BY VERN TURNER
Too many times columns like this have addressed misplaced priorities in the pantheon of society’s menu of tasks and government’s handling of them. As far as I can tell, the priority parade by government at the federal and state levels has been shifted heavily toward what business and capitalists want instead of toward that quaint notion concerning the “general welfare” of the voting public. Why is that the case?
A recent visit to the Lyndon B. Johnson memorial library in Austin, TX reminded anyone who read the history of this president that his No. 1 priority was to create a “great society” by stamping out poverty. He wanted to set us on the path toward one of FDR’s most important rights, the freedom from want.
Then there was the Vietnam thing … How did the Great Society get sidetracked so badly just when it was about to shift the entire paradigm of American capitalism toward making the middle and working classes the strongest elements of our nation? It was the priority for war over being great as a people and an ideal.
John Kennedy was doing everything he could to alter course away from our involvement in Vietnam when he saw the quagmire ahead. He felt that our fear of a communist takeover in Southeast Asia wasn’t worth the effort. Then he was killed and the dogs of war assaulted the staff of the new Johnson Administration. Even with the dogs nipping at his heels, Johnson managed to get more legislation passed that benefitted more people in our country than all other presidents combined.
Of his advisors, only George Ball remained a staunch opponent of plunging into Vietnam. Not until the Pentagon Papers exposed the machinations of this war cabinet did we see how single-minded everyone was to “stop communism” and prevent a “domino effect.”
The blame for this mindset can, in my opinion, be placed on three things: the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us against, Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s psychotic witch hunt for embedded communists and the ripple of paranoia he spread throughout the country, and the Korean War which ended most unsatisfactorily – at least from a military and political point of view.
David Halberstam’s great book, The Best and the Brightest, details this sordid and unfortunate period of priority mismanagement.
Traveling from the sublime to the ridiculous, Parade ran a cover story about George W. Bush and his new library. The Austin American-Statesman’s excellent columnist and reporter, Ken Herman wrote a feature piece covering the pending opening of this library and some of the players surrounding its conception and development.
Two libraries from two entirely different presidents …
The engraved words of George W. Bush greet each visitor as they enter:
“We believe in open societies ordered by moral conviction. We believe in private markets, humanized by compassionate government. We believe in economics that reward effort, communities that protect the weak and the duty of nations to respect the dignity and the rights of all.” – George W. Bush, 19 November 2003 in Whitehall, London, England.
Those of us who followed the Bush Administrations sadly note that few of these “beliefs” were part of how those eight years were operated by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Ashcroft. The paranoia sold to the American public following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 fueled the alteration of priorities away from any hope of serving the American people to their benefit.
In fact, the Bush apologist-in-chief, Karen Hughes, said that President Obama blamed Bush for everything and that “Obama inherited a far better country and situation than he would have otherwise.”
One wonders how much lipstick poor Ms. Hughes had to use to paint the pig of corporate giveaways and deregulations, two wars financed on a Chinese credit card while giving trillion-dollar tax breaks to the people who needed them the least.
The banks went wild with crazy loan schemes and nearly destroyed the world’s economy. Corporate America sent jobs offshore as fast as it could. The wars solved nothing and created more terrorism than it defeated. Education funding was wasted beyond belief with No Child Left Behind. We have yet to see the growing horror show of unbridled energy development with no accountability or liability from the energy companies.
The war-first priority is now firmly entrenched in our foreign policy and domestic fiber as we cringe before the odd terrorist who blows up innocent people. Our “governments” cringe before the gun lobby under the mere threat of actually having to run for reelection instead of just having it handed to them.
Meanwhile, the people clamor for gun control, increased education funding, ending the wars, finding jobs for the chronically unemployed and solving an immigration problem that has festered for decades.
The clamor from the pompous in and around government is for more war, more prejudice, more fear and more rights being suborned. The Fourth Amendment is in tatters thanks to the Patriot Act and a few incidents that will stimulate more invasions of privacy.
Maybe the world is too complex for simple nostrums like a good education leads to a good job, or make war the last option instead of the first, or rebuild our cities instead of Iraqi cities, or pay our teachers well instead of building yet another football stadium.
Priorities. The way they are now will not save our society from its own self-imposed mistakes and mistaken priorities.
Somewhere, somehow the reset button on America must be pushed. The internecine squabbling between Republicans and Democrats must return to debate, not rancor and partisanship.
How’s that for a starting point in rearranging our priorities?
– Vern Turner is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer. He lives in Marble Falls, TX, where he writes a regular column for the River Cities Daily Tribune. He is the author of three books – A Worm in the Apple: The Inside Story of Public Schools, The Voters Guide to National Salvation and Killing the Dream: America’s Flirtation With Third World Status – all available through Amazon.com.