Magazine article Newsweek

She's Taking Her Stand: Marian Wright Edelman Marches into a Fight over Whether Liberalism Really Works

Magazine article Newsweek

She's Taking Her Stand: Marian Wright Edelman Marches into a Fight over Whether Liberalism Really Works

Article excerpt

WHAT A MARVELOUSLY EMPOWERing idea--or so it must have seemed. With Republicans--and a lot of Democrats--pummeling the welfare state, Marian Wright Edelman decided to throw a huge party in Washington last Saturday to draw attention to the country's youngest and poorest. She called it Stand for Children, and an estimated 200,000 people did: Diana Ross, a 2,000-member children's choir and 3,000 buses full of teachers, social workers, Girl Scouts and other friends of Edelman's 23-year-old lobby, the Children's Defense Fund. They marched triumphantly--at the meandering gait of a 7-year-old--from Arlington National Cemetery to a rally at the Lincoln Memorial. Giant banners proclaiming LEAVE NO CHILD BEHIND hung on either side of the monument. Who could help loving a love-in for kids?

But in Washington, a march is never just a march, and Stand for Children provoked predictably partisan carping. A veteran of the civil-rights wars in Mississippi and an intimate of Hillary Clinton's, Edelman, now 56, became a legend in the children's-rights movement (she recently received her 101st honorary university degree). But both liberals and conservatives have begun to see Edelman as out of step with the issue she is most identified with: reforming the social safety net.

Back in the 1970s, she had the inspired notion that welfare programs were more likely to win political backing if they were said to be for children rather than for poor adults. "We stand here advocating just government, a government that does not give more to those who have and less to those who have not," Edelman said on the Mall. But policymakers of all stripes increasingly believe the best way to protect kids is to try to change the behavior of their parents by getting grown-ups off the dole and into a job. "Saying that the problem of poverty is simply greedy politicians versus poor kids doesn't work anymore," says Mickey Kaus, author of "The End of Equality," a neoliberal welfare critique. …

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