Who was America’s greatest President ever? Was it George Washington, who beat the British and helped establish the Republic? How about Abe Lincoln, who saved the Republic and extended Constitutional freedoms to every American?
My personal favorite President is Ronald Reagan. He extended American liberties across the globe when he won the Cold War.
The truth is that America has been blessed by good leadership for much of her existence, and there are plenty of other good Presidents to choose from. But things have not always been that way.
Who would you rank as the worst ever American President?
For me, Lyndon B Johnson has to be a strong contender for that title. Reading Robert Caro’s magisterial biographic series about LBJ reveals some unflattering truths about the 36th President. LBJ comes across as both ruthless and venal.
Yet it is not so much LBJ’s character that condemns him as the consequences of his time in office. LBJ attempted to lay the foundations for what he called ‘the Great Society’. What he sowed instead were the seeds of social decay, which Mississippi and other states have been struggling with ever since.
Under Lyndon Johnson, the size and role of the state increased dramatically, with social spending programs introduced across much of America for the first time. As government grew, welfare dependency emerged and created a system of supplicant Americans, beholden on politicians for handouts.
Far from elevating the conditions of Americans, the expansion of welfare under LBJ has reduced many to a position of dependency.
What ought to alarm us today is that the system of dependency has just been expanded dramatically over the past year, especially here in Mississippi.
When Covid first struck, many of the limitations that there had been on the receipt of welfare were suspended. The amount paid out has been increased significantly, too. These changes were presented at the time as temporary measures designed to help those that had lost their job.
What is becoming increasingly clear is that unlimited access to welfare support has all kinds of harmful consequences – both on society and those receiving welfare checks.
Talking to a local business owner in Jackson the other day, I was surprised to learn that they are struggling to cope with customer demand. With the Covid situation improved, business, they said, was getting back to normal.
The trouble, they said, was that they found it hard to get folks to come back to work. Employees who had left when the Covid crisis first hit were unwilling to return since they would be worse off working than retaining public benefits.
LBJ’s legacy pervades our system of education, too. Changes that were supposed to ensure every American had the same opportunities in life have ended up embedding low expectations. There are too many districts in our state that have had F-ratings one year after another. This is because, to be blunt about it, too many schools are run in the interests of those on the payroll, rather than in the interests of young people needing a head start in life.
What can we do about it? We need to undo the legacy of LBJ. That means reforming the welfare system and the education system to ensure that there is accountability for outcomes.
We need to ensure that the rules on who receives welfare, and under what circumstances, are returned to the state level. Mississippi needs a set of rules to ensure that those that get welfare do so because they have fallen on genuinely hard circumstances, not as a lifestyle choice.
In education, we need to stop funding institutions, and ensure that we fund individual students instead. Teachers should be rewarded for their successes and improved performance.
There is nothing inevitable about some of the long term social and economic problems that have festered since the 1960s. Looking around the world, the free market has managed to elevate the condition of people of every culture, color, country, and continent. We need more free market reform here in Mississippi too.