Suddenly, there is great interest in the 1960s. Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois) explained in a Fox News interview that Senator Hillary Clinton (D-New York) couldn’t bring the country together because she was still fighting the battles of the 60s. This week’s Newsweek cover story features the year 1968 as the year that made us who we are. Tom Brokaw has a book coming out about the voices of the 60s. Obviously, the “Boomers” aren’t going to leave the scene quietly.
Lots of folks have lots to say about the people and the events of the “Age of Aquarius” — the student occupation of administration buildings on campuses across the nation, the violent demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, the bloody race riots and tragic assassinations. The focus, though, is primarily on the people and the events of that turbulent period of American history. Granted, the people and the events were unprecedented, and the era was the very definition of cultural breakdown, but the gory accounts generally don’t include the federal policies that were instituted during that era that continue to contribute to our national woes.
Two 1960s policy “innovations” were especially destructive. The Flemming Rule (1960) was named for Arthur Flemming, then head of the Department of Health and Human Services, who issued an administrative ruling that states could not deny eligibility for income assistance through the AFDC program on the grounds that a home was “unsuitable” because the woman’s children were illegitimate. In 1968, the Supreme Court’s “Man-in-the-House” rule struck down the practice of states declaring a home unsuitable (i.e., an immoral environment) if there was a man in the house not married to the mother. Thus, out-of-wedlock births and cohabitation were legitimized. In very short order, the number on welfare tripled and child poverty climbed dramatically. Unbelievably, President Bill Clinton awarded Arthur Flemming his second Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contributions to American society.
Innovation, though, does not constitute progress unless the benefits are greater than its costs — unless the intended consequences are larger than the unintended consequences. In our national history of trial and error, boom or bust, there are numerous economic and social policies that have ignored the realities of human nature with its propensities, flaws and limitations. James Madison, the father of the American Constitution, was mindful of the propensity of human nature to abuse power, and he deliberately designed a government with carefully drawn boundaries; the separation of powers between the branches of government provides essential checks and balances.