When candidate Bill Clinton pledged to “end welfare as we know it,” that statement essentially summed up the current state of poverty politics. In recent years, it has become politically advantageous to promise to end welfare. On the other hand, ending poverty, the real problem, has become an issue that most politicians prefer to avoid. There is more to this shift than mere rhetoric. Rather, the fact that the pledge to end welfare came from a Democratic presidential campaign is emblem- atic of a major political shift that has gone largely unremarked. Over time, the party of antipoverty warriors has evolved into a party of antiwelfare warriors. The Clinton pledge signaled a new stage in the “reinvention” of Democratic party politics, one that has profound implications, not only for the current Republican attack on welfare and other social programs, but, ultimately, for the nation’s capacity to address poverty.
Before getting caught up in the raging debates about welfare reform, it might be useful to step back and consider what has brought us to this point and where we are headed. Recall that only six years ago, congressional Democrats claimed victory in reforming welfare by passing the Family Support Act of 1988, an act signed by Ronald Reagan. What accounted for the rush to reform again so soon, even before the 1988 Act was fully evaluated? What happened to transform the war on poverty that once occupied lawmakers into the current war on welfare? What does this transformation suggest about the prospects for welfare initiatives today and, ultimately, for the nation’s capacity to address poverty?...
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