August 8, 1969 was the beginning of a new cycle in American politics; one that marked the reversal of a trend that had been centralizing power in Washington for over 30 years. In an address to television and radio audiences, President Nixon introduced the nation to a governing philosophy that sought to reverse the course to the centralization of power, and social engineering started under the New Deal and expanded during the Great Society. President Nixon called this approach to government the New Federalism.
President Nixon reminded the nation of the consequences of greater government involvement in people’s lives.
“A third of a century of centralizing power and responsibility in Washington has produced a bureaucratic monstrosity, cumbersome, unresponsive, ineffective.
A third of a century of social experiment has left us a legacy of entrenched programs that have outlived their time or outgrown their purposes.
A third of a century of unprecedented growth and change has strained our institutions, and raised serious questions about whether they are still adequate to the times.”
The proposals that followed within the address focused on welfare reform, manpower training, the Office of Economic Opportunity, and a system of revenue sharing; but at its core the goal of the New Federalism was to put power back in the hands of the states. Both the public and media response was positive; 65 percent of Americans responded favorably in a Gallup poll, and 95 percent of newspaper editorials also reported favorably.
What we learn from the failures of the 1960s government overreach is that when discussing government, bigger does not equal better. Yet, this simple axiom which was once obvious in the failed aftermath of the President Johnson’s Great Society, has once again become a topic of recent political debates.
The United States finds itself asking once again, what is the role of government?
Simply put, the purpose of government is to help address the needs of its people. When government tries to address the people’s needs by dictating a solution, or utilizing a “one size fits all” policy—seen in the New Deal and the Great Society—it inevitably fails. When, however, a government facilitates the resources necessary for the people to address their own needs, as the New Federalism did, it reduces government reliance and supports self-sufficiency, the result is moving people toward prosperity.
As President Nixon said, “This nation became great not because of what government did for people, but because of what people did for themselves.”