The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Clinton in 1996 (Commentary)

The preceding post contains the text of President Clinton's December 1996 fireside chat on welfare reform. I have highlighted two of its most impressive features.

First, it is a collection of Republican talking points, talking about the "cycle of dependency", "trapped lives", and "the chance to work".

Even more amazingly, it is shot through with exhortations to communities, companies, and churches [sic] to rise to their "moral obligation" to give opportunities to those thus freed.

Imagine a conservative Republican attempting to give this speech. Imagine the cynicism which would greet this sentence:
We had a choice: we could have gone on as we had with a system that was failing, or start anew; to create a system that could give everyone who's able-bodied a chance to work and a chance to be independent.
As if welfare reform were motivated by the best interests of the recipients!

Imagine the derision at this:
But we have a moral obligation to do that through welfare reform, working together in our communities, our businesses, our churches and our schools. Every organization which employs people should consider hiring someone off welfare, and every state ought to give those organizations the incentives to do so, so that we can help families reclaim the right to know they can take care of themselves and their own obligations.
Having sloughed off its own duty to help the poor, he then attempts to place that duty on private individuals and companies. As if they wouldn't eagerly follow the government's heartless example!

Clinton, though, could say those things. By hating him so irrationally and vocally, the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy obliged the left to defend him, insulating him from any attack from that side and leaving him free to triangulate. Like a master sailor in a steady headwind, Clinton let his enemies propel him.