"Let the public service be a proud and lively career," President John F. Kennedy proclaimed in his January 1961 message to Congress. "Let every man and woman who works in any area of our national government," he continued, "say with pride and with honor in future years: 'I served the United States government in that hour of our nation's need.'" Kennedy's message succeeded: Young Democrats, heeding his call, filled the offices of the nation's executive agencies. And yet just 20 years later, Ronald Reagan, another newly elected president, stood in front of the U.S. Capitol and declared a kind of war on the values Kennedy vaunted. "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem," Reagan said, a statement that marked a definitive break with the big-government liberalism of the postwar period. How did government go from being the solution to society's ills to being the cause of its problems? The answer, paradoxically, lies with the political left as well as the right. In the '60s and '70s, as the federal government expanded its reach, and as a growing conservative movement fulminated against it, many liberals also grew disillusioned with the government's unchecked bureaucratic power. The postwar… Read full this story
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