An Analysis of The Genesis of American Politics

An Analysis of The Genesis of American Politics

In light of the midterms, this is my take on why politics has diverged so far in our country.


The onset of the sixties proved to be a turning point for the prevailing political ideologies within American society. In the presidential race of 1960 the candidates, Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, embodied the attitude of each party at the time. Nixon, running on the Republican ticket, symbolized almost a strong and cold status quo that wanted to resist the coming tidal wave of change growing in the nation. Kennedy, conversely, embodied that oncoming change. He was young, he was ambitious and charismatic and preached the dignity of every human and the value of unity in American success.

Oddly enough, this was strange given both of the candidates backgrounds. Nixon came from a middle-class family and always felt out of place in the establishment. Kennedy came from a wealthy family and his father was a well-respected diplomat and politician. These things put him on the political fast track all his life, and inspired his momentous political aspirations. Yet, Kennedy's charisma infatuated people and made people listen to what he had to say. All the while, this election was resting among the growing civil rights movement, the revitalization of the feminist campaign, and the birth of the gay rights movement, and many Americans saw their rights being threatened by the opposing party.

Unfortunately, newly elected President Kennedy wasn't following through on his promises, he had developed cold feet in the passage of civil rights legislation although his policy goals echoed those published in the Appeal for Human rights. Restlessness was developing in the hearts of civil rights leaders, and that itself manifested into protests all across the country. When this restlessness eventually grew too large, Kennedy had a change of heart and the foundations for civil rights legislation were laid for his successor, President Johnson, to pick up the torch. The issue, however, lies with Lyndon B. Johnson. The relatively unimpressive legislative legacy left by Kennedy that mostly skewed into education paled in comparison to Johnson's list of "Great Society" initiatives. These policies greatly expanded on the "New Deal" programs that preceded it and worked vigorously to expand the rights of all, regardless of race, gender, or economic class.

The great society raised new issues, however. In an attempt to expand economic and civil rights to all, he succeeded, but only for a particular group of people. This group were males, and thus the idea of breadwinner liberalism was born. A great extent of the policy reforms were intentionally geared towards helping men retain their power as the patriarch in the household and as the primary provider for the family. As such, these policies created a slew of political challenges. These challenges were twofold: the pervasive rhetoric of the white middle-class, nuclear family that became the staple of American conservatism ever since and the exclusionary nature of a breadwinner ideology created a structural weakness amongst the American left.

The preoccupation with straight men excluded women of all races and excluded the gay rights movements although these campaigns were fundamentally tethered to the ideas that came out of the civil rights movement. In doing this, the liberals of the sixties weakened the structural integrity of the left's strongest political actor, the Democratic Party, by failing to recognize critical groups of the party's primary voters. Moreover, the same preoccupation was ripe for appropriation by the American right. They agreed with the notion behind breadwinner liberalism, that men were naturally the head of the household, only they believed the government had no role in protecting those men who were unable to be the patriarch. They saw it, instead, as a personal shortcoming. This distinction was used to justify racist rhetoric and to cut welfare policies as a whole, saying that if they fail to reach the success it is not the job of society to support them. When combined these two challenges spelled the downfall of sixties liberalism, and signaled the rise of 'new conservatism' in the decades that followed.

In 1963, the United States seemed ripe for change. A young, charismatic president who promised change sat in the Oval Office. The civil rights movement was reaching a critical pressure on the government. A new wave of feminism had been revitalized across the nation. The economy was doing well. Yer, nothing was happening. The things he had accomplished in his presidency by 1963 had all been related to education. He was able to pass the National Defense Education Act after the Soviets launched Sputnik, worked to dismantle the loyalty oaths required by graduate students to receive federal funds, and fought vigorously to extend education to all. Kennedy proposed many ambitious acts to tackle poverty and to better develop the economic institutions in disadvantaged communities. He kept working until he saw some success.

After his death, President Johnson continued to advocate for comprehensive education reform, but it was not his primary focus, unlike Kennedy. Despite all this, and his promises to pass civil rights legislation, he had made no progress in this endeavour. Suddenly, however, he seemed to have a change of heart. Following a series of threats at the University of Alabama, the national guard was needed for the admittance of two qualified African-American students. To address the debacle, Kennedy gave a revolutionary speech that later became known as the Civil Rights Address. He lays bares the facts of what it is like to live as a black American, exposing the true effect of a long-standing institutionalized racism. "The Negro baby born in America today, regardless of the section of the State in which he is born, has about one-half as much chance of completing a high school as a white baby born in the same place on the same day, one-third as much chance of completing college, one-third as much chance of becoming a professional man, twice as much chance of becoming unemployed, about one-seventh as much chance of earning $10,000 a year, a life expectancy which is 7 years shorter, and the prospects of earning only half as much," he exclaimed.

The shocking contrast Kennedy conjures brings the issues of institutional racism to the front of the political conflict. Even further, Kennedy expressed an understanding of the reasons for why the protestors were fighting for civil rights and publicly recognized the apathetic nature of the legislators and lawmakers to make positive change. For these reasons, the speech presented a new horizon for the civil rights movement. The recognition that there was a problem and then the push for legal change by the president of the United States symbolized that their message had been received and that negotiation was possible after years of a building tension. It mirrored the Appeal for Human Rights published in 1960 by students from the Atlanta colleges in that he focused on issues of housing, voting, education, jobs, and the health. In addressing these issues, he assures the civil rights leaders that this administration is listening to their struggles and hears their pain, a validation never before heard of in American politics. This speech laid the groundwork for increased civil rights legislation as Johnson took control of the presidency later that year.

The nation was thrown into a crippling paralysis after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, but Johnson couldn't just sit idly by as nothing got done. He had to do something. In his address following the tragedy, he attempted to restore a sense of change and care back into America in an effort to pull them out of this state of paralysis. "Let us continue," were his words that day, and his approach to the presidency. And, just as he proclaimed, they continued, and the administration hit the ground running. Johnson's policy goals were all laid out in a speech given at the University of Michigan. His goal was to establish the "Great Society". Essentially it was a culture that rests on the foundations of liberty and abundance and all, and as such "demands an end to poverty and racial injustice". However, this was the only the first goal.

According to Johnson, there are three places where "we", or the American people, can begin to build The Great Society: the cities, the countryside, and in the classrooms. The cities are plagued by a long list of ills -- old landmarks are being violated, there is not enough housing, urban centers are decaying -- but the worst ill of all is that it is eroding the sense of community between neighbors and residents. The countrysides are at risk of withering away due to constant environmental degradation, and if the countryside were to disappear, man's spirit would disappear with it. In the classrooms, Johnson claims that society would not be great until our children have the ability to scan the furthest regions of their imagination and that given the current state of our education, this is far from the case. The whole of the speech outlined what America could be if the government were to take appropriate action against these ills and gave students an inspiring message that they could work to achieve that society. However, the presentation of this speech signaled the beginning of the new ideology of breadwinner liberalism.

It was easy to listen to listen to the words of President Johnson and jump to the conclusion that he would attempt to pursue policies that work for the betterment of all of society. However, this was not what happened. A key policy that was passed by the Johnson administration, the Economic Opportunity Act, focused almost entirely on absent fathers. This focus was because policy-makers understood that the dynamics that kept families poor related to absent fathers and low wage jobs for women. However, it was more politically feasible to focus on increasing economic opportunity for men than increasing access to higher paying jobs for women. The Great Society doctrine held that newly trained men would adapt to the job market that had marginalized them would find "breadwinning" employment and then stabilize families.

It didn't stop there, however. Public funds were diverted into rebuilding infrastructure and communities that were otherwise deemed undesirable, and the architects of the Great Society thought that this would divert the energies of men away from violence to finding jobs. This, of course, had a great racial element that was underplayed in political circles. They were targeting communities that were predominantly black and poor because the greater United States still saw these areas as inferior, and many liberals blatantly ignored this motivation and instead focused on broad ideas of happiness. These ideas didn't just stay with Johnson, it became the foundation of American welfare policy. Nixon criticized the Aid to Families with Dependent Children claiming that it encouraged paternal desertion. He even went as far as to say, "any system which makes it more profitable for a man not to work, or which encourages a man to desert his family rather than stay with his family, is wrong and indefensible."

This claim was made because the way that the Aid to Families worked was that it only provided support to unmarried mothers and critics thought that this caused a financial incentive to leave. No one liked the way welfare was distributed and handled, not the people of the right, nor the left, nor the recipients themselves. The way the liberals had established the system it disproportionately hurt women. Towards the end of his presidency, however, more progress was made in the advancement of women and the civil rights act had been signed into law, but it was too late, the damage left by the welfare policies has begun to set in. This had two effects; It opened up the liberals for attack by the left because they were being exclusionary and were hurting people that they had claimed they wanted to help, but it also allowed the American right to claim that the left was destabilizing the family through these silly government programs and this would jeopardize our culture. In effect, the liberalism of the sixties had begun to sow the seeds of their own destruction.

Without the support of the strongest political actor of the left, and after the civil rights movement subsided, the remaining movements lost significant steam. A large part of this was that their own manifestation was tethered to the ideas of the civil rights so strongly that when civil right legislation had been passed and the movement became significantly less active, the feminist and gay rights movement didn't have the backbone to support them. The foundations of these other movements were that all people were equal, not just straight men. The liberalism of the sixties did a good job at bringing greater equality to black men and started to work towards the economic development of the historically oppressed group, but women were an afterthought in the Great Society. Members of the gay community never even constituted a thought to the majority of white, straight men who were the face of the democratic party.

The Johnson administration was able to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which included sex, but any initiatives for promoting economic success of women came at the tail end of his presidency and were ineffective at best. While this constituted progress, it wasn't monumental and many still felt marginalized simply because it was never a focus of the administration. The gay rights movement wasn't even recognized. They were not recognized in the Civil Rights Act, they were not given the right to marry, they were not given the same rights that many Americans took for granted. Moreover, nothing was done to prevent the excessive violence against members of the community and it was never even recognized as an issue by the Kennedy or Johnson administration, while these administrations actively recognized the struggles of other oppressed groups in American society.

All of this alienated key aspects of the left and opened up the left for criticism by members of their own ideology. The divergence between Kennedy's and Johnson's brand of breadwinner liberalism and the liberalism that advocate for complete social equality became increasingly visible. This divergence is still present today, except the breadwinner liberals are now called Neoliberals and social equality liberals are now called progressives. This divide has hindered democrat success ever since because the party is never able to agree on optimal policy, causing disillusionment and disorganization amongst the party's voters.

The rise of president Nixon in 1968 triggered the start of the great realignment. The focus of politics quickly changed from a focus on equal rights to a focus on reinstating a traditional view of family values, all the while keeping the idea of a stable family at the center of it all. The right had appropriated the idea of being a breadwinner and used it to justify their own policy agenda. They took the idea that family stability was key in maintaining economic excellence, which was a crucial part of Johnson's breadwinner liberalism, and turned it against them. The right said that liberal policies were attempting to promote strong families and encourage men to get out and work, yet in practice, they were doing the absolute opposite.

Many Republican lawmakers had used welfare as their target, decrying the use of federal funds to support men that failed to become breadwinners, blaming it all on personal shortcomings. Some took it as far as to show that welfare programs, like Aid to Families with Dependent Children, actually gave a financial incentive for men not to work and for men to leave their families. In a reactionary measure, many right-wing politicians called for a radical decrease in the power and reach of the federal government to ensure the stability of the family. This, however, requires an internal contradiction. In order for the government to enforce these arbitrary established family values derived from a non-existent nuclear family model, the government would, out of pure necessity, adopt an overbearing power over people's private lives. This would defy the rights deeply held values of personal freedom and the right to self-determination. This contradiction was starting to manifest itself in the real world.

Welfare departments of the late sixties, early seventies would sometimes unexpectedly show up at recipient's door, to make sure they met the necessary qualifications. The right twisted this to make it issue of personal freedom and an issue of federal spending, but upon close analysis, this argument falls apart. Coming in without a warrant is a constitutional overreach of the government's power, but this was immaterial to the right, as it granted them political power.

The appropriation of the key values of the left by the right dealt the final blow to sixties liberalism because it had robbed liberalism of all values. Liberal policy targeted men and fathers the most, which shows that they valued family, but they claimed to value family. The right just manipulated this principle to say that equality equals family. That maximum guided them through the next few decades and even still guides the right in crafting social policy. Using this idea, they were able to justify the slashing of welfare programs by exploiting the fact that people value family. If they could claim that welfare destroyed the family, they could effectively bend the system to their will. Just as they did. Their ideal family, however, was based in an incredibly racist and outdated model of the white nuclear family, and since black families did not typically meet a similar ideal they were seen as less than.

This idea creates a predisposition for discrimination and leads to even greater harm to equality, but this did not seem to matter for white middle-class families because they thought their discrimination was based on values, not realizing the foundations of those values. And it was exactly the white middle-class that the right had targeted as they made up a significant share of the country and they had historically held massive amounts of privileges. Manipulating them to believe that the betterment of other groups in society spelled harm to their place in society was the first step in securing the vote. This is what is meant by Richard Nixon's appeal to the 'silent majority' in his presidential campaign in 1968.

The two-pronged attack on breadwinner liberalism has had drastic effects on American society. Family values conservatism is still the foundation for the Republican party, and it is still used as a scapegoat for all political action. If a certain policy is undesirable they can claim that it is an attack on the family values of American citizens and that it oversteps the reach of government. This simple maximum has been able to sway generations of voters over to the Republican party. The glorification of the old has become a political tool by the right and they use it against anything that is different, or at least against anything that looks different. Liberalism is still divided among the neoliberals and the progressives. The liberals still encourage government involvement of the economy insofar that it promotes capitalism and the preservation of the family, not dissimilar in values from conservatives only in that their approach encourages the use of government, as opposed to the market, to have an active role in promoting the role of the patriarch. Progressives call for a greater deal of equity and equality for all people in society by dismantling the pre-existing ideas of male dominance, repressed sexuality, and women inferiority through government programs and policies designed specifically to help change inequities caused by years of oppression. How one views certain issues in today's societies is telling of their political ideology, and this stems directly from this age of constant political turnovers.The parties defined who they stood for and what they value in the sixties and early seventies and in doing so, created a definition of what stands for national identity. The parties stood for different things, so conceptions of national identity are different, but they have remained largely unchanged since the sixties although the political climate has radically shifted. Despite some early success in promoting policy that skyrocketed economic growth, increasing access to education, and passing necessary civil rights legislation, the democratic party sowed the seeds of their own destruction by failing to recognize the error of their policy designs that allowed for exploitation by the right and created an avenue of attack by other members of the left. This destruction created a power vacuum that led to the rise of New Conservatism of the Reagan and Bush era and left a lasting scar on American politics.

Popular Right Now

An Open Letter to the Person Who Still Uses the "R Word"

Your negative associations are slowly poisoning the true meaning of an incredibly beautiful, exclusive word.

What do you mean you didn't “mean it like that?" You said it.

People don't say things just for the hell of it. It has one definition. Merriam-Webster defines it as, "To be less advanced in mental, physical or social development than is usual for one's age."

So, when you were “retarded drunk" this past weekend, as you claim, were you diagnosed with a physical or mental disability?

When you called your friend “retarded," did you realize that you were actually falsely labeling them as handicapped?

Don't correct yourself with words like “stupid," “dumb," or “ignorant." when I call you out. Sharpen your vocabulary a little more and broaden your horizons, because I promise you that if people with disabilities could banish that word forever, they would.

Especially when people associate it with drunks, bad decisions, idiotic statements, their enemies and other meaningless issues. Oh trust me, they are way more than that.

I'm not quite sure if you have had your eyes opened as to what a disabled person is capable of, but let me go ahead and lay it out there for you. My best friend has Down Syndrome, and when I tell people that their initial reaction is, “Oh that is so nice of you! You are so selfless to hang out with her."

Well, thanks for the compliment, but she is a person. A living, breathing, normal girl who has feelings, friends, thousands of abilities, knowledge, and compassion out the wazoo.

She listens better than anyone I know, she gets more excited to see me than anyone I know, and she works harder at her hobbies, school, work, and sports than anyone I know. She attends a private school, is a member of the swim team, has won multiple events in the Special Olympics, is in the school choir, and could quite possibly be the most popular girl at her school!

So yes, I would love to take your compliment, but please realize that most people who are labeled as “disabled" are actually more “able" than normal people. I hang out with her because she is one of the people who has so effortlessly taught me simplicity, gratitude, strength, faith, passion, love, genuine happiness and so much more.

Speaking for the people who cannot defend themselves: choose a new word.

The trend has gone out of style, just like smoking cigarettes or not wearing your seat belt. It is poisonous, it is ignorant, and it is low class.

As I explained above, most people with disabilities are actually more capable than a normal human because of their advantageous ways of making peoples' days and unknowingly changing lives. Hang out with a handicapped person, even if it is just for a day. I can one hundred percent guarantee you will bite your tongue next time you go to use the term out of context.

Hopefully you at least think of my friend, who in my book is a hero, a champion and an overcomer. Don't use the “R Word". You are way too good for that. Stand up and correct someone today.

Cover Image Credit: Kaitlin Murray

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

To Fix Taxes, We Have To Rethink 'Wealthy'

"Wealthy" doesn't mean the same for everyone.


When discussing taxes today, so many politicians are quick to rush to the adage "tax the rich." Bernie Sanders has called for the rich to be taxed higher to pay for Medicare for All. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has called for a 70% tax on the wealthy.

However, all of these proposals are missing a key thing: a true definition of rich.

When thinking about what counts as rich, it is important to distinguish between the "working wealthy" and the "investment wealthy."

The working wealthy are the people in society that get paid highly because they have a high skill set and provide an extremely valuable service that they deserve just compensation for. This class is made up of professionals like lawyers, doctors, and CEOs. In addition, the working wealthy are characterized by another crucial aspect: over a long term calculation of their earned income over time, they don't come out as prosperous as their annual incomes would seem to suggest. This is because this set of the wealthy has to plunge into student debt for degrees that take years to acquire. These jobs generally also require a huge amount of time invested in lower-paying positions, apprenticeships, and internships before the big-money starts coming in.

On the other hand, the investment wealthy is completely different. These are the people that merely sit back and manipulate money without truly contributing to anything in society. A vast majority of this class is born into money and they use investments into stocks and bonds as well as tax loopholes to generate their money without actually contributing much to society as a whole.

What makes the investment wealthy so different from the working wealthy is their ability to use manipulative techniques to avoid paying taxes. While the working wealthy are rich, they do not have AS many resources or connections to manipulate tax laws the way that the investment wealthy can. The investment wealthy has access to overseas banking accounts to wash money though. The investment wealthy can afford lawyers to comb over tax laws and find loopholes for ridiculous prices. This is tax evasion that the working wealthy simply does not have access to.

That is why it is so incredibly important to make sure that we distinguish between the two when discussing tax policy. When we use blanket statements like "tax the rich," we forget the real reasons that the investment wealthy are able to pay such low taxes now. Imposing a larger marginal tax rate will only give them more incentive to move around taxes while squeezing the working wealthy even more.

Because of this, in our taxation discourse, we need to focus first on making sure people pay their taxes, to begin with. Things like a tax of Wall Street speculation, capital gains taxes, a closing of loopholes, and a simplification of the tax code. These things will have a marked improvement in making sure that the investment wealthy actually pays the taxes we already expect of them now. If we stick to the same message, the only thing we will be changing is the rate that the uber-wealthy are avoiding.

Related Content

Facebook Comments