The Promised Land (1991) 

by Nicholas Lemann


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?


·         Ronald Reagan proclaimed in 1980 that “We fought a war on poverty and poverty won.”

·         In Nicholas Lemann’s view, the war never got started. It was quickly defeated by a perfect storm of political forces aided and abetted by administrative mismanagement.


Class Discussion: What does it take to fight a “War on Poverty”? (just like a “War on Drugs” or a “War on Terrorism”):


·         Resources

·         Mobilization

·         Strategy

·         Leadership


As you read Lemann’s chapter on Washington, think about how well the government responded to the task of waging war on poverty.


 Study Guide




The Presidential Election of 1960 (111-117)


  1. What was the long term Democratic policy regarding poverty in the cities? (112)

Why was urban poverty not on the public opinion radar before 1960? (111-112)

·         Democratic leaders like Richard Daley and other machine bosses had a tough, pragmatic attitude about the intransigence of segregation. Friction between the races was not going to change anytime soon, and forcing change was political suicide. Blacks would just have to follow the time honored path that other immigrant groups had followed when they came to the mean streets of America’s cities. Deliver the vote, and the machine will eventually deliver enough contracts to pull you into the middle class.

·         Eye towards maintaining the political coalition with Southern Democrats

·         To get the black vote in the 1960 presidential election, JFK would rely on the tried and true Democratic strategy of promising lucrative government contracts to machine bosses in return for their loyalty. Daly may have won JFK the election.

  1. Why was JFK so unresponsive to the needs of urban black voters in the 1960 presidential campaign? (112-13)

·         JFK believed that he had already nailed down the black vote through machine politics and through Daley in particular. 

·         Complication: RFK had contempt for the corruption of Rep. Willie Dawson (Chicago) because he was an old style machine politician and for Adam Clayton Powell (Harlem) because in his opinion he was a rogue. Neither had any respect for right and wrong.

·         The Kings initially felt closer to Nixon in the campaign.

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?

·         JFK’s phone call to Coretta King during the Oct. 1960 Birmingham Movement was engineered by Sargent Shriver, ‘the house communist’ who used this opportunity to bring the Kings around to supporting the Democrats.

·         Why did JFK make the call despite the opposition of his political advisors? Overnight it made him into a bonafide civil rights supporter but it threatened to alienate Southern Democrats.

·         RFK’s reaction: he called Shriver and Wofford ‘bomb throwers’ who had lost the South.  In the long run, though, supporting King turned into a shrewd political move because national opinion would turn against segregation due to the TV coverage of the brutal police suppression of Civil Rights demonstrations over the next few years.

What was the record of the JFK administration toward civil rights? When, according to Lemann, did it begin to change?

·         JFK’s focus after the election was completely on Cold War crises: the Berlin Airlift, the Arms Race, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Vietnam; he had to be prodded into action on race relations.

·         1961: RFK urges moderation from SNCC and CORE and an end to their provocative direct action campaigns to break down segregation and to get black people the vote. He asked King to postpone the Freedom Rides; he offered James Farmer tax breaks if CORE would halt its sit-ins.

·         1962: JFK and RFK begin to note the political impact of the televised brutality used against Civil Rights demonstrators and the personal affronts of Southern politicians against the Kennedys. (The beating of federal agent John Siegenthaler during the Freedom Rides also shocked them.)


The Post War Liberal Consensus  (117-127)

  1. How did John Kenneth Galbraith articulate the ‘conventional wisdom’ among liberals about the problem of poverty (The Affluent Society)? (117)

·         The Kennedy’s had been raised to believe that poverty had essentially been conquered by the New Deal during the Depression.

·         The Liberal consensus: the ideology of capitalism would ultimately triumph against the communist threat because it was a more efficient and productive economic system. Poverty itself would eventually be extinguished in America. Assimilation of class, region and ethnicity was slowly but inevitably taking place

·         Keynesian Economics: “a rising tide floats all ships”: laissez faire will work for everyone!

·         JFK’s campaign slogan in 1960: “Let’s get America moving again.”

·         No one suspected that a racial problem was brewing in the slums of Northern cities.

·         Racial strife, along with the war in Vietnam, would disintegrate the liberal consensus by the end of the 1960’s.


The Left Wing Egg Heads (117-123)


  1. List the “fringe” eggheads who challenged Galbraith’s conventional wisdom that urban poverty was not an important issue. (Put an asterisk next to those whom Lemann emphasizes.)  (117-119)


In 1961, poverty is not even on the political radar of the Democratic party. 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.


    1. Robert Lampmann (1959)

·         University of Wisconsin Study presents evidence of the slowing rate of exit from poverty in the 1950s.

    1. Harris Wofford

·         Notre Dame law professor and protégé of Notre Dame President, Theodore Hesburgh, Wofford headed the United States Commission on Civil Rights (1959) which reported the growth of poverty in Chicago and issued a mild warning about race relations.

    1. Glazer and Moynihan (1963)

·         Beyond the Melting Pot (1963) questions the degree to which the American city was still assimilating ethnic minorities and immigrants.

·         Ethnicity remained remarkably persistent as an organizing principle for an urban society which remained pluralistic and quarrelsome

    1. ***Leonard Duhl’s “space cadets” (1955), regarded as ridiculous at the time, but prescient in hindsight.

·         National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) study analyzed the detrimental impact of Urban Renewal projects on the composition of inner city neighborhoods: high rise housing, highways, suburban flight. The enrichment of private developers had increased the concentration of poverty in the city cores.

·         NIMH financed influential research projects, including Elliott Liebow’s Talley’s Corner, our next book.

    1. Ford Foundation’s “Gray Areas Project’ (ie “Black Areas”,  but he could not say that and get Ford Foundation funding (119-120)

·         Paul Ylvisaker and Siviridoff  (New Haven) programs to improve education and job training in black slums


Anomie and Ghetto Related Behaviors (120-22)

    1. How was the sociological theory of ‘anomie’ different from earlier Freudian psychological theories about the origins of juvenile delinquency? What sort of program did these sociologists recommend? (120-22)

·         anomie’: a different conception of the psychological sources of delinquency and poverty devised by University of Chicago sociologist Lloyd Ohlin and Columbia University sociologist Richard Cloward: ‘Mobilization for Youth’ Project; financed by Ford Foundation, “Gray Areas Project’

·         Earlier Freudian theorists argued that delinquency stems from poor early child development on a mass basis, producing neighborhoods full of psychologically crippled youths. Conventional wisdom at the time on the origin of poverty (and the theory accepted by most social workers) was influenced by Freudian theory as well: the slum was created by a mass of individual problems rooted in the traumas of early childhood development (and therefore, very difficult to correct.) (See Wright’s Bigger Thomas)

·         anomie: Cloward teamed with Ohlin to write Delinquency and Opportunity (1960). In it these leftist sociologists argued that the slum was a vast urban organism defined by environmental influences. Delinquency they regarded as a natural stage in the assimilation of ethnic groups into society. If job opportunities were created, delinquency would disappear. (Ohlin dismissed Freudian theory by pointing to the achievement of delinquents who had served in the army with distinction.) Ohlin and Cloward emphasized that rational choices made by people living in poverty led to ‘ghetto related behaviors’. Teenagers turned to delinquency as the only path to success open to them.

·         Ohlin and Cloward connected with the Gray Areas Project in New Haven and created a program which put their theories to work: “Mobilization for Youth”: a traditional settlement house effort to assimilate ethnic groups into the economy with job training, but they also  added political indoctrination to encourage direct political action through rent strikes and protest demonstrations.

·         political empowerment”:  Marxist theory: poverty is more a political condition then an economic one: political empowerment inspires community spirit, a desire to run one’s own life and neighborhood, and this raised consciousness will lead to an exit from poverty.


 But how did the experience of the Woodlawn Organization in Chicago (see chapter two) rebut the theory of ‘political empowerment’? (102-03)

·         The experience of the Woodlawn Organization in Chicago might belie the empowerment theory: even a politically well-organized neighborhood will remain poor as long as middle class flight continues


David Hackett, RFK and the Radical Chic (123-29)


  1. Who was David Hackett and how did his relatively obscure committee manage to rise to a position of power in the Kennedy administration? (123)

·         Hackett was RFK’s prep school chum from Milton Academy (the inspiration for the character Phineas in A Separate Peace). He was looked upon by the Camelot folk as a great guy, but it was said that he might have been hit too often in the head by hockey pucks. (123-24)  

·         In 1961 he was made head of the President’s Committee on Juvenile Delinquency (in the Justice Department) at the behest of Eunice Shriver, and this is the place where the war on poverty begins.

·         This committee was initially afforded little status.

·         Hackett hires Lloyd Ohlin, from the Ford Foundation, as a consultant

·         Hackett hires Richard Boone, an Ohlin associate (anomie)  on the Chicago parole board and a protégé of Saul Alinsky, who had contacts with Leonard Duhl’s ‘space cadets’ at NIMH.

·         Hackett also established an association with the Gray Areas project and its head, Mitch Ylisvaker;

·         Daniel Patrick Moynihan consults as well.

·         The Committee on Juvenile Delinquency becomes the government agency with the black-ghetto portfolio: when RFK turned left in 1962, this committee’s clout soared!


        Who were the ‘radical chic’, and why did RFK feel like he needed to meet with them? (126-29)

·         RFK’s turn left: remaking himself politically from a crime fighter into a soulful leader of liberal causes

·         juvenile delinquency: an entry issue for him

·         RFK’s Catholicism influenced his view of the world in terms of good and evil

·         At a radical chic meeting in New York City in May 1963, Dick Gregory, James Baldwin, Jerome Smith (a disillusioned CORE worker who had been beaten in the South), and playwright Lorraine Hansberry, (A Raisin in the Sun) took turns berating and insulting RFK. Hansberry said that she would like to arm blacks so that they could start shooting white people in the streets.

·         RFK’s response: the experience deepened his understanding of the slums and he became interested in Hackett’s political empowerment program.


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)

·         The machine politicians are not happy.

·         Congressman Powell demanded part of the action and alienated original leaders in Harlem

·         When JFK got wind of Daley’s displeasure with a supporter of Community Action in Chicago, he was promptly canned.

·         Politics were JFK’s business


Michael Harrington’s The Other America (1962) (129-31)

How did Michael Harrington’s book stimulate JFK’s interest in a potential anti-poverty program? (130-31)

·         Michael Harrington’s book The Other America (1962) gains attention of JFK, who never read the book, just a review of it in the New Yorker magazine in 1963.

·         JFK gives the go ahead for Walter Heller, the head of JFK’s Council of Eco­nomic Advisers, to devise a new anti-poverty program. (with his assistant William Capron)

·         Heller brings Robert Lampmann (Wisconsin) on to the staff of the Council of Economic Advisors, and Lampmann presented his statistical study of the slowing rate of poor people leaving poverty.

·         For political reasons, Lampmann argued that any program that could be touted as ‘an economic redistribution of wealth’ would be political poison. Opposition to an anti-poverty program was also expressed by cabinet level administrators.


Cabinet Level Politics: New Frontier vs. New Deal (130-31)


  1. Why did Walter Heller, JFK’s head of the Council of Economic Advisors, want to couple community action with his income tax cut to the middle and upper classes? (130-31)

·         Walter Heller was a proponent of Keynesian economics.  He believed in pumping money into the economy through an income tax cut and got Kennedy to agree to this policy in January 1963. The tax cut would benefit the middle class and the rich. (They were honest back then and didn’t try to sell people on the ‘trickle down theory’.)

·         So Heller wanted to throw a bone to the poor. He believed that an anti-poverty program would serve as a tonic to potential opponents of the tax cut who might criticize it as a subsidy to the middle class and the rich 


What kind of hurdles did Heller have to overcome in his search for an anti-poverty program? (130-31)

· Summer 1963 Heller lunch with Willard Wirtz, Secretary of Labor and Wilbur Cohen, Deputy Secretary at the Department of Health (New Dealers both) who opposed a program against ‘poverty’ per se as too diffuse and who really wanted to exert control over any program directed at the cities through their own departments.

·         An inter-agency task force failed because every agency dusted off their old New Deal projects: jobs, education, farm, etc..

The Origin of the Community Action Program (132-34)


Where did the idea of “community action” come from and why did it suddenly seem so appealing? (132-34) What was it all about? (12)

1.        Community Action was conceived to be a bottom up program: residents of the community would decide for themselves what their needs were and then the government would try to help them with funding. The actual process of formulating a grant proposal itself would bring the community together. Community Action agencies would reside in the poor neighborhoods themselves, not downtown at city hall.  Community Action activities would be based on what the people in the neighborhood really wanted, not what the bureaucrats in Washington thought they needed: thus, the people would be empowered. A Community Action Agency coordinates a wide variety of social services in one location: welfare, housing, job placement, job training, pre-school, AA and NA, etc. One-stop shopping. In its initial conception, community action was supposed to function like a small quick, anti-bureaucratic organization, ala Green Berets.

2.        During the summer of 1963, Walter Heller, would turn to Hackett and Boone and give consideration to their pet program: ‘community action’ as a public policy alternative to the long laundry list of New Deal proposals suggested by the cabinet’s inter-agency taskforce. Heller liked Hackett and Boone’s idea because it enabled him to bypass the old New Dealers Willard Wirtz (Department of Labor) and Wilbur Cohen (Department of Health) to start an adventurous new govt. agency

3.        This would be a New Frontier program, not a New Deal program


What problems would community action provoke?

4.        Unforeseen by the Committee were the ways in which community action courted political catastrophe. (129)

5.        The Federal government would be by-passing the power structure of the machine coalitions in the cities which were the base of the Democratic party

6.        Efforts to ‘understand’ the juvenile delinquent could be portrayed as giving responsibility for federal funds to urban street criminals.



JFK Cools on Idea of Anti-Poverty Program and then is Assassinated (134-35)


Where did the idea of an anti-poverty program stand when JFK was shot? (134-35)

·         In a November 20 meeting with JFK, Heller came to the conclusion that JFK was actually cooling on the idea of a anti-poverty initiative because poor people just did not vote in large enough numbers to receive a high priority, so a major effort was not envisioned in the lead up to the coming election.

·         The anti-poverty program appeared to be dead.

·         JFK assassinated 11/22/63


LBJ Becomes President: The Great Society (134-40)


  1. What is Lemann’s assessment of LBJ’s attitudes towards civil rights, liberals and the Kennedys? (134-140)

·         LBJ is most famous for getting us into Vietnam and then losing the war. He was a Southern politician from Texas, a long time Senate Majority leader: racist, crooked and powerful. BUT… he had a natural empathy for poor people, unlike the Kennedys, and he had a genuine interest in civil rights because he believed that breaking free from segregation would enable a Southerner to win the presidency.

·         Complicating the story is LBJ’s competition with RFK and the Kennedy entourage of New England liberals. LBJ and RFK despised each other. LBJ became determined to outshine the liberals by creating the Great Society!

·         As Vice-President, LBJ was to the left of the Kennedy Brothers on civil rights; he was brought on to burnish Kennedy’s image as a liberal.


Hackett’s Community Action Becomes Centerpiece of War on Poverty (140-145)


  1. How did Hackett’s ‘community action program’ suddenly turn into a half billion-dollar program and the centerpiece of LBJ’s 1964 ‘War on Poverty’? (140-145)

·         LBJ’s one caveat was “No doles. No income redistribution. A hand-up instead of a handout.”

·         Although initially supportive of Heller’s ideas (“That’s my kind of program!”), LBJ was suspicious of the program’s vague and tentative quality. Instead, he really wanted to teach children and put adults to work.

·         LBJ also immediately recognized that the idea of individual local agencies would arouse political opposition among local machine Democrats, yet he went ahead, eager to establish his liberal credentials with Kennedy’s people and fearful of betraying JFK’s legacy (which had shifted rapidly left since his death).

·          “I have to get re-elected in a year and a half, so I have to have something of my own.” Once committed, he had to follow through in a big way.

·         Compare JFK’s and LBJ’s responses to Heller’s anti-poverty ideas. (140-41)

·         Over Hackett’s objection, Heller pushed to create a major social program- the first major political opportunity since the New Deal to address urban poverty. (143-44)

·         Why did Hackett think this was a bad idea? Hackett wanted a modest program to test community action and then make adjustments. Instead, Heller gave him a program with a half billion-dollar budget. (143-44)


How was LBJ’s War on Poverty initiative greeted? (144-45)

·         LBJ’s State of the Union Address in 1964 interrupted by applause more times than any other address since 1933

·         However, several assistants were skeptical and urged LBJ to focus his efforts on the political center rather than moving out to the extremes.

·         Elizabeth Wickendon, a Ted Sorenson deputy, wrote a memo (Jan 4, 1964) in which she outlined her criticism of the program: (144) She believed that the problems of poverty are fundamentally related to macro-economic and social factors that are nationwide; local programs will not be effective. Community action would be subjected to severe political attack because a federal program would short circuit the normal channel of relationships to states and localities. (ie. it would  bypass the machine bosses.)


Sargent Shriver and the Office of Economic Opportunity (145-150)


  1. Why was Sargent Shriver a poor choice as the head of the ‘War on Poverty’? (145-147)

·         He was appointed head of the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) because he had Kennedy connections and that would both appease and annoy RFK. He was also a friend of Bill Moyers, a key LBJ aide, from their Peace Corps days.

·         He was a salesman, not an administrator, interested in PR, not practicalities. Grandiose ideas appealed to him, not details


  1. Why were liberals so optimistic in 1964? What was their attitude towards income redistribution /doles/welfare? (148-50)

·         Shriver’s policy discussions were full of ebullient debates and cocktail parties, and his meetings followed the same freewheeling, improvisatory quality. The people with whom he worked had been raised on the New Deal and WWII: no problem was too big for the federal government to handle. However, they did not want to attack poverty in the way that their Democratic predecessors had during the New Deal. Income redistribution through welfare was out, as were the huge job programs which had put so many Americans back to work during the Depression. They did not want to do anything that would dampen economic growth. Instead, they wanted to create programs which helped poor people develop the skills that they would need to take advantage of opportunities in America’s growing economy.

·         Hackett’s idea of moving slowly on implementing Community Action was not appealing. The other experts agreed with him. Lloyd Ohlin had his doubts. Paul Ylvisaker recommended a $30 million program and was told to add another zero to his request. (149)

·         Dick Boone, another University of Chicago sociologist from the PCJD, supported the idea of going big from the outset. He possessed a fervent belief in the concept of political empowerment. He wanted to find ways to politicize the poor and develop a force which opposed the urban political machine.

·         The social program that Shriver’s team at the OEO was considering would founder, in part, because of the arrogance of its administrators.


Treating a Culture of Poverty: Community Action, Head Start, and the Job Corps.(150-153)

        How did more traditional liberals like Oscar Lewis define the term ‘culture of poverty’?

·         Shriver and his team latched on to Oscar Lewis’ explanation of the reason why poverty remained so persistent despite a growing economy. Lewis argued that a ‘Culture of Poverty’ describes a low economic class whose habits, like joblessness, marriage problems, and crime, are passed on from generation to generation producing people who are not psychologically geared to take advantage of changing conditions or opportunities.

·         Liberal sociologists and anthropologists invented the concept to refute social Darwinists and suggest that the lower classes were not inferior, only poorly educated.  (During the 1970’s conservatives would commandeer the notion of a ‘culture of poverty’ and redefine it as an underclass of people that had become permanently trapped in poverty, beyond the reach of government assistance.)

·         Galbraith: insular poverty, cultural, poverty pockets


        How did the community action program address the liberal concept of the ‘culture of poverty’? (150-51)

·         Poverty is defined as a ‘social pathology’. The obvious solution? Government itself should serve as the means of treating the poor through acculturation: educating children, feeding them nutritious food, teaching them work habits, teaching adults the folkways of the middle class. The community action project was an updated streamlined version of the settlement house.

·         The New Frontier would not be the New Deal all over again!

·         There would be no dole, no jobs program, no universal health care, not anything hugely expensive. The confident children of the old New Deal Democrats would solve the problem of poverty their own way. Instead, it would be Community Action, Head Start, and the Job Corps.


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?

·         Dick Boone/Ohlin/ University of Chicago sociologists:

·         Community action programs tried to ensure the ‘maximum feasible political participation’ of poor people in their actual administration.

·         A leftist commitment to political empowerment: people are poor because they lack political power and escaping poverty requires political power. Boone, however, believed that the program needed to have a pilot test, but instead of starting small, LBJ needed immediate recognition from Democratic Liberals. 


 New Dealers at Labor Stymied (153-55)


  1. Why were ‘New Deal’ job programs like the ones supported by Labor Secretary Willard Wirtz (and Daniel Patrick Moynihan) not included in the ‘War on Poverty”? (153-155)  

·         Willard Wirtz lost the competition with the War on Poverty department in part because he was not a socially charismatic person and so he did not get on well with Shriver.

·         Wirtz proposed a 3-5 billion dollar jobs program (that was opposed by AFL-CIO), and he overplayed his hand. He wanted a massive jobs program that would have been operated solely by the Labor Department. The AFL-CIO dislikes large jobs programs because they take work from union members

·         Nationally, the unemployment rate remained low BUT…

1.        Pat Moynihan recognized early that unemployment, although not a national problem, was much higher in the black ghetto: “One Third of a Nation”, but his jobs proposal seemed like it was an instrument of Wirtz’s ambitions, and the administration wanted a new idea, one that would separate LBJ from FDR

2.        The final form of War on Poverty: a clear loss for labor

3.        Even so, jobs would be created as social service positions in community action programs as opposed to Washington based WPA construction jobs.


 The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 (156-58)


  1. How did Shriver get the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 through Congress? (156-57)

·         Shriver promised Southern politicians that many  of the programs would be directed at their districts: poverty was understood as a primarily a white and rural problem

·         They dropped ideas of land reform in the Mississippi Delta.

·         Yarmolinsky was canned as the manager of the program because he was Jewish and too far to the left.


What was the gist of the Elizabeth Wickendon’s warning to LBJ? (157-58)

·         Politicians always want to maintain control of federal programs in their own district.

·         Community action programs would have to knuckle under or create powerful enemies.

·         Shriver is unprepared to cope with the political aspects of the implementing the program.


What doomed the community action program almost from the start? (165)

·         complications from ‘maximum feasible participation’

1.        unpopular with Northern machine politicians: Daley, Dawson, Powell, D’Alesandro

2.        it became a method of funneling social services jobs to poor people

3.        it became a method of dodging Democratic machine patronage and propelling candidates to local office

·         Even so, community action moves from experimental phase to full implementation in 1000 cities by 1967


1965: The Perfect Political Storm


Black Power (158-64)


  1. How had changes in the Civil Rights Movement in the mid-sixties altered the expectation that moderate civil rights leaders would step up to lead community action programs?  (158-164)

·         After the March on Washington in 1963, a split in the Civil Rights movement emerged between Southerners interested in civil rights and Northerners interested in redirecting the movement’s focus to economic rights.

·         Bayard Rustin’s criticism of the “I Have a Dream” speech: it focused on civil rights instead of economic justice.

·         Split in SNCC:

John Lewis (Southern Baptist) v. Stokely Carmicheal (Howard U. contingent)

Assimilation                          v.            black consciousness

Voting Rights                                       black-liberation in Africa

·         Freedom Summer (1964)

1.    friction between blacks and whites over leadership of SNCC

2.    friction between NAACP and SNCC

3.    seating controversy at DNC (Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party’s delegates) leads to “sell out” and alienation of SNCC leaders

4.    new questioning of the ideal of integration and non-violence and cooperation with the federal government


Which political faction took advantage of the leadership opportunities offered by community action programs? (162-64)

·         Emergence of Malcolm X’s  black separatist ideologies: focus on ghetto conditions, black pride and self-reliance (Booker Washington/ Marcus Garvey)

·         Community action programs of the War on Poverty are radicalized.

1.      A political opening for new black militant leaders who mistrusted government

2.      Naïve belief in program as incubator of a new civil rights movement

3.    Community action relied upon federal funds, not direct political action, and was therefore vulnerable to mainstream American sensibilities

 Scandal (164-65)


  1. In Washington, what immediate problems emerged for the community action programs? (164-65)

·         Communist scandal at Mobilization for Youth in NYC


Opposition by Mayors (166-67)


Describe the early relationship between community action programs and local authorities (including Baltimore’s Mayor).

·         Open revolt of mayors (led by Baltimore mayor Theodore McKeldin, who regarded OEO’s community action programs as a competing political organization)

·         fear of politicizing the poor


Describe Daley’s attitude toward the OEO (Office of Economic Opportunity). (166-167)

·         The essential Democratic mayor: controls the largest bloc of votes in Congress.

·         He asserts control of community action programs in Chicago, going directly to LBJ to complain about subversives and his fears of the eventual collapse of his machine.


Opposition in Cabinet (168)


What was the attitude of the traditional Washington bureaucracy toward OEO? (167-68)

·         opposition in Cabinet from Cohen and Wirtz

·         Shriver’s hope for immediate results was stymied by the nature of the program which required time to develop.


How did the ‘maximum feasible opportunity’ people react to Shriver’s efforts to appease Washington and local officials? (168)

·         Boone forced to resign; criticism for every attempt to tone it down

·         Loyalty to concept and not to Shriver who gets booed at a Boone organization meeting in Washington.


Oversized, Rash Roll-Out (169-70)


Explain the extent and the impact of community action “screw ups”  (169-170)

·         Success of Head Start drowned out by the press’ focus on scandals.

·         Size of program (Bigger is better!) produces occasional horror stories which attracted most of the press coverage

1.    the desire to meet quotas creates irregular screening policies in Washington

2.    financial irregularities in Harlem

3.    gang participation in War on Poverty programs in Chicago

4.    violence at Job Corps camps


What was Shriver’s response to crises within the program by mid-1965? (170)

·         Shriver is converted to the idea of a guaranteed annual income as the best solution of the problem of poverty.

·         Shriver’s solution: get even bigger! LBJ says nay until the end of the Vietnam War.


1965: Selma to Montgomery March;  LBJ: “We Shall Overcome” (171)


  1. What was the high water mark of civil rights solidarity between the movement and the government? (171-72)

·         the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March

·         King prepares to turn his focus North, from civil rights to economic rights

·         LBJ’s “We shall overcome” speech


1965: Watts Riots and Vietnam Escalation (171)


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)

·         Vietnam War escalates: 100,000 more troops are sent in.

·         Watts riots: an instant national obsession: a severe problem exists in ghettos

·         Beginning of the destruction of the liberal consensus, loss of liberal confidence

·         An unlucky confluence of events: Freedom Summer, the Watts riots, the emergence of the Black Power movement, gang participation in War on Poverty programs in Chicago, and the escalation of the War in Vietnam doomed the War on Poverty



1965: Intellectual Coup d’état: The Moynihan Report and the Turn Towards Welfare (171-76)


Describe the firestorm of criticism in 1965 that greeted the White House’s Report on “The Negro Family”. How did this event help expose the rifts in the whole civil rights and anti-poverty coalition? (172-179)

·         The Moynihan Report: “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action” (1965)

a.    Influenced by Stanley Elkin’s Slavery (1959) which argued that the oppression of slavery had ‘infantilized’ blacks and made them dependent on their masters. This pathology was responsible for the transmission of a culture of poverty from generation to generation. (Freudian conception of trauma revisited again and again: difficult to treat and therefore to break the cycle.)

b.    Appeal to liberals: we have a responsibility to correct the effects of slavery and go beyond mere civil rights: creates the justification for affirmative action,

c.    Moynihan focuses on un-wed welfare mothers:

i. “slavery loosened the family bonds of African-Americans”…

ii. “unemployment and welfare benefits have made the male irrelevant to the family” and created a ‘tangle of pathology’ in the ghetto

iii. Moynihan wanted a jobs program to address the problem, but in the final report, he downplayed the emphasis on solutions in his desire to shock a response from the public. He got it!

d.     Extremely negative response to the report from Black America

i.       White mythology about unrestrained black sexuality

ii.      Because no solution was presented, blacks took the report to be a moral          judgment of blacks which essentially argued that nothing can be done. (which is exactly the way Republicans would use the report to justify scaling back all efforts to help the poor.)

iii.     Claims that Moynihan was “blaming the victim” (William Ryan in Newsweek)

iv.     The Report provoked open attacks from African Americans against the whole idea of the existence of a culture of poverty

e.        (Moynihan turns away from jobs programs and begins calling for “Family Assistance Plans” ie welfare.)


The Disintegration of the Liberal Coalition : Black Power (176-81)


How did the left’s unity deconstruct in the wake of the Moynihan Report? 

·         the Rise of the Black Power Movement

·         CORE and SNCC choose black leaders with nationalist agendas and engage in openly anti-white and anti-Semitic rhetoric

·         Moynihan Report denies blacks a useable past

·         Rumblings of feminism and multiculturalism abandoning the white European cultural norms

·         Attacks against ‘white social science’ Worsening relations between social scientists and civil rights movement

·         All debate on the black family became too hot to handle.

·         Radical right begins to be heard in academia:



What effect did this new, militant mood of the black power movement have on the community action program? (179-181)

·         There is no need for white middle class outsiders to aid the supposedly crippled lower classes  (rhetoric of black empowerment): local offices in ghetto themselves an take care of themselves.

·         maximum feasible participation’s reality:

1.   a beachhead for black nationalists with ghetto constituencies

2.   means to gain political power outside of elective office

3.   black nationalist leadership is media-oriented, so an unbridgeable gap opens between black power and the political system

4.    movement away from the earlier ideals of SNCC workers like Bob Moses who believed that voting power was essential. He argued that community action programs were too dependent on federal money.

5.    community action grants to the Black Panthers

6.    community action grant to Leroi Jones in Harlem, and he writes a play about Jack Benny’s Rochester rising up and killing his white oppressors

7.    community action becomes perceived as a black radical program


LBJ Rivalry With RFK  (182-91)


  1. What had been LBJ’s political goal in his ‘war on poverty’ (182-190)

·         \LBJ had wanted to go down in history as the greatest liberal President: outdoing FDR: free medical care, federal aid to education, voting rights, break segregationists in the Democratic Party

·         LBJ sacrificed votes for these liberal principles, and instead of loving him for this bold political risk, the liberals loved RFK instead.


What did he personally believe would be the answer to the defeat of poverty?

·         LBJ believed solely in the power of politics to defeat segregation: vote power and better schools would defeat poverty


How did his rivalry with RFK affect the progress of his anti-poverty programs?

·         RFK was the champion of community action: he believed that it dodged integration issues and would become a launching pad for immigrant upward mobility

·         Fall 1965: creation of HUD and its first major social program: Model Cities: ‘atoning for the sins of urban renewal by fixing slums up rather than tearing them down.’ (187)


What was LBJ’s state of mind in 1965-66? (182-188)

·         The War in Vietnam prevented LBJ from obtaining the support of liberal intellectuals and social scientists

·         LBJ begins to regard the Office of Economic Opportunity as a nest of RFK supporters: “They’re not against poverty; they’re for Kennedy.”


What happened to the relationship between LBJ and RFK? (184-88)

·         RFK goes public with criticism, positioning himself for 1968 presidential race.

·         RFK floats ideas about a jobs bill and a ghetto development bill

·         Hatred boils over.


        How did LBJ respond to the outbreak of rioting in the cities in 1967?  (190-91)

·         1967 riots: LBJ believed they were centrally planned, possibly by communists, possibly by member of OEO.

·         Furious about Kerner Commission Report on Detroit riots: blames white racism

·         LBJ’s commitment to the war on poverty wanes.


What Might Have Been? (192-202)


  1. What is Lemann’s assessment of the consequences of the war on poverty’s community action focus? (192-202)

·         No clear example exists of a community action program either reducing juvenile delinquency or reducing poverty

·         ]Why? The ghettos became poorer as the middle class continued to move out.

·         Transformation of its purpose from an instrument for delivering federal social services to a tool for community development.

·         Unable to induce business to locate in ghetto

·         Failed strategy that the ghetto could be healed from within


        What positive results did these programs achieve? (193-94)

·         Successes?

1.        paved the way for a new generation of political leaders

2.        paved the way for more successful programs: Medicare, Food Stamps

3.        providing middle class social service jobs to the program administrators

(The best consequence: an inefficient jobs program)

(Irony: LBJ opposed a big jobs program, but jobs were the major accomplishment of the OEO.)


        What path does Lemann argue should have been followed instead? (193-96)

·         a jobs program to lower the unemployment rate below 4.5%: 600,000 jobs

·         opposed by unions, city civil service employees, and everyone on the right

·         movement of whites to Republican Party begins in response to integration efforts:

·         energizing George Wallace’s national ambitions (the precursor of Ronald Reagan)


According to Lemann what was the central problem in the cities that none of these programs succeeded in addressing? (199)

·         Economic forces behaved in the exact opposite manner than expected: community action encouraged middle class flight by creating middle class social service jobs

·         Rationale for possible success? ‘Middle class negroes who could move to the suburbs would stay in the central city because of the encouragement of black power ideology’


        List Lemann’s summary of the dual influences of the Great Migration? (199-202)

·         The increased black influence on national life: Rock and Roll, white protest movements (imitating Civil Rights movement: feminism, anti-war, gay rights, environmentalism)

·         modern rise of conservatism:

1.     “a neo-conservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality” (Irving Kristol)

2.    “government programs don’t work”: middle class taxes should not serve harebrained government ideas

3.     conversion of South to a Republican base

4.      coup de grace to Democratic coalition

5.      suburban flight to Republican ideals

·         for blacks:

1.     new jobs for blacks in government: not leadership positions but ordinary public payroll jobs but at the same time manufacturing jobs were drying up

2.    unskilled jobs became government jobs

3.    The industrial period for black Americans had lasted less than a generation

4.    new hand dealt: dependence of blacks on govt. jobs


Nixon, Moynihan and Welfare (202-210)


1968 Presidential Election: Hubert Humphrey vs. Richard Nixon

·         Hubert Humphrey, a democrat from Minnesota had been the most outstanding liberal in the Senate for the past twenty years.

·         His whole political career would have led him to reinvigorate the War on Poverty

·         But he lost.


  1. What was Nixon’s attitude towards these issues and how did Moynihan influence him? (202-210)

·         Moynihan’s return!

·         Race was a side issue for Nixon: he had conceded the black vote to the Democrats

·         He and Moynihan shared a deep dislike of left liberal political culture:

·          “The complete decadence of the American upper class intellectual elite”: Ivy League professors, black power, foundation executives, Georgetown hostesses, journalists and students.

·         Goal of preserving the union ala Abe Lincoln in face of dissent

1.      strategy: Nixon’s record of liberal accomplishment will reveal opposition as a destructive faction and neutralize the left

2.      Nixon spares the OEO and Model Cities 


Why should Richard Nixon be remembered as one of the most liberal presidents in American history?

·         very liberal on social spending: expansion of welfare, affirmative action, and a guaranteed annual income.

·         political climate did not generate a new conventional wisdom: the Great Society paradigm was accepted.

·         “He spent to keep the lid on” even though not a single vote was gained in the process.

·         benign neglect and the  Bussing Issue in Boston

·         Rumsfeld and Cheney’s first big job: dismantling the Office of Economic Opportunity


  1. What was Moynihan’s analysis of the deepening problem in the cities? (210-221)

·         rising unemployment

·         unstable families

·         more people on welfare rolls

·         increasing crime


Justifying the Family Assistance Plan (210-214)


Describe his ‘Family Assistance Plan’. Why did he support the reform and expansion of welfare, ‘a guaranteed fixed income’, instead of a jobs program?

·         giving money to intact families as well as female headed households

·         reform welfare

·         reverse immigration to cities by encouraging a movement back to rural areas (although the migration had already ended due to economic forces)

·         logic? Welfare disparities had produced the migration to the cities.

·         political goal: eliminate social workers from government jobs: the left’s wedge into government


Despite opposition from Southern Democrats and left wing organizations who argued against increasing welfare spending,   Moynihan’s argument won: : “supporting a large welfare dependent class will be the accepted cost of doing business in the cities.”


Instead of backing a jobs program which would have given the blacks the best hope of achieving middle class status, he supported a guaranteed fixed income to co-opt liberal criticism: welfare= guaranteed income

·         Political goal: prevent the radical black middle class from achieving a power base as service providers to black lower class: “Do this or the city burns.”

·         Welfare takes the play away from the black militants


How did the Poor People’s Campaign end Moynihan’s influence? (216-218)

·         Meeting between its leaders and Nixon went very badly


Nixon Turns Right (214-221)


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)

·         Nixon turns right.


Does Lemann agree with Reagan’s assessment that “we fought a war on poverty and poverty won”?  (218-219)

·         It was a botch.

·         Even so, ideas were not tried during the federal government’s moment of focus on issues of race

1.        Making Head Start a universal program

2.        Major Public Works Program (ala Labor’s proposal)

3.        Major commitment of police to the cities

4.        No replacement for welfare to get the poor back into the mainstream

·         A great amount of good work was done to help the elderly, the sick, the disabled, and the hungry

·         Black middle class grew faster than at any time in American History

·         Community Action used up the political capital and was doomed


What is Lemann’s final assessment of LBJ? (219-221)

·         A racist who probably did more for blacks than any other President.