Grapes of Wrath


President Clinton's decision to sign the welfare bill is not only, as conservative Democrats crow, "the defining moment" of his presidency but a momentous occasion in the political culture. For decades, the far right has plotted to dismantle the social safety net. But even when the opportunity seemed greatest--the Reagan years--it failed. Then Newt Gingrich and his wily allies gave their assault a tough-love veneer (helping the poor actually hurts them!), and a Democratic President and half of his party colleagues in Congress signed on to lop $55 billion from programs for society's weakest. Bill Clinton and much of the Democratic Party have made the Republican dream a reality. And they have sentenced 3.5 million children to be dropped from public assistance by 2001, condemned a million more children to poverty and demonized legal immigrants.

Since Clinton became the front-runner for the Democratic nomination in l 992, his aides relentlessly peddled the same line to liberal friends: Don't worry; to Clinton, "welfare reform" is code for a jobs program. By declaring himself a welfare reformer, Clinton supposedly inoculated himself from Republican attack. Well, he botched the job so completely he caught the virus. And, in case you missed it, there is no jobs program in this bill. Ahead in the polls by 20 or so points, Clinton has decided to seek re-election by further afflicting this nation's most defenseless citizens. In doing so, he has boosted the prospects of Republican members of the no-longer do-nothing Congress. Compare the President's action with that of Senator Paul Wellstone. Locked in a tight race in which his well-financed opponent is lambasting him as "Senator Welfare," Wellstone had the spine to vote no. He was the only one of seven Democratic senators up for re-election to do so.

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan prophetically warns that this bill is but the first step in dismantling the social contract in place since the New Deal, which promised federal care for the elderly, the unemployed, the children. …

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