once upon a time there really was a war on poverty

Es­ti­mated reading time is 4 min­utes.

THE WAR ON POVERTY as run by “lib­eral” De­moc­rats under Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s and by pre-compassionate “con­ser­v­a­tive” Rep*blicans under the lead­er­ship of Ronald Reagan in the’80s dif­fered hugely be­cause of the at­ti­tudes of the two groups. Here find two ways of looking at the same problem:

“On May 5, 1964, four months after Lyndon Johnson com­mitted America to a War on Poverty, Sar­gent Shriver ad­dressed a meeting of the Ad­ver­tising Council in Wash­ington, DC.

At the time, Shriver was working two jobs: he was head of the Peace Corps and, si­mul­ta­ne­ously, had been tapped by the new pres­i­dent as a spe­cial as­sis­tant to run Johnson’s anti-poverty initiative.

Standing be­fore his au­di­ence, Shriver talked of a meeting that he’d had with an un­named jour­nalist the pre­vious week. The jour­nalist told him:

‘Be­fore you can do any­thing about poverty, you’ll have to fu­mi­gate the closet in which Amer­i­cans keep their ideas about the poor. You’ll have to rid America of all its clichés about the poor, clichés like the one which says that only the lazy and worth­less are poor, or that the poor are al­ways with us.’

‘Only an ig­no­rant person would main­tain that lazi­ness or some other moral de­fect is the source of poverty,’ [Shriver] as­serted. ‘As if being poor were somehow un-American.’

And so, in the early days of the war, Shriver launched an all-out ef­fort to shift Amer­i­cans’ un­der­standing of poverty and trans­form the lan­guage in which poor people were framed. It was an em­pathy push on a par with that used by abo­li­tion­ists, suf­frag­ists, and civil rights leaders to ex­pand the bor­ders of democracy.

A cam­paign, says cog­ni­tive lin­guist George Lakoff, that was in many ways the ma­ture ex­pres­sion of an em­pa­thetic lan­guage that had emerged over nearly three cen­turies of Western po­lit­ical phi­los­ophy and em­bedded it­self in Amer­ican po­lit­ical practices.

Says Lakoff, ‘The Amer­ican con­cep­tion of democ­racy de­vel­oped over a pe­riod of time and is based on em­pathy. Democ­racy is based on cit­i­zens caring about each other.’ ”

The above state­ment was taken from the ar­ticle “The Battle Hymn of the War on Poverty ” by Sasha Abramsky for The Na­tion (the Feb­ruary 2, 2014 issue). The ar­ti­cle’s sub­title is “How the call to em­pathy helped mo­bi­lize a nation.”


LindaTaylor WelfareQueen 1000

And then came the welfare queen

Twenty years later Ronald Reagan would alert the country to the truth of the un­em­ployed and im­pov­er­ished when he un­veiled the pièce de ré­sis­tance of his anti-War on Poverty—the “Wel­fare Queen.”

With this one simple phrase, the pres­i­dent was able to unite all Re­pub­lican voters and a whole hel­luva lot more Democrats—who should have know better!—in an ef­fort to de­prive down­trodden fellow cit­i­zens from many ben­e­fits of what is gen­er­ally re­ferred to as the “so­cial safety net.”


Only an ig­no­rant person would main­tain that lazi­ness or some moral de­fect is the source of poverty.


That the con­di­tions by which ol’ Ronnie de­fined this wel­fare cheater didn’t exist anywhere—was, in fact, ap­par­ently made out of whole cloth by the prez’s mis­an­thropic advisors/speechwriters—didn’t stop the DLM (you know, that “damn lib­eral media”) from run­ning with it as fast and as far as they could!

Anyway, I babble: back in the 1960s, LBJ and his ad­vi­sors were at­tempting to ad­dress the im­bal­ances of the Amer­ican eco­nomic so­cial po­lit­ical ju­di­cial sys­tems. It is well worth your time to read the ar­ticle above and see what it was like be­fore the Reagan Rev­o­lu­tion and the on­going Republican-led War on the Impoverished . . .

Strunkandwhiten it!

The phrase made out of whole cloth means to fab­ri­cate a story or a lie. I be­lieve that most of us un­der­stand im­me­di­ately that meaning, through ei­ther re­peated ex­po­sure or con­text. But where did such a phrase orig­i­nate. In “On Lan­guage: Out of the Whole Cloth” on the New York Times Mag­a­zine site:

“A whole cloth, or broad­cloth, is ma­te­rial of the full size as orig­i­nally manufactured—not the end bit or rem­nant or piece cut out of the whole for reuse in a quilt or smaller-size gar­ment. Like a sense of the whole person—well-balanced, together—whole cloth has in­tegrity, akin to ‘all wool and a yard wide.’

Then, early in the 19th cen­tury, the phrase’s meaning flipped. In 1840, the Cana­dian nov­elist Thomas Hal­iburton, in his dialect-rich The Clock­maker, had his Yankee char­acter named Sam Slick say: ‘All that talk about her timber was made out of whole cloth, and got up a-purpose. What a fib! It’s all made out of whole cloth.’

In his book A Hog On Ice & Other Cu­rious Ex­pres­sions Charles Funk spec­u­lated that tai­lors were sus­pected of being de­cep­tive: ‘In­stead of using whole ma­te­rial, as they ad­ver­tised, they were re­ally using patched or pieced goods, or, it might be, cloth which had been falsely stretched to ap­pear to be of full width.’ The ma­te­rial pre­sented as being of whole cloth, on that theory, had be­come suspect.”


LindaTaylor WelfareQueen 1500 crop 1

HEADER IMAGE: In 1976, Reagan re­ferred to a woman who “used 80 names, 30 ad­dresses, 15 tele­phone num­bers to col­lect food stamps, So­cial Se­cu­rity, vet­erans’ ben­e­fits for four nonex­is­tent de­ceased vet­eran hus­bands, as well as wel­fare. Her tax-free cash in­come alone has been run­ning $150,000 a year.”

Well, it wasn’t all whole cloth, al­though it was hugely ex­ag­ger­ated: in 1974, Linda Taylor of Chicago was ac­cused of swin­dling the gov­ern­ment of as much as $100,000 TOTAL over a course of years. By the time of her trial in 1977, it was down to $8,000 ob­tained through four aliases. Not whole cloth, but close . . .


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