Author’s Attacks On ‘Great Society’ Shift Social Debate

Juan Williams, Washington Post, May 28, 1985.


Early last year a little-known social-policy analyst had three minutes, as part of a White House round-table group, to tell President Reagan how to improve American society.

The analyst said that as a “white conservative” the president could talk to middle Americans who were “afraid to visit the big cities” and who have been told they are “at fault for a legacy of slavery and racism.” He could let them know there is a “kinship” of “shared values” between a black woman in Detroit working two jobs to get her son through school and a white Iowa farm family that believes in hard work.

Reagan said nothing.

Then in September the analyst, Charles Murray, published “Losing Ground.” The book argues that American social and welfare programs, expanded in the “Great Society” of President Lyndon B. Johnson, have not helped poor people but have destroyed the “shared values” that bonded them to middle America: that people having children should get married, that education is important and that work is desirable and rewarding.

Murray’s book became the rage among conservative social-policy makers in the White House and throughout Washington. Conservative economist George Gilder wrote that the book was “the most devastating, sustained attack ever made against the welfare state.”

Reagan began responding to Murray’s words, White House aides said. In his 1985 State of the Union address, he said: “Policies that increase dependency, break up families and destroy self-responsibility are not progressive . . . .”

Washington Post