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Press Review: U.S. Politics, From Welfare Reform to Presidential Campaign

  • Don Hill



Prague, August 5 (RFE/RL) -- Over the weekend, U.S. politics captured press attention as papers commented on Democratic President Bill Clinton's announcement that he would sign into law a welfare reform measure backed by the opposition Republicans. Among other provisions, it limits long-standing federal government support for poor children.

NEWSWEEK: Should impoverished children become public pawns of liberals and conservatives?

Senior Editor Jonathan Alter writes in the current issues of the U.S. news magazine : "On the last day of July 1996, in a decision that will reverberate through his presidency, Bill Clinton reluctantly agreed to sign a Republican bill that actually changes the social contract between the government and the poor. . . . The nation is embarking on a vast domestic social experiment. The new law is not conservative; it's radical. It throws the dice on the future without knowing the consequences. The welfare issue cuts deep, to bedrock notions of compassion, work, race, and human nature. Should we blow up social policy, like some village in Vietnam, in order to save it? Should we allow some of the poor to get poorer so that others may pull themselves out of dependency? Should impoverished children become public pawns--of liberals who use them to defend a rotten system, of conservatives who blithely assume they will get by on even less?"

NEW YORK TIMES: England learned that the theory that relief causes poverty was wrong

Frances Fox Piven is professor of political science at the City University of New York, and is co-author of the book, 'Regulating the Poor." She commented in Sunday's edition: "If Bill Clinton, as an Oxford student, had studied the history of the poor in early 19th-century England, he might not have decided to sign the welfare reform bill. Eminent English social thinkers developed a justification for an 1834 law that eliminated relief for the poor. Learned arguments showed that giving them even meager quantities of bread and coal harmed both the larger society and the poor themselves. . . .

"The misery and reduced life spans that ensued were well-documented not only by historians but ultimately by Parliament, which investigated the workhouses and the riots against them. England came to learn that the theory that relief itself caused poverty was wrong, and replaced the Poor Law with a modern system of social assistance. No matter what England learned, the U.S. government is eagerly following the 1834 script by ending federal responsibility for welfare and turning it over to the states."



NEW YORK TIMES: The welfare bill abandons the effort to solve a social problem

Columnist Anthony Lewis writes in today's edition: " President Clinton's decision to sign the bill ending the national commitment to help poor children has been widely described as a political watershed, a Democrat turning away from the New Deal. It is that, but it signals something more--a change in basic American attitudes. Optimism and generosity have been the hallmarks of the American character. We could solve any problem, bear any burden together--a can-do society. The welfare bill is the opposite. Out of pessimism or indifference, it abandons the effort to solve a profound social problem. For generosity it substitutes callousness."

WASHINGTON POST: The bill gives new meaning to the phrase women and children first

The paper said yesterday in an editorial: "A couple of weeks ago the warnings were that this could be a Congress that accomplished nothing. The Democrats were determined to turn the tables on the Republicans, leave them nothing to show for their majority, then beat up on them in the campaign for having been ineffectual. . . . The welfare bill is cited, so also minimum wage, health insurance, a compromise on pesticide regulation that had eluded previous Congresses since at least the early 1980s and a sensible safe-drinking-water bill. . . . The welfare bill was less an example of genuine bipartisanship than a cave-in on the part of the president that gives new meaning to the phrase women and children first."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: If people vote according to their pockets, Clinton has few worries

The U.S. social welfare cutback comes paradoxically at a time of remarkable national prosperity, the German paper noted over the weekend in an editorial signed by Kurt Kister. The newspaper said: "America has it better. As the recession continues to show its face across Europe, virtually full employment is the norm on the other side of the Atlantic and the economy grew by 4.2 per cent in the second quarter of 1996. . . . Even incomes rose in July. . . . The proud figures do not mean that suddenly general wealth is overflowing all over the USA. The well-known gulf between rich and poor remains. And measures such as the latest welfare reform will deepen this rift. . .

"The president is running for re-election. In 1992 he beat (incumbent President) George Bush because, despite his foreign policy successes, Bush had lost the confidence of the American people; (he) presided over a recession and Clinton used this fact with his election mantra: 'It's the economy, stupid.' . . .He could use the same mantra this time around. If people once again vote according to their pockets, Bill Clinton need have few worries."

NEW YORK TIMES: Dole can propose modest tax cuts or he can engage in a Reaganomics shell game

In an editorial Sunday, the paper looked critically at a pending Republican tax cut proposal. The paper said: "(Republican presidential candidate) Bob Dole will be acting against his history and instincts on Monday if, after an internal campaign debate this weekend, he waves a big tax cut in the face of voters. As a desperation move to revive a somnolent campaign, the proposal is understandable. But judging from past statements, a little voice deep inside will be reminding Dole that big tax cuts in the face of soaring future deficits are fiscally reckless. The candidate is trapped between the need to espouse a magical elixir and his well-honed skepticism for economic nostrums.

"Adding to his predicament is the fact that Dole shares none of President Reagan's genius for spouting economic nonsense with riveting conviction. If Dole peddles false promises at the urging of his handlers, he risks giving the game away with one of the self-destructive asides that have become his trademark. . . . So Dole faces an unenviable choice when he goes before the cameras this week. He can propose a modest set of targeted tax cuts that he can defend with a straight face, or he can engage in the Reaganomics shell game."
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