Unlike the British usage of the word “commonwealth” to describe their imperial domain, Goldfield means it as a prioritizing of the common good and a belief in a shared national destiny for all classes.
This was far from a so-called “nanny state.” Goldfield uses Lyndon Johnson’s eventual championing of civil rights as good example: “[G]overnment will legislate to ensure equality of opportunity; it was up to the people to run with it.” He shows that even those who might have been suspicious of a larger governmental role in the economy and society, such as Dwight Eisenhower, were won over by victory in World War II and a form of consensus politics that brought business, government, and labor into sync.
With new freeways came new homes: the tidy, monotonous Levittowns of identical suburban houses made possible by federal home loans (that largely excluded African Americans).
Schools were also churned out to meet the demographic challenge of a younger population: by 1964, four out of every 10 Americans were under 20 years old.
At the same time, students were not afraid to broaden their education in the liberal arts: between 19 the number of college students went from 2.5 million to 8.8 million and those who graduated did so with little debt or small federal loans with reasonable interest rates.
powerfully shows that while we often think of the 1950s and 1960s as golden years of widespread prosperity, much of this economic leveling was achieved through federal policies and not the invisible hand of laissez-faire markets.Goldfield never quite considers the political science of it all, but from 1945 to 1970, the United States could operate a big government approach to correcting social ills precisely because the Soviet Union was there as a foil.Few could make apoplectic statements about expansion of natural parks as the first step in authoritarianism when Soviet tanks were rolling into Budapest and Prague (although some, most notably Joseph Mc Carthy, did try).After being promised some kind of social history, the reader is left mainly with the story of presidents and their policy struggles.The kind of deep cultural history that would be needed to discuss what big government meant to individual lives is reached for but not quite grasped.Lyndon Johnson was particularly struck by the intractable nature of white rural poverty, having come from a hardscrabble Texas background, and he made anti-poverty programs a centerpiece of the Great Society.Goldfield takes pains to show that although federal projects to alleviate child poverty, support Medicaid, and fund Social Security were often sponsored by Democrats, they enjoyed broad support among all legislatures and they were viewed as economically beneficial rather than a drain on state coffers.A large portion of the book is devoted to undercutting the idea that the postwar welfare state was simply an automatic process of applying wartime scale and mobilization to domestic needs.Rather, Goldfield wants to show that the social provisioning of this period was linked to moral sentiment — people supported Pell Grants for the same reason they were in favor of voting rights — because everyone deserves a fair shake. He begins by talking about the working-class sons and daughters of immigrants who attended Tilden High School in Brooklyn (of which he was one, but he barely pauses to note this), but he never quite integrates these characters into the book.However, if one considers projects like the Great Society in tandem with the expansion of the European welfare state, this diagnosis is lacking some crucial factors: they were both watered-down solutions to more radical demands, often from socialists, starting before World War II.European welfare states and US “commonwealth” programs, from the New Deal to the Great Society, embraced selective aspects of socialism in order to ward off hardcore left-wing political parties and sympathies for the Soviet Union.