Legacy is the Cold War Warrior lens. As the leaf of the calendar prepares to turn the old year new, what comes from our past? The tribes are vibrating in anticipation of a wild and woolly presidential election in the U.S. Mongering fear is a rhetoric staple for the speechwriters. A new player in the political orchestra is playing discordant notes as if he is composing a new symphony in the middle of the presidential concert performance. The Cold War witnessed ten presidential elections, some more noteworthy than others.
The 1960s began with a bang when a young, attractive Democrat, John F. Kennedy, took Richard Nixon to task for the job of president. Richard Nixon was a known as a ‘red-baiter’, but Kennedy, a WWII veteran, was a hawk’s hawk. Both sides played the Cold War Soviet threat card, but Kennedy brought fear alive through words that painted a picture of thousands of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles destroying freedom’s cities, lost children, and hope’s demise for humanity’s future. The number of missiles Kennedy was attributing to the Soviet arsenal, compared to the U.S.’s paltry few, was ridiculous. President Eisenhower could have made short work of Kennedy’s vision of the apocalypse by pointing out the young candidate’s lie, but did not.
Kennedy’s short time in office did make a difference. He and Nikita Khrushchev found some common ground in between shoe poundings. They banned atmospheric and underwater nuclear testing. Together they formed a treaty framework, still in use, to reduce the stockpiles of nuclear weapons. Instead of both empires having enough nukes to destroy the world many times over, we each only have enough left to destroy the world once.
Kennedy’s presidency became Johnson’s to complete, and Johnson was hungry for a ‘legacy’. Johnson took the reins of power and drove the U.S. congressional mule team straight to the ‘Great Society’. The ‘Great Society’ included a massive expansion of federal government programs sold to the people as the mechanism to eradicate poverty and racial injustice. New major spending programs that addressed education, medical care, urban problems and transportation carried the day. A few ‘Great Society’ programs—Medicare, Medicaid, the Older Americans Act—continue to haunt the bloated U.S. budget. Johnson also cocked and loaded the current environmental movement dusting off the 1800 notion promoted by Sir James Ranald Martin that human activity damaged the environment and that there was a civic duty to maintain the environment for future generations. Johnson decided that this was a perfect role for the federal government. In 1964 the Land and Water Conservation Act and National Wilderness Preservation System passed and the race for environmental rice bowls and control began. Johnson, however, is most remembered for escalating the Vietnam War rather than the savior he so wanted to be.
Nixon followed Johnson, but not without a fight from within. Goldwater, a conservative alarmed by the government’s rapid growth and transformation into a grotesque, obese monster, offered Nixon a run for his money. Earlier Goldwater had run against Johnson and lost in a landslide of fear mongering and falling sky reports. Odd, since Johnson was the war mongrel. Facing Nixon, however, Goldwater had his platform soundly rooted in undoing the Great Society, the result of which, in his opinion, would sink the U.S. economically. The Republican party panic over another Goldwater run split the party in two. On one side a small group of Goldwater ‘conservatives’ screamed for reduced government. And, on the other, sat the majority, progressive Republicans. Nixon won, expanded Johnson’s Great Society’ doctrines, summarily ended the Vietnam War, and was impeached. Ford continued government’s growth when he assumed power from a disgraced Nixon. The trickle of Johnson’s ‘Great Society’ became creeks, then rivers, and now oceans of debt over the intervening decades. Forty years after Johnson the U.S. is facing $19 trillion in debt coupled with the losses of world and manufacturing leadership. Environmental and social activists now exercise the tyranny of the minority. The Vietnam War ended, and U.S. society still isn’t ‘Great’.
The New Year holds great promise. The U.S. is at a crossroad and clear choices in the political horse race are at hand. The direction chosen by U.S. voters may seal the country’s destiny. As the citizens of the United States focus inward, much is happening in the world at large; perhaps even the fate of Western Civilization.
James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus spoke of hope in the Introduction to their landmark book America 3.0:
“…We believe that positive change is coming, based on the historical record, and on developments underway today. We do not hold to the “doom and gloom” purveyed in much conservative and even libertarian thinking. Yes, there were good things in the past. Yes, liberty is under attack. And, yes, the current situation is dire. But, no, we are not on an inevitable road to tyranny and poverty. Predictions of the end of America are deeply mistaken….”
Happy New Year