The Legacy of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson

Ayn Rand wrote and spoke extensively on the welfare-statism of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. On the 50th anniversary of the day that John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson each were President, I present this passage by Ayn Rand, from the speech “How Not to Fight Against Socialized Medicine,” published in The Objectivist Newsletter, March 1963, and reprinted in The Voice of Reason (New York: Meridian, 1989, pp. 284–289; quoted passage on p. 285). Ayn Rand was speaking to a group of doctors, many of whom had opposed President Kennedy’s precursor to President Johnson’s Medicare program.

The majority of people in this country—and in the world—do not want to adopt socialism; yet it is growing. It is growing because its victims concede its basic moral premises. Without challenging these premises, one cannot win.

The strategy of the Kennedy administration, and of all welfare-statists, consists of attempts to make people accept certain intellectual “package deals,” without letting them identify and differentiate the various elements—and equivocations—involved. The deadliest of such “package deals” is the attempt to make people accept the collectivist-altruist principle of self-immolation under the guise of mere kindness, generosity, or charity. It is done by hammering into people’s minds the idea that need supersedes all rights—that the need of some men is a first mortgage on the lives of others—and that everything should be sacrificed to the undefined, undefinable grab bag known as “the public interest.”

Doctors have no chance to win if they concede that idea and help their enemies to propagate it.

An important part of the legacy of President Kennedy is the administration of President Johnson. Johnson’s War on Poverty was a continuation of a war that President Kennedy initiated. The legacy of Kennedy and Johnson is the political part of the legacy of the 1960s, which the United States has never recovered from. (Of course, Kennedy and Johnson were not original thinkers in any significant way; their legacy is merely a continuation of a tradition going back at least as far as Plato.)

I close with a personal account of this legacy of the 1960s. The following passage is from my blog post on January 17th, 2013.

The United States is no longer the safe and civilized place that it was before the 1960s, when the New Left took over our federal government, our cities, and our popular culture. I witnessed the change, which was as abrupt as a nightmare.

People born after 1960 have no idea of the civilization that has been lost since then. I grew up in the Bronx in New York City, in a lower middle class melting pot. In 1961, when I was six, I would play in the park with my friends without adult supervision—at night. Mothers would wheel their baby carriages into the park and sit and talk—at night. On the day President Kennedy was assassinated, when I was eight, I was with my six-year-old sister in the park while she played with her friends. There was no adult supervision. I was the male supervision. In 1964, when I was nine, I went to about twenty baseball games, including a World Series game, at Yankee Stadium with my eleven-year-old friend—with no adult. I walked to school alone—everyone did—when I was seven, and the only reason I did not walk alone earlier was that I was too short for drivers to see me.

On the day the local orphanage had a field trip, half of my first-grade class was empty, because half of the children in the class were orphans. I don’t recall any rich people in my neighborhood. But there was no crime, no fear, and no ugliness of any kind.

By 1966, no one went into the park even in the daytime.

My family’s apartment was burglarized. So were apartments above and below us. We witnessed other burglaries. Race and ethnicity suddenly became an issue. Suddenly there was ugliness everywhere: profanity, harsh and dissonant music, unkempt dress and grooming, rampant drug use, and crime.

Politically, the New Left’s welfare state gave an excuse for every thug to rob from the richer to give to the poorer. Culturally, deliberate ugliness migrated from isolated museums and galleries and playhouses into American living rooms via the popular media, making it ‘cool’ to insult and ultimately destroy every civilized, Western, American value.

Reported per capita violent crime more than doubled in the decade of the 1960s, just when the welfare state expanded similarly. By 1991, the reported violent crime rate per capita had increased nearly five-fold. Since then, the rate has dropped, due in my opinion to Republican governors and mayors (such a Mayor Giuliani in New York) replacing more-Leftist predecessors (such as Mayor Dinkins in New York). But the reported per capita violent crime rate today is still more than double the rate in 1961, and I think the actual crime rate today is much higher. Reporting a crime is undoubtedly a very dangerous thing to do for an illegal immigrant or an individual living in a gang-infested ‘neighborhood’.

Both crime and New Leftist welfare-state politics are results of the same philosophical ideas: subjectivism, denial of an absolute reality, denial of the difference between external reality and the content of one’s mind; denial of free will; denial of the ability of the individual to know reality through reason; emotionalism instead of reason as a guide to action; denial of any causal connection from one’s thoughts and choices to one’s achievements; therefore relying on plundering and destroying others instead of producing; denial of absolute moral principles; denial of individual rights in favor of sacrificing the individual to others or oneself; denial of the importance of any individual; extreme egalitarianism, casting anyone who has less of anything—whether wealth or esteem—as a victim.

In a few weeks, I will write a brief personal account of the pivotal contribution of another man—also assassinated, but much later—to the legacy of the 1960s.

(Here are some writings by Ayn Rand about Presidents Kennedy and Johnson:
“Have Gun, Will Nudge”, The Objectivist Newsletter, March 1962.
“An Intellectual Coup d’Etat,” The Ayn Rand Column, July 15, 1962.
“Who Will Protect Us from Our Protectors?”, The Objectivist Newsletter, May 1962.
“The National Interest, c’est moi”, The Objectivist Newsletter, June 1962.
“The Fascist New Frontier”, pamphlet, 1963.
“The New Fascism: Rule by Consensus”, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.
“Our Cultural Value-Deprivation”, The Objectivist, April and May, 1966.
“Books—Poverty Is Where the Money Is, by Shirley Scheibla, Reviewed by Ayn Rand”, The Objectivist, August 1968.)