Another ‘Great Retraction’ Slashes Social Theory

March 31, 2023 0 Comments

December 10, 1975

In our continuing series of Great Retractions, the one delivered recently by former Ohio Governor John J. Gilligan must rank near the top.

The one-time champion of liberal labor causes stunned his fellow Democrats at a recent National Affairs Convention in Louisville, Kentucky, by criticizing a trio of popular programs: a national health care bill, federal involvement in environmental protection, and federal housing and development. community. .

“As heretical as it may sound to some, I am very reluctant for the federal government to launch a nationwide health insurance program simply because in the decade since Medicare and Medicaid came along, we have invested millions in health care delivery.” . without materially improving either the level of health or its availability to the majority of American families,”
Gilligan said.

He went on to suggest that most of these federal programs could be better handled at the state or regional level. Since this position is exactly that of presidential hopeful Ronald Reagan, the convention delegates were stunned.

“I guess that’s a departure from some of my earlier thoughts”, Gilligan said, “But there are a lot of things that I believed in ten years ago when I was in Congress that have now been shown not to work.”

It never ceases to amaze me the aplomb with which dogmatic opinion leaders turn 180 degrees when their claims fail.

However, we must recognize the intellectual courage that such changes require.

If only those clearer thinkers who tell it like it is could receive the same consideration as the self-proclaimed oracles!

We delay or destroy good causes at great cost and labor simply because those who advocate caution are vilified.

We are justified in questioning the remaining pie-in-the-sky proposals that are still being pummeled by activists with much rhetoric and little logic.

Regular readers of this column will remember some of the other Great Rectors of recent years:

  1. On school transportation: By Dr. James Coleman, a sociologist at the University of Chicago who launched the integration tool with a federal report in 1964. He now says, “Only in certain specific circumstances does integration improve classroom performance of blacks, when the number of blacks introduced is not large enough to upset the middle-class spirit of the classroom. When these limits are exceeded, the ghetto spirit prevails.”
  2. On deficit spending – by New York Mayor Abraham Beame as America’s largest city on the brink of bankruptcy. He now says: “The same practices I advocated 10 and 20 years ago are responsible for our current difficulty. Borrowing money to pay off debt was a mistake. It’s a bitter lesson.”
  3. On Federal Control – by UN Ambassador Daniel P. Moynihan, then Assistant Secretary of Labor under President John F. Kennedy. Now he says: “American liberals are guilty of overprotecting the good names of the poor, overselling underfunded programs, and avoiding evidence of poor results. In particular (we liberals) have paid too little attention to the limited capabilities of government offices to achieve social change.
  4. On New Math: By the California State Board of Education, which started the education craze a decade ago. The board now reads, “Not everyone needs conceptual theory. The ability to balance a checkbook or add up a shopping list is basic.”
  5. On Permissive Behavior – by Dr. Benjamin Spock, baby care specialist and Vietnam War objector. Now he says: “We have raised a generation of brats. Parents are not firm enough with their children for fear of losing their love or incurring their resentment. This is a cruel deprivation that we professionals have imposed on mothers and fathers. Of course, we did it with the best of intentions. We didn’t realize until too late how our know-it-all attitude was undermining parents’ self-confidence.”

Granted, those who advocate hard work, self-sufficiency, thrift, simple skills, craftsmanship, and all the other old-fashioned virtues may know what they are talking about.

As we search the list of beautiful social theories of the last few decades, what has been successful?

Not the New Deal, not the Square Deal, not the New Frontier, not the Great Society.

Not public housing, rent subsidies, campus riots, black power, isolationism, foreign aid, sexual freedom, affirmative action, welfare, hiring fees, free tuition.

Social Security, Medicare and unemployment compensation survive at great cost but are in jeopardy.

Given the long and lamentable record of mistakes on the part of yesterday’s theorists, we would be better served by a new generation of pragmatists.

It is better to count the small blessings than to retract the big mistakes.

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