For Democrats in Congress, a Return to the 'War on Poverty' 50 Years Later

By:  Lauren Fox

If President Lyndon Johnson saw the economy today and the policies Democrats were wrestling with to improve it, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, believes he'd be disappointed.

"I am going to challenge us to think bigger. Why can't we think bigger?" Harkin says. "Now is the time when government ought to be borrowing a lot of money and taking that money and putting it into job creation."

In the 50 years since Johnson called for a "War on Poverty" in his State of the Union address, Democrats have distanced themselves from discussions about class and inequality. In recent decades, they have spent a considerable amount of time talking about the middle class, but conversations about the poor, have fallen by the wayside. Even during the Clinton administration, welfare reform, which reduced benefits for the poor, was hailed as a signature achievement for the party.

"Democrats, for a variety of reasons, were in retreat," says Randall Woods, author of "LBJ: Architect of American Ambition." "They allowed conservatives to control the public relations message through the 1990s even throughout the Clinton administration. They portrayed the Great Society as a failure."

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