Richard Nixon: Speeches, Writings, Documents

By Rick Perlstein; Richard Nixon | Go to book overview
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18.
“The present welfare system has to
be judged a colossal failure”
(August 8, 1969)

Nixon's first domestic address—delivered, belatedly,
seven months into his presidency—included two major
proposals. The first was traditionally conservative: a
“revenue sharing” arrangement designed to reduce the
power of the federal bureaucracy and give more leeway
to states and municipalities to spend federal funds. But
Nixon was a poor manager of Congress, a body he held
in contempt, and was not able to pass it until 1972.

The second proposal, a “Family Assistance Pro-
gram,” would have replaced America's main programs
of relief to the poor, Aid to Families with Dependent
Children, Food Stamps, and Medicaid, with a universal
grant program with a floor of $1,600 for a family
of four—an effective guaranteed minimum income,
though one artfully devised to incentivize work. Nixon
initially loved it because it would eviscerate the welfare
bureaucracy. Liberals excoriated it for being inade-
quate (even though the minimum grant would have
been three times that given to AFDC recipients in the
stingiest state, Mississippi). Conservatives thought the
program rewarded indolence—though in this speech,
Nixon carefully fudged the description to claim it

-163-

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