The real reason Romney’s right on welfare

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Michael Barone

For an unparalledly good analysis of the welfare waiver issue, see these blogposts by uberblogger Mickey Kaus. And definitely read the whole thing. I’ve known Mickey since the 1980s, when he was writing for the New Republic, and he has always talked in just the style of his blogposts. It’s a case of man and medium in perfect harmony. I ran into him walking on North Ashley Street near midnight Monday and I looking back on our conversation I can see that he was obviously thinking through the second blogpost. [Maybe I was a key sounding board!—ed.]


MSM has been using the welfare issue as an example of how the Republicans are irredeemably racist. Mickey effectively refutes that. Most Americans believe in a work ethic, he notes, and naturally they tend to oppose Obama’s steps to weaken the work requirements in the hugely successful 1996 welfare reform (signed, with some reluctance and not a little bit of political calculation) by Bill Clinton. And I think he’s right to say that Obama’s move is not, as some Republicans charge, an effort to buck up a voting constituency—though it might be an effort to pay off some of the leftists in his administration and their friends outside government.


The Republicans’ response to this charge, from what I’ve heard and read, seems to me deficient. MSM and the Democrats are feeding their friends (especially those sour on Obama) the line that Republicans oppose work requirements for welfare because they want to hurt black people. But the point of welfare reform was not to hurt anyone, but to enable the intended beneficiaries of a system that was hurting everyone in multiple ways to gain the self-respect and self-sufficiency that comes from work. Decades of research showed that government job training programs did little to enable welfare recipients to support themselves and that their best job training was a job, any job. Welfare reform enabled people to move from what American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks calls “learned dependency” to what he calls “earned success.” Satisfaction in life, as Brooks has pointed up, citing multivarious survey research, comes from earned success. That success can be economic, it can come from fulfilling family responsibilities, it can come from helping others. Welfare reform was not about saving money—Governor Tommy Thompson’s pioneer evolving program in Wisconsin involved spending money in helping welfare recipients get jobs—but about improving lives, you might even say saving lives. Moving toward reduced work requirements moves in the other direction. That’s why it’s wrong.

*I’m a Resident Fellow there.

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