Forty Years of Title X Is Enough:

The Folly of the McNamara Approach to Family Planning When Robert S. McNamara, the secretary of defense for Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, passed away in 2009, the media recounted achievements that few in his generation could match. While charting his rapid rise in the Ford Motor Company and his leadership of the World Bank, the news accounts directed most of their attention to McNamara’s seven years at the Pentagon in the 1960s, directing a military build-up in Southeast Asia during the early but critical years of the Vietnam War. A common theme of most obituaries was the irony of how the prosecution of a war in a tiny country by a talented, dedicated, and bright public servant ended in such a colossal defeat, at the cost of more than 58,000 American lives. While the American misfortunes in Vietnam cannot be blamed on any one man, McNamara is nonetheless inextricably linked to that military failure. Less understood is how the contradictions of the former defense secretary are equally linked to another war of LBJ, one that became more of a quagmire than Vietnam ever was: the War on Poverty, including a related battle, the assault on American fertility declared by President Richard M. Nixon in 1969 and ushered in by the Family Planning Services and Population Research Act of 1970, also known as Title X of the Public Health Services Act. Granted, neither the War on Poverty nor Title X fell under McNamara’s purview. Yet both domestic undertakings were inconceivable apart from the mentality that the Whiz Kid from Ford personified, an attitude which presumes that there are no social, political, or economic problems that the discipline of public policy, when rationally pursued and applied by the best and brightest, cannot fix. As George F. Will observed on McNamara’s death, the corporate titan’s service to two presidents coincided with the elevation of politics to an empirical science, driven by the mythology of behavioralism, which hol
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