One of my chores lately is dressing my granddaughters while their mother tends the three-month-old twin boys. Three-year-old Claire puts on most of her clothes herself now. Two-year-old Lila, always trying to keep up with her big sister, will stubbornly tell me “I can do it myself!” even if she really can’t yet, so I summon the patience to wait while she tries to put on her pants and shirt. Both strive to be self-sufficient and I like to foster that, even when it takes three times longer than if they were to let me do it all for them. They also help prepare supper. Claire can peel carrots and Lila can put plates out the table. This takes longer too but they’re proud to do their parts.
Two of their great-grandfathers were World War II veterans. My father was born poor in January, 1922 during a time when there was no government assistance. My father-in-law was also born poor a month earlier in December, 1921. Theirs was the generation that witnessed the beginning of federal government intervention in day-to-day lives of millions of Americans. They were teenagers when President Roosevelt took office in 1933. My father and his brothers participated in programs like the CCCs and WPA to earn money for their families. Both great-grandfathers grew up to join the navy and fight the Japanese, one receiving a Purple Heart and the honor of being buried at Arlington National Cemetery last December. Both supported Roosevelt.
Although many Americans received the first forms of federal government assistance during the Great Depression, they didn’t become addicted to government and they were expected to work for their money. When President Johnson took office in 1963, however, the feds started giving money directly to people with no work requirement. Johnson’s “Great Society” declared a “War on Poverty” that, although well-intentioned, hasn’t come close to achieving its lofty goal of eliminating poverty in America after almost fifty years and $15 trillion. Indeed, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll last week found a plurality of Americans (24%) who believe it was a huge boondoggle that, rather than eliminate poverty, has extended it.
Part of the War on Poverty was AFDC – Aid To Families with Dependent Children – which gave money to mothers without husbands. Many claim that, because mothers got more money the more children they had, it subsidized an increase in illegitimate births and breakdown of families. The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed 13% believing that family breakdown “is most responsible for the continuing problem of poverty” and 10% saying it was “a lack of work ethic” – another result of giving money to people who don’t have to work for it. Those percentages add up to nearly half of all Americans who believe “War on Poverty” programs not only failed to eliminate poverty, but extended it.
As we’re burying the last of our World War II veterans, eight hundred per day lately, the contrast between their generation and the one they parented – baby boomers – couldn’t be more stark. They defeated dictators in Europe and Asia, then defended the free world from communism until the first of the boomer president was inaugurated in 1992 – President Clinton. He was followed by boomer Presidents Bush and Obama. All of them continued to expand government intervention into ordinary Americans’ lives with cradle-to-grave entitlement programs to the point where, in Maine, welfare recipients outnumber taxpayers.
Making things worse, it’s not just Americans: millions of illegal immigrants are collecting benefits – even terrorists like the Tsarnaev brothers who kill us. The US Department of Agriculture actually helps the Mexican government recruit illegal aliens to collect food stamps. In the 19th and 20th centuries, people longed to come to America because they would be free to work toward their dreams and raise their families. We used to attract immigrants “yearning to breathe free.” Now we’re attracting immigrants who want to live for free – at taxpayer expense. According to the Center For Immigration Studies: “In 2009 (based on data collected in 2010), 57 percent of households headed by an immigrant (legal and illegal) with children (under 18) used at least one welfare program, compared to 39 percent for native households with children.”
It’s increasingly evident that Americans today can be divided into two categories: those who want to take care of themselves, and those who expect government to do it for them – those proud to be independent like my granddaughters are becoming, and those who not only fear liberty, but crave dependency. It’s the former who built this country and defended it for two centuries. It’s the latter who are running it into the ground.
Family Security Matters Contributing Editor Tom McLaughlin is a (now retired) history teacher and a regular weekly columnist for newspapers in Maine and New Hampshire. He writes about political and social issues, history, family, education and Radical Islam.