President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty in his first State of the Union message, fifty years ago.
That speech was delivered on January 8, 1964, to a Congress and a nation still grieving the assassination of a young and vibrant President. "Let us carry forward the plans and programs of John Fitzgerald Kennedy," said Johnson, "not because of our sorrow or sympathy, but because they are right."
Johnson knew that some of his colleagues might pay a price for their political courage on this issue. But he rejected the path of centrist convenience in his moral call to fellow Democrats. Said Johnson: "I especially ask all members of my own political faith, in this election year, to put your country ahead of your party."
Some sacrifices are worth the price. But then, as now, politicians and journalists often dealt with the moral challenge of poverty by rendering it invisible. Michael Harrington talked about that in his 1962 book, "The Other America," writing of the "normal and obvious causes of the invisibility of the poor."
Those forces "operated a generation ago," wrote Harrington, and "they will be functioning a generation hence... the very development of American society is creating a new kind of blindness about poverty. The poor are increasingly slipping out of the very experience and consciousness of the nation."