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Letter: Time to revise historical distortions that corrupt truth

If there is a prize for 20th century political scam, it should go to conservatives for propagating as conventional wisdom that 1960s Great Society programs were a failed social experiment that wasted taxpayers’ money. Nothing could be further from the truth. From 1963 when Lyndon Johnson took office until 1970 as the impact of his Great Society programs were felt, the portion of Americans living below the poverty level dropped from 22.2% to 12.6%, the most dramatic decline over such a brief period in this century.

Since then the poverty rate has hovered at about 13%, still a disgraceful level. But if LBJ’s Great Society had not achieved that dramatic reduction in poverty, 24 million more Americans would today be living below the poverty level.

This poverty reduction did not just happen. It was the result of an effort to revolutionize the role of the federal government.

In those years LBJ submitted and Congress enacted more than 100 major proposals. In that era government was viewed as an instrument to help the most vulnerable in our society. The Great Society was viewed as providing a hand up, not a hand out.

It is time to recognize the enduring achievements of Great Society programs. With such programs as Head Start, higher education loans and scholarships, Medicare, Medicaid, clean air and water, and civil rights, life would be nastier, more brutal, and shorter for millions of Americans.

When LBJ took office, this country had segregated stores, theaters and public accommodations, separate toilets and water fountains for blacks with restaurants and housing restricted to whites only. Job discrimination was rampant.

With the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the 1968 Fair Housing Act, and affirmative action, the Great Society tore down all the “whites only” signs.