On November 4, 1991, Kirk Fordice, a Republican politician in Mississippi, revealed the power of one issue—welfare—to enlarge the boundaries of the politics of race, values, and taxes. A virtual unknown at the start of 1991, Fordice, who had trouble even winning the GOP nomination, became the first Republican governor of Mississippi since Reconstruction to win, in large part, on the basis of one television commercial. The anti‐ welfare, pro-workfare TV spot concluded with a still photo of a black woman in tattered clothing in a run-down room, holding a baby, while the announcer described the incumbent Democratic governor, Ray Mabus, as a "devotee of Ted Kennedy, the Kennedy dynasty, the eastern liberal establishment ... a strong supporter of fellow Harvard grad Michael Dukakis in 1988."
The Mississippi contest, in turn, helped define the structure of the 1992 presidential election, for both the Democratic and Republican parties. In 1988, the combination of issues Bush had used— Willie Horton, the ACLU, the death penalty, "no new taxes"—all touched the central liabilities of the Democratic party, but no single issue better captures the contemporary problems of liberalism than welfare. In a series of interviews with voters in Mississippi and in a host of other states in 1991 and 1992, once the subject shifted to welfare, the whole tenor of the conversation changed. Whites—running the gamut from racial egalitarians to racists— as well as many blacks, are deeply offended by a government program that, in many respects, appears to institutionalize worklessness, non‐ productivity, and all the other symptoms of social dysfunction, including illegitimacy, criminality, and long-term dependency. Welfare appears to key voters to institutionally undermine hard work, enterprise, initiative, learning, restraint, and diligence. In assessing the causes of the Los Angeles riots that followed the acquittal of four police officers in the beating of Rodney King, President Bush's press secretary placed the blame on "failed" social welfare policies of the 1960s and 1970s.