One of the definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.
This morning, I read an op-ed about John Edwards, the former junior senator from North Carolina, and one of the Presidential hopefuls for 2008. He recently visited New Orleans' Ninth Ward, where he gave a speech for the locals, promising everyone a gold house and a rocket car if he gets elected.
Well, maybe not exactly a gold house and a rocket car, but close enough. He wants to create 50,000 "stepping stone jobs" in parks, recreation facilities, and community projects, for those New Orleans residents who haven't been able to find any other jobs since the storm. He also said that "we're going to have to rebuild those levees." (By "we", he means "the taxpayers of the United States", of course, not his actual own physical person.)
In addition, he pledged to "push hard for a 'significant' increase in the minimum wage, expand the earned income tax credit, insist on making it easier for workers to organize, and focus a substantial portion of his administration’s energy on achieving concrete improvements in education, housing and health care."
Since Lyndon Johnson kicked off the social programs of the Great Society in 1965, this country has spent trillions of taxpayer dollars to "end poverty". This is where we got Medicare, Medicaid, and other entitlement programs that now make up more than a third of the federal budget. This is also where HUD was created with the explicit goal of solving urban problems through means of public housing and urban development. (Forty years later, HUD-created and -administered public housing is among the cleanest, safest, and most desirable real estate in the country. Heh.)
Were the programs of the Great Society a success? That's questionable. While the poverty rate for blacks, for example, fell from 55% in 1960 to 27% in 1968, it had also fallen dramatically in the twenty years prior (from 87% in 1940 to 55% in 1960), which suggests that it would have fallen to its 1968 levels even without Johnson's program. What that program did do without a doubt was to create a massive entitlement juggernaut that is gobbling up the federal budget at an ever-increasing rate. Medicare and Medicaid alone will soon make up almost half of federal expenditures, and the ratio is increasing as the baby boomers are starting to retire en masse.
The War on Poverty has been just as much of a rousing success as the War on Drugs, the War on Booze, and just about every other War on a Noun ever declared by the government. It seems that if you want to have more of something, the most surefire way to achieve that goal is to have the government declare a war on it and devote trillions of dollars of the next generation's paychecks to it.
One of the reasons for that is the fact that the creation of an agency to wage a war on X leads to hundreds of thousands of federal employees making a paycheck fighting X, and therefore drastically reducing the agency's incentive to eradicate X. Who, after all, wants to eliminate the very thing that provides their livelihood?
Now some Boy Genius comes along and tells the downtrodden masses that the only reason such programs haven't worked yet is because people like him haven't been in charge yet. The downtrodden masses, by and at large, don't care nearly as much about the nation's poverty rate or entitlement expenditures as they do about who's going to send the check, and when. People like Edwards know this, of course, and thus every election becomes a contest of "Who can promise the most free stuff to the greatest number of people?"
I'm starting to think that "None of the above is acceptable" is a suitable choice for my 2008 ballot entry. I mean, who's going to die if we have the Oval Office standing empty for four years?
That won't fly, of course...if people saw that the world didn't end without a Chief Executive running the show for four years, they'd start thinking that it won't end if the White House was converted to a library or some other useful place.