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Sundays With The Christianists: American History Books For A Not-So-Great Society
"Hey, Hey, LBJ! How much Taxpayer Money did you waste on social engineering today?" chanted no one ever. And yet both of our Christian-oriented textbooks for homeschoolers might leave the modern student thinking that the most controversial thing about the 36th president was all that spending he did. Today, we will learn how Lyndon Johnson made America poorer and less moral, and made hippies happen by not letting Our Troops win in Vietnam (we'll get to the Vietnam war itself next week, though). Go ahead and put some flowers in your hair, for all the good it'll do you.
Our 8th-grade textbook from A Beka, America: Land I Love (1994, 2006), starts its discussion of the Johnson administration with the 1964 election, almost as if the year between JFK's assassination and the election never happened. This may be so they can emphasize how sentimental voters, still mourning Kennedy, chose Johnson instead of the obviously superior candidate, Barry Goldwater, who "opposed big government and urged a return to a Constitutional system of limited government." The book doesn't mention anything about Goldwater's positions beyond this, which is surprising -- you'd think they'd at least nod approvingly at "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." Needless to say, there's nothing about Johnson's electoral landslide. (Another weird effect of this arrangement is that it almost gives the impression that the Civil Rights act of 1964 somehow came about after the election.)
The actual programs of the Great Society get surprisingly little detail in Land I Love, although of course the book underlines the main point, which is that they were terrible, the culmination of a series of government intrusions into Americans' freedom, starting with the New Deal, that eventually made the USA, "in essence, a welfare state." Which would be news to European countries. Strangely, the book doesn't go into nearly as much detail as we'd have guessed about why all this was bad:
The Great Society became the largest public welfare program since the New Deal. As state and local governments accepted tax dollars from the federal government for new welfare programs, they surrendered their authority to Washington, D.C. For the first time, local school districts accepted money from the government. Great Society programs included the Job Corps, Headstart, and Medicare, which provided health care for older Americans.
And that's it! Talk about a letdown -- seems like there could have been a lot more ranting there, though we do like the subtle propagandizing about how schools have been going to hell ever since, so aren't you kids glad you're homeschooled? This will be on the test. Earlier in the chapter, the book also mentions that private Christian schools really started becoming a trend in the 1960s, "[in] response to the declining moral and academic standards in the public schools" -- not in response to public school integration, no, no, no, definitely not. As we saw last week, it was all in response to the removal of God from the classroom.
For its part, our 11/12th-grade textbook, United States History for Christian Schools (Bob Jones University Press, 2001), manages to put the Civil Rights Act of 1964 before that year's election, and actually includes it under the heading "Great Society," rather than separating it out as Land I Love does. U.S. History also acknowledges Johnson's skill at getting legislation passed, even saying that "Few other presidents have known how to work with Congress as well as Johnson did." It details the various Great Society programs, and even has a few good words to say for the "War on Poverty":
The programs of the War on Poverty did succeed in helping raise thousands of people above the poverty level (although the general economic prosperity of the Johnson years may have had much to do with that success). The "war," however, did not come close to eliminating poverty in the United States.
On the other hand, U.S. History gives us the pro-Goldwater lecture we'd been expecting in the other book, suggesting that Goldwater's greatest liability as a candidate was that Americans weren't ready to accept his uncompromising conservatism:
He rejected the usual political practice of tailoring his message to please his audience. He denounced the social security system in front of senior citizens in Florida, for example ... Goldwater advocated a philosophy of government almost diametrically opposed to Johnson’s; the Arizona senator believed that less government activity and regulation would benefit the nation. Goldwater, for instance, voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, not because he opposed equal rights for blacks but because he thought that the bill gave the federal government too much power to interfere in the private lives of citizens.
And we also get a bit more fretting about the horror of creeping socialism in the book's discussion of particular programs. Medicare, for instance,
was designed to ensure that the nation’s elderly would be able to afford proper medical treatment, but it did so by taxing other Americans in order to pay for the program. In that respect, Medicare typified the Great Society as a whole.
And in its summation of the Great Society, U.S. History says that it "was, on the whole, a failure." Although the editors are willing to say that the civil rights parts were kind of OK (we'll come back to this another week), the programs didn't eliminate poverty, and "in fact, the nation seemed to be even more riven with dissent at the end of Johnson’s presidency than at the beginning," as if that had more to do with the Great Society programs than with Vietnam or continued economic inequality. The book notes and then dismisses liberal claims that the War on Poverty didn't go far enough, and that the costs of Vietnam undercut the progress the programs made; ultimately U.S. History decides that government can't and shouldn't try to address social and economic ills at all, concluding the section:
Ultimately the individual is responsible for helping himself, conservatives argued, and only such self-help will produce lasting results. Christians, of course, recognize that the root of society’s problems is sin; only when this root problem is dealt with can society’s problems as a whole be approached.
So get out there and eliminate sin, and then maybe we'll talk about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and healing the sick.
Now, about those hippies: Land I Love knows exactly where the Hippie Menace came from:
During the Vietnam years, patriotism hit an all-time low in America. Liberal and rebellious young people on college campuses across the United States demonstrated against the war. Some burned U.S. flags to demonstrate their defiance and hatred toward America. Many college students and professors openly avowed their Communist belief or sympathy ...
As the war in Vietnam dragged on, college campuses were plagued with riots, war protests, flag burning, and other anti-American activities. Some young men dodged the draft (requirement of men to register and be available for military service) and refused to fight. They went to Canada or European countries to escape being drafted into military service.
Not that their opposition to the war could have been rooted in principle or anything -- they were just a bunch of rebel commies who hated America.
What's more, the rebellious young folk were just nasty and smelly:
Many young people turned to drugs and immoral lifestyles; these youth became known as hippies. They went without bathing, wore dirty, ragged, unconventional clothing, and deliberately broke all codes of politeness or manners. Rock music played an important part in the hippie movement and had great influence over the hippies. Many of the rock musicians they followed belonged to Eastern religious cults or practiced Satan worship.
Sadly, that's just about all we learn about '60s youth culture in Land I Love; U.S. History goes into a bit more detail, as we'll see next time.
Next Week: More hippies, some Vietnam, and the breakdown of American society. Guess which of the two textbooks says that "violent demonstrations on college campuses led to the deaths of four students at Kent State"?
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