The Promised Land (1991)
Part Three: Washington (pp. 111-221)
Thesis Question: Why did LBJ’s ‘War on Poverty’ fail? What happened to the one chance in the last half century that the federal government had to make an intensive effort to deal with the problems of our city’s ghettos?
Class Discussion: What does it take to fight a “War on Poverty”? (just like a “War on Drugs” or a “War on Terrorism”)
As you read Lemann’s chapter on Washington, think about how well the government responded to the task of waging war on poverty.
Why was urban poverty not on the public opinion radar before 1960? (111-112)
Under what circumstances did JFK decide to call Coretta Scott King? Why was this decision so important? What was RFK’s reaction to the call?
What was the record of the JFK administration toward civil rights? When, according to Lemann, did it begin to change?
In 1961, poverty is not even on the radar. Only a few pointy-headed intellectuals on the left were interested in the issue. After JFK’s slim election over Nixon, the War on Poverty had no resources, no leadership and no momentum.
Who were the ‘radical chic’, and why did RFK feel like he needed to meet with them? (127-29)
How did Michael Harrington’s book stimulate JFK’s interest in a potential anti-poverty program? (130-31)
Where did the idea of “community action” come from and why did it suddenly seem so appealing? (133-34) What was it all about? (128)
What problems would community action provoke?
What was ominous about the intrusion of Congressman Powell and Mayor Daley into the projects sponsored by the President’s Committee on Juvenile Delinquency? (128-29)
What kind of hurdles did Heller have to overcome in his search for an anti-poverty program? (131-133)
Where did the idea of an anti-poverty program stand when JFK was shot? (134-35)
How was LBJ’s War on Poverty initiative greeted? (145)
The Liberal Dance with the Leftists:
How did more traditional liberals like Oscar Lewis define the term ‘culture of poverty’?
How did the community action program satisfy the liberal ‘culture of poverty’ concept? (150-51)
How did ‘maximum feasible participation’ become a central tenet of community action programs? (151-153)
Who originally conceived of this approach, and what was the theory behind it?
What doomed the community action program almost from the start?
What was the gist of the Elizabeth Wickendon’s warning to LBJ? (157-58)
Which political faction took advantage of the leadership opportunities offered by community action programs? (162-64)
Describe the early relationship between community action programs and local authorities (including Baltimore).
Describe Daley’s attitude toward the OEO (Office of Economic Opportunity). (166-167)
What was the attitude of the traditional Washington bureaucracy toward OEO? (167-68)
How did the ‘maximum feasible opportunity’ people react to Shriver’s efforts to appease Washington and local officials? (168).
Explain the extent and the impact of community action “screw ups”. (168-170)
What was Shriver’s response to crises within the program by mid-1965? (170)
How did the Watts riots and the escalation of the war in Vietnam cause the sixties to ‘turn on a hinge’ during 1965? (171-72)
Describe the firestorm of criticism that greeted the 1965 White House’s Moynihan Report on “The Negro Family”. How did this event help open rifts in the whole civil rights and anti-poverty coalition? (172-179)
How did the left’s unity deconstruct in the wake of the Moynihan Report?
What is Lemann’s point about the Banfield brouhaha? (178-79)
What effect did this new, militant mood of the black power movement have on the community action program? (179-181)
What did he personally believe would be the answer to the defeat of poverty?
How did his rivalry with RFK affect the progress of his anti-poverty programs?
What was LBJ’s state of mind in 1965-66? (182-188)
What happened to the relationship between LBJ and RFK? (184-88)
How did LBJ respond to the outbreak of rioting in the cities in 1967? (190-91)
What positive results did these programs achieve? (193-94)
What path does Lemann argue should have been followed instead? (193-96)
According to Lemann what was the central problem in the cities that none of these programs succeeded in addressing? (199)
List Lemann’s summary of the dual influences of the Great Migration? (199-202)
1968 Presidential Election: Hubert Humphrey vs. Richard Nixon
Why should Richard Nixon be remembered as one of the most liberal presidents in American history?
Describe his ‘Family Assistance Plan’. Why did he support the reform and expansion of welfare, ‘a guaranteed fixed income’, instead of a jobs program?
How did the Poor People’s Campaign end Moynihan’s influence? (216-218)
Look at Lemann’s conclusion about the period when our federal government had its best opportunity to pass national legislation addressing the problems in our inner cities. At what point was the moment truly gone lost? (218-19)
Does Lemann agree with Reagan’s assessment that “we fought a war on poverty and poverty won”? (218-219)
What is Lemann’s final assessment of LBJ? (219-221)