Urban Confrontation; 14; The Affluent Society Re-examined John Kenneth Galbraith
Of all the disasters it seems to me that the Republicans have could wish upon themselves. This this notion of a southern strategy the notion that you build a coalition out of the anti blacks and they anti liberal and the anti intellectual seems to me to be one of the most suicidal tactics that any great party has ever attempted. Whatever the mistakes of the Democratic Party Hard to me for me to believe that it is ever contemplated one quite as serious as that. This week on urban confrontation John Kenneth Galbraith former ambassador to India for President Kennedy. You know the Half-Moon society and. The new. Industrial state. And the former chair. One of the Americans for Democratic on. This week's program. John Kenneth Galbraith. Who flew in society predicts. Here is your host. Bill Safire. The 1960s may be regarded as an era that marked the high and low watermarks of
American liberalism. The liberals who saw progressive change within our system were riding high in 1960 when John Kennedy's administration came to power. Later under Lyndon Johnson there was massive social legislation passed but the liberals also presided over our Vietnam build up on the failure of our poverty program to meet the upraised expectations of our poor Richard Nixon. Certainly not a liberal by any definition a middle of the roader is now in the White House and following the 968 election the ranks of American liberalism have in the opinion of some commentators been split. Liberals are decried by the right wing and left wing radicals alike as well as by those that accept the status quo in the middle. Our guest today John Kenneth Galbraith is one of America's most distinguished liberal spokesman. First question Professor Galbraith what does the future look like for the American liberal. Well I'm still a Liberal I've never turned in my credentials. And I suppose that in the end as in the past it will be the change the next step
ahead will be taken by liberals. It won't be taken by conservatives won't be taken by Mr Nixon whom you describe as the middle of the roader except defensively and strategically as something may be taken to anticipate more radical action Why so confident. Well there's nobody else a liberal in the American context is somebody who stays in touch with political change and associates himself to political change tendency of the radical left is to some degree point the way to change no question about that but not to stay in touch with it so that in the end change will always be under the auspices of the liberals. Well political changes are going on among America's lower middle class whites and lower class whites and one man who is staying in touch with them to follow your definition is George Wallace apparently the only man why is he left alone to defend the little people. Lower middle class and lower class whites.
I wouldn't suppose that he did. There is always in the United States a few million people who are frustrated impatient who react emotionally and a long series of individuals. Over the years I have sounded the drums and have developed a following here. And George Wallace is the most recent. You use emotionally as a negative word. Now I don't regard politics as an area for emotion. Doesn't that fly right in the facts of what we know about societies and about human beings and when I was on many political decisions are made on emotional They say that most people make political decisions rather coolly. Most Americans do. And George Wallace's strength has grown out basically from of one thing first in the south. The resentment over the rise of black polity and the rise of the sense of the Negro community that it had rights and the white backlash so-called in the north. These are not the foundations for a
durable base in the south. It will be found that the two races can live together and must. And in the north the same decision will be made and national accurate analysis that is perhaps a presumptuous questioning on live for but nevertheless the same people that follow George Wallace also followed Robert Kennedy not very many I don't think it was it was argued for example that in 68 that there were a great many union members going for Wallace in the end a well paid union workers ended up voting for Hubert Humphrey. This has been very well established. It took some effort by the unions to perhaps to get them to do it. But the defection to Wallace was not all that great and Wallace himself as you were called was disappointed with his vote. I wonder if it doesn't undercut the motivations of the lower middle class whites and lower class whites who followed Wallace to say that there are so motivation was of a
backlash nature one of theirs and a common denominator of alienation. Quite similar to that of the lower class blacks which perhaps could account for the fact that with deference to your position there are many who feel that they did identify not only with wasp but with Bobby Kennedy because these two men had charisma but also had an appeal to give them a better break. There may have been a little bit of that because people's reactions are always mixed. Sure there are other things the feeling that you know that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are taking a strong enough stand on the war. And these were there were people who were attracted therefore by Curtis LeMay and his feeling that we should just bomb hell out of people. There was undoubtedly a certain or fashion to stand up to them patriotism that was involved here. So you're quite right I don't want to exaggerate the notion of the resentment against black political gains in the south or the white backlash in the north. I must say I have the feeling that that was the most important factor in the Wallace movement.
Let me ask if you consider one other factor is it not possible. I mention the word alienation as describing not only the lower class blacks the lower class whites. Now let's elaborate on that a little bit isn't it possible that liberals intellectuals social planners in their long overdue compassion for lower income blacks in their rush to show compassion and to do something about the problems of lower income blacks justifiable compassion have forgotten lower income whites and that this selectivity is possibly harmful we must help both lower income blacks and whites. I think that there might be something to that. A poor man a man who is has difficulty getting a job has difficulty of sustaining a family who has difficulty finding a good place to live. He's going to be dissatisfied whether he's black or white. There are lots in the world of both. I don't think it's fair to say that the liberal movement in this country has been neglectful of either group. I would hope that wasn't true.
And you know that possibly might be the message that lower income whites may be receiving. I was for a couple of years the chairman of a DA and we used to be under the occasional charge I think it was and in some cases a legitimate one that we didn't have sufficient ties with the black community. Our ties were with the middle class blacks but we didn't have any very close working associations as a liberal organization with a very poor blacks. So that may be what you can say is that liberals in the United States have never had a sufficiently a close identification with the poor whatever their race. And this may well be true. The 88 the Americans for Democratic Action indorsed the kind of the sea of Gene McCarthy in 1968 did it not. No we were the first in Dorsey's of genius. Well that leads me to another example of perhaps this gap between middle class liberals and lower class whites and blacks in the McCarthy campaign indicated this void places where McCarthy spoke around the country right here in Boston Fenway
Park a big rally in 1968. You would find very few members of white lower or lower middle class and one would search in vain for a black face. There didn't seem to be the support for the McCarthy candidacy among these two groups. Well one has to repair and mind that the McCarthy candidacy was primarily a Vietnam candidacy. It was the Vietnam war that led to the liberals encouraging McCarthy to make the race. It was the Vietnam War that was the overwhelming issue in New Hampshire and in Wisconsin. Oregon is great areas of success. I asked McCarthy about that he denied it. They didn't want to be tagged as a one issue candidate. No he didn't. But there should be no doubt that it was that one issue the continuing escalation of the war. And the continuing fare of still further escalation under Lyndon Johnson which brought out the troops which brought out the people. And while McCarthy talked about various other issues this was the issue which
inspired the voters. Now this was a much more important issue with middle class whites than it was with the blacks. Partly because they have other problems and other worries of greater concern. And while the black community was not pro-war or anything but it was one of the major worries that it had whereas the white community was in a sense in a position where it could exploit the luxury of having just this one great issue to worry about when you talk about issues doesn't represent almost an issue bankruptcy on the part of the McCarthy movement. They are so narrowly constructed their political base they did not attempt to broaden their campaign you know not in the slightest if it hadn't been for the Vietnam war there would have been no McCarthy candidacy at all. Johnson would have been swept back in. And since he was the candidate who challenged Johnson on the Vietnam issue history made that the issue not McCarthy. And there was just no escape from that fact this was the thing which as I say
brought out the troops. People have no reason to prefer Jane McCarthy over Lyndon Johnson on the question of civil rights. Lyndon Johnson was a great civil rights President. So that people who are opposed to Johnson and for McCarthy on the issue of Vietnam. As I say this was a choice that was made not by McCarthy but made by by history. And yet in the evolving literature written by former McCarthy aides and followers during the 1968 campaign the literature coming out of that campaign seems to be one of the moaning and the wailing so many last chances so many opportunities missed Carthy failure to move forcefully enough to gain support among a wide variety of groups. Failure to use some of the more orthodox political approaches perhaps history might have been changed had McCarthy been able to muster a broader base of support and capture the nomination for president the Democratic nomination. Perhaps the McCarthy would have defeated a lackluster Richard Nixon. And history would have been changed in the last hour of the 20th
century for the United States Gerald I would have been an interesting possibility. I haven't read the McCarthy literature. At least with any particular care. Various people have been in to interview me about the campaign. My own impression is that people in some degree rallied to Gene McCarthy because he wouldn't go in for any put on because he insisted on being himself because he didn't go in for any of the Orthodox fraud that characterizes the ordinary political campaign I heard at the time as this was why people like Rick Perry. He was himself. Now if people were complaining that he wasn't sufficiently project in his political appeal this would seem to me to be uniquely a case of hindsight. I don't think that's the substance of the complaint I'm referring it to one recent article by Jeremy Larner in The Atlantic magazine. It wasn't an either or of you're going to operate in the orthodox manner i.e. fraudulent or you going to operate in the Gene McCarthy manner i.e. pure saintly and above it all. There was some middle ground in between and there were
so many votes in the middle ground that could have been obtained that perhaps again history might have been changed but for what would seem to be a bankruptcy of tactics among the American liberals that have behind MCCARTHY Well on the other hand I would point out Mr Lerner and anybody else at the time when. McCarthy went into November of nineteen sixty seven when McCarthy indicated his willingness to go into this campaign. Nobody had any notion that he would even win a state in the next few months. He became an extremely formidable figure and was perhaps more important more influential than anything else in doing two things and forcing Bob Kennedy to get into the race. And in forcing Lyndon Johnson out so that you could as well marvel at how far Jane McCarthy got. It might be a mis application of the concept of the Pyrrhic victory perhaps a reverse application but I'll bring it in here. He won a number of battles but the war was a question of who becomes president. Richard Nixon is now president all this and you
described in our first program we should tell the audience there was another program prior to this. You describe the inaction of President Nixon on a wide variety of fronts an action which could perhaps prove to a degree fatal I don't think I would be too melodramatic to a number of efforts which are necessary to keep the body politic prosperous and alive and the only way you have a point there there's no question about it. One cannot make a victory out of any election campaign where the opposition wins. And I'm not trying to do that. I think it would be appropriate to pause at this juncture in the program and let those in our audience who may have just tuned in around the country know that we're talking with John Kenneth Galbraith here a professor Galbraith's home in Cambridge Massachusetts. And we're talking about the McCarthy movement and various other aspects of the Liberal's impact on American politics. The question that we put to another guest a few months ago Dick Gregory was is the American liberal growing increasingly obsolete since the 1960 election oddly enough or
perhaps not so oddly he very vehemently said yes. What would your reaction. I don't think so I think if one says that there is an older generation of liberals which is still fighting the campaigns of Franklin D Roosevelt still proud of its strong stand in the Cold War still arguing for this militant stance against the communists in Indochina still talking about the. Endless rewards of a growing economy of economic growth and of course time has caught up with those people Bush no question about it is overtaken. But if when I do have one other issue still talking about what is perhaps a more dramatic cause that of black poverty as opposed to talking about black and white poverty. But if one is talking about the problem of talking again about the problems of economic equality and political equality talking about them in urgent terms and talking about the redefinition of American foreign policy so that we escape from the superpower
mystique if we talk about the question of getting the large organisations back under control of large public organisations bureaucracies making the large private organisations more responsive talk about how in an increasingly organized world one can come so more strongly to the support of individual personality and individual self-expression if one talks about the kind of relaxed candor the absence of put on which characterized for example the McCarthy campaign one comes to this what I would consider this much more modern mood of liberalism. And I wouldn't so far from thinking it obsolete. I would say this is what will characterize the next administration. And yet in all of that description of perhaps a more innovative new liberalism. Once again a failure to include the problems of the lower end commonly known I would I say that this is very much the issue of economic equality that this is one of the issues that liberalism has been let go by the board has been the
question of equality no that we no longer rely on increasing production as the automatic solvent for all of our ills we've got to inquire who gets the production and we have to be much more concerned with the problem of equality. Black and white and we have been in the past and I think you have to be much more concerned with the thrust of the new approach to power in this country an approach perhaps based on the thesis put forth by Kevin Phillips a young GOP supporter formally in the Nixon administration now a columnist and he wrote a book in which he stated that the Republican Party could continue to be the majority party in these United States through the support of middle America. Even if Republicans were to write off the blocks and write off the liberals and basically write off most of the cities in the Northeast Carder successful political strategy perhaps I'm willing to buy that program. If the Republicans follow this fellow we're in. Because meaning the liberals and the Democrats.
Absolutely because it means also that he's going to give away the south. And it means he's going to give away the West and he's going to give away a lot of the Middle West too because you can not. You cannot make a winning coalition out of the people who are anti-black and the people who are contentedly middle class white. There are such people but they're not enough to elect a president. They weren't even enough to get Judge Carswell nominated is the Democratic Party is still the party of the common man and the black man find a future in it. It's not the party of the common man but it is the Democratic Party is still the party of to which people go where they're seeking representation where they're seeking change. Most remarkable thing about the Democratic Party is that the blacks the negroes moving out of the south to escape oppression by local Democratic establishment over local Democratic machines and then seeking political a political role in the north. Where did they go into the Republican Party no. They all went into the Democratic Party. The
Democratic Party is the great receptacles for people who are seeking political representation and the numbers so seeking political expression. Well we speak in excess of the far less negatively inclined groups which are seeking to resist it. And yet as you describe in your book the affluent society we have an affluent society most people are affluent believe assign me a little bell a number of years ago pointed out that when the poor become affluent and move to the suburbs they might not immediately become Republicans if formally Democrats but they raise Republican children. No on the contrary I don't think that's true I think they're much more likely to raise Democratic children. And even I think Sam Lubell would now possibly agree that the suburbs with their concern for the issues that can only be solved by strong government environmental questions educational questions questions of individual self-expression have become very good Democratic territory as you move around for example the New York City
who used to be a Republican wasteland. You now find a lot. Are there Liberal Democrats or very liberal Republicans. I one I think they all are disasters it seems to me that the Republicans have a good wish upon themselves this this notion of a southern strategy. The notion that you build a coalition out of the anti biotics and anti-liberal and the anti-intellectual seems to me to be one of the most suicidal tactics that any great party has ever attempted. Whatever the mistakes of the Democratic Party Hard to me for me to believe that it is ever contemplated one quite as serious as that. You obviously do not believe in the new speculation that we are undergoing a conservative reaction even among democratic middle class suburbs the conservative Democrats getting elected we always go through this kind of
assumption in between elections there's a kind of the instinctive desire of people particularly of conservatism particularly the conservative press to wish that people were becoming more conservative then come the elections. And it's the liberals who in the general get elected. No I didn't notice the either the Republicans or the Democrats in New York rushing to get any conservatives. Most of the people who are up at Grossmann jurors are up with they at the Republican convention already. Carefully explaining how liberal they were. Let's change the draft of our conversation here at the very end of the program to the question of the American cities by 1980 the cities in this country will collectively need one hundred and fifty billion dollars annually to survive and they can expect only about 70 billion dollars annually and revenues collected within the city 30 billion dollars a year obtained from Washington. That leaves a deficit of 50 billion dollars where will the money come from.
Well it will have to be more than that come from Washington there's no question about that of course the states have some taxable resources in excess of what they have. But there is also more possibility of taxation within the cities than has yet been exploited. Again one turns to New York. Their own awful lot of rich people in New York who are complaining about the low level of the city services. It would be a much healthier thing in New York if they had better services and complain more about their taxes. And yet there are an awful lot of people around the country who are complaining a great deal about their typos they always complain about the taxes at the present time. The problem of city living is the under support of the city services of the police of the sanitation services health services housing the under support of those services not with a duly high level of taxation. But I wonder if the traditional American tendency to complain about taxes hasn't been pushed a bit to the extreme where we're hearing in a number of states around the country of actual
tax payers revolt groups people who are saying we will not pay any more. I don't know that there's ever been a time in the last hundred years when you didn't have some talk about taxpayers revolt. But I do know that there has been never a time in the last hundred years when people were so dissatisfied with their services and had so much money after taxes as they do under those circumstances. I cannot take very seriously the nonsense about taxpayers revolts. I can take seriously the fact that the major cities of the United States are not adequately supporting their services. Now I'm not saying that they have the resources to do it all themselves. The revenue system of the United States is such that a disproportionate share of the revenue accrues to the federal government. And they said well I have to be allocated back to the cities there's no doubt about it. But if one takes the wealth of the East Side of Manhattan it's hard for me to understand that more of that cannot be made available to protect that property from burglars or to keep the streets decently clean.
More than a decade ago if you coined a phrase it has become a prominent symbol of what I guess we might call decadent comfort in our language. You pointed out in the bestseller that America has become an affluent society with a large middle class and a largely neglected poor class of many millions. Since you're writing do you think that the lot of America's poor has improved appreciably in this the world's most affluent nation. So there's been some increase in income some diminution in the the number of people who are below the poverty line as formally identified by a cheetah. By the government on the other side of course I argue that we were under investing in the public services in the cities that we were under estimating how expensive urban life is how expensive social living is in the cities and I would suppose that the deterioration of the cities has been rather more rapid than I had expected. You pointed out that measured against a middle class affluence poverty sometimes seems even more degrading in America than in other nations where there is a majority of people in poverty.
It hurts more to be poor in the United States. Well the contrast is more obscene Yes. Psychologically this would perhaps make the anxiety of the poorer greater the potential for revolution greater. No I wouldn't that's necessarily the case I'm not quite sure just what revolution means in this context. What I do mean is that in India where I've spent a good many years where everybody is poor you know that you do not have the feeling of relative deprivation. The Indian villager while he is very poor does not have the picture of somebody living adjacent to him who is much better off. For a large number of people who are much better off he doesn't feel it's elated in his poverty. On the other hand this is not a point to be pressed too far. If a man is hungry. He's hungry anywhere you mention the extreme cost of living in cities and so many of our people live in cities nowadays would you say that city poverty is more of a problem than rural poverty.
Oh yes I suppose in a way the most degrading poverty the starkest poverty in the United States at the present time one still finds in the rural south and the Appalachian plateau places of the sort. After all we are an urban nation with a great proportion of our people who live in the cities and a greater proportion of the poor live in the cities. I'm perhaps should explain myself a bit there. When I speak about the cost of urban life I'm really talking about the social cost what it costs for police services what it costs for the courts what it costs for street cleaning what it costs for urban housing and so forth and so on. These are the things which I urged 10 years ago in the affluent society our age that we were under investing in I if anything understated that part of the problem. Well on that note we'll end this program. John Kenneth Galbraith thank you very much. Northeastern University has brought you with John Kenneth Galbraith. Former ambassador to
India for President Kennedy author of the a fluent society and the new industrial state and the former chairman of the Americans for Democratic Action. Day's program. John Kenneth Galbraith the affluent society reexamine. The views and opinions expressed on the preceding program were not necessarily those of Northeastern University or the station questions I asked were the moderators method of presenting many sides of today's topic. Your program host as Dan Joseph R. Bader Director Department of radio production. This week's program was produced by Peter Land directed by David Brown. A technical supervision by executive producer for urban confrontation is Peter life's. Urban confrontation is produced for the division of instructional communications at the nation's largest private university. Northeastern University. Requests for a tape recorded copy of any program in this series may be addressed to urban confrontation. Northeastern University
Boston Massachusetts 0 2 1 1 5 0 announcer Dave Hammond. This is the national educational radio network.
- Urban Confrontation
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- Urban Confrontation is an analysis of the continuing crises facing 20th century man in the American city, covering issues such as campus riots, assassinations, the internal disintegration of cities, and the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation. Produced for the Office of Educational Resources at the Communications Center of the nations largest private university, Northeastern University.
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