Liberalism According to Galbraith
Liberalism, as it was known for a generation, died in November 1964. Whether it will be reborn remains to be seen.
The occasion of the demise was, of course, the famous victory of Lyndon B. Johnson. The triumphant Johnson consensus of that year, stretching from Henry Ford to Walter Reuther, from Russell Long to Martin Luther King, made the traditional liberal program the official national ideology of the United States of America. The Left, Center, and sophisticated Right agreed upon the goals of federal management of the economy, full employment, Medicare, formal legal equality for Negroes, and expanded economic growth. There was even a vague unanimity about a dim future prospect called the Great Society. Liberalism was no longer a subversive and prophetic force. It had arrived at the very center of American society.
To be sure, liberal demands were often adopted more in principle than in practice. Harry Truman’s call for universal national medical insurance was turned into a program which merely covered people over sixty-five and some of the poor; similarly, the bold summons to an “unconditional” war on poverty was followed by actual measures that were cautious and highly conditional. So a struggle is still required if the nation is going to take its own consensus seriously. But that is a matter, however important, of quantitative change. And liberalism, if it is true to its own ideals, must propose qualitative innovations.
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