Vietnam War ruined everything. It not only destroyed
It not only spread into
The Vietnam War also killed the Great Society.
President Lyndon Johnson, with a large Democratic majority in Congress after the 1964 elections, enacted sweeping reforms in education, health care, and transportation, along with landmark civil rights legislation. But the pressure of spending on the Vietnam War - the guns vs. butter debate of the 1960s - eventually brought this last, great program of genuine American liberalism to a halt and scuttled the hopes of its architect for a second presidential term.
The two major issues currently on the public agenda are health care and the war in
butter debate of the 21st century. This year, the annual cost of the Afghan War has jumped to $60 billion. In total, we've spent over $220 billion on the nearly eight-year conflict. If General McChrystal gets his way and the administration sends even more troops, the bill will only grow. Meanwhile, Obama has his own version of Great Society reform on the table in the form of an ambitious health care initiative. It won't come cheap. The president has promised to cap the costs of his plan, the Holy Grail of liberal reformers since FDR's time, at $900 billion over 10 years.
The question is: Can Obama have his guns and eat his butter too? We've already laid out huge chunks of money for the financial sector bailout followed by the economic stimulus package. The Pentagon is continuing to spend as though we aren't facing a $1.6 trillion government deficit for 2009. The military budget for 2010, 4% larger than last year, clocks in at $636 billion.
Johnson believed that he could have both guns and butter. "We are a country which was built by pioneers who had a rifle in one hand and an ax in the other," he proclaimed. "We can do both. And as long as I am president we will do both." His hubris was not unprecedented. The other great liberal reformers, Woodrow Wilson and FDR, also tried to balance their ambitious domestic programs with military engagements overseas.
Johnson, of course, did not remain president for long.
He pushed through most of his Great Society reforms in his first two years in office, when he had large Democratic majorities in Congress. By 1968, the war in
This expansion might well have been global. A few years after the end of the Vietnam War, ministers from 134 countries gathered in
This attempt at a Global Great Society foundered with the rise of neoliberal economic programs in the late 1970s.
History could have marched down a different path in 1965. After all, as a candidate in 1964, Johnson argued that "we don't want to get involved in a nation with 700 million people [
Obama, as candidate in 2008, promised to refocus the
National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance
September 15, 2009
President Barack Obama
The White House
Dear President Obama:
We are writing on behalf of the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance to seek a meeting to discuss the withdrawal of all
We feel you are stuck in the same trap, which ensnared President Lyndon Johnson. His decision to continue that awful war in
Today's peace movement is baffled by your persistence to wage war on the people of
Please meet with us as soon as possible in order to explain your exit strategy, which must include a plan to provide aid and reconstruction in
We protested the belligerency of the Bush administration, and now we are demonstrating against your misguided efforts in
Develop time lines for the withdrawal of combat troops, close down all military bases, including the notorious prison at Bagram Air Base, and stop the bombing of
Please respond by indicating when and where a meeting can be scheduled. We want to assist you in ending this very tragic chapter in
Joy First, Co-Convener, National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance
Pete Perry, Co-Convener, National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance
Max Obuszewski,Coordinating Committee, National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance
Mobuszewski at verizon.net
Ellen Barfield, Coordinating Committee, National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance
Malachy Kilbride, Coordinating Committee, National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance
Kevin Zeese, Director, Voters for Peace
Gael Murphy, Co-Founder, Code Pink
Mike Ferner, President, Veterans for Peace
Leah Bolger, Vice President, Veterans for Peace
Elaine Brower, Military Families Speak Out
David Swanson, Co-Founder, AfterDowningStreet Coalition
June Eisley, Coordinator,
Don Muller, Sitkans for Peace and Justice
Patricia Wieland, Nothampton Committee to Stop the War in
Donations can be sent to the
"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs