Richard M. Nixon: Politician, President, Administrator

By Leon Friedman; William F. Levantrosser | Go to book overview

Discussant: Robert H. Finch

My comments will be brief and chiefly anecdotal in nature. At the outset I think it is important to disabuse the proposition, express or implied, that welfare reform by the Nixon Administration in 1969 was a Machiavellian plot to "outflank the liberals." It is true that the Nixon Administration was confronted with an overwhelming galaxy of programs, which had been initiated by President Johnson and enthusiastically received by the Democratic Congress with the success of the Great Society agenda. But it is also true that the 1968 election took place in a strife-ridden nation. It is true that as we formulated the agenda for the new Nixon Administration, we were conscious of the appeal President Nixon had made as a candidate about "bringing us together" as a nation.

Our commitment in this field was based on more than just poll data confirming that public opinion was very negative to the disarray of welfare programs in place throughout the country. Reagan as governor and myself as lieutenant governor (although elected to separate offices) had come out of a statewide race in California in 1966 where welfare abuse was very much a central problem, and in attacking that problem, we had in that largest state quickly addressed one solution in the form of better job training. I had been appointed to head the effort for job training in California and learned a great deal in the course of that two-year study. One of the difficulties we confronted at the national level was that there were a variety of programs that dealt peripherally with welfare abuse, both at the federal and state and, in some cases, local levels, but we had to do more than simply restructure the Aid for Dependent Children program, and, indeed, in concert with our welfare reform, you will recall that the Nixon Administration had begun to deal with reorganizing the federal establishment overall through the Ash commission, organizing government by "function" and not by "constituency."

Another of the difficulties we faced was that in trying to look at what constituted "income," we were confronted with varying levels of support ranging from food stamps to rent subsidies and other direct and imputed sources of income, which made it very difficult to calculate the "notch" where the program would "kick in" and, at the same time, recognize the fundamental principle, which Nixon had enunciated, to the effect that it should always be more profitable to work and be employed than not to work.

Another of the major disabilities afflicting our basic message and our efforts to communicate effectively with the Congress was the unreliability of the data with which we worked. Data, which should have been standardized at the city, state, and federal levels regarding unemployment, single-parent children, and the rest, was very slippery, and particularly in testifying before the congressional committees, we were under constant attack by the critics of the program who were eager to challenge our statistics. You must also remember that the figures

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