The Legacy of the 60's
“Is President Bush hinting that the Peace Corps destroyed the moral fiber of poor people?” asked Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, responding to the claim by the White House spokesman, Marlin Fitzwater, that the failed social programs of the 1960′s were responsible for the Los Angeles riot. For Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Attorney General William Barr’s assertion that the Great Society caused the breakdown of family structure was “one of the most depraved statements I have ever heard from an American official.” Even Republican campaign strategists were having none of the administration line, the New York Times reported. “Next,” one of them was quoted as saying, “Marlin [Fitzwater] will blame the savings-and-loan crisis on Woodrow Wilson.”
Speaking of blame, I must take a share of it for the ridicule heaped on the administration, for in 1984 I published a book called Losing Ground which concluded that the reforms of social policy in the 60′s directly made things worse for the American poor. And, ineptly as the administration went about pressing its point, I agree with Fitzwater’s more ambitious thesis. The conditions in South-Central Los Angeles in 1992 that produced the riot are importantly a product of those reforms of a quarter-century ago.
About the Author
Charles Murray is the W.H. Brady scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author most recently of In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State (2006). This article has been adapted from a presentation at the annual Herzliya Conference in Israel in January.