“We the People of the United States, in Order to… promote the general Welfare…”
You may have heard (or not, depending on your recent news sources) that the Obama administration quietly rescinded the core provision of the Clinton-era welfare reform law—the requirement to work. Chances are you have neither the time nor the patience to actually parse the conveniently obfuscating legalese of the Department of Health and Human Services directive that spells out the changes. Better yet, like most Americans, you probably don’t spend much of your time thinking about the minutiae of welfare policy. I certainly don’t. And until recently, we didn’t have to.
But now President Obama and Secretary Sebelius are reconstructing the days when anything from getting massages to attending Weight Watchers or bed rest qualified as “work” to “earn” a welfare check. The work requirement written in the law was specifically intended to prevent such dodges—along with all sorts of feel-good “educational” programs—from counting as work. Because, you know, they’re not. And we, the American people, will suffer whatever legally questionable innovations the administration makes to a reform that brought millions out of poverty in our lifetimes.
Welfare, at its core, is a moral issue. If poverty is a cancer at the heart of society, then welfare is akin to chemotherapy—painful, debilitating, and distasteful but sometimes necessary. And like chemotherapy, you must employ welfare carefully and methodically, with ample checks and restrictions, followed up by meticulous assessment of its effectiveness and holistic cost-benefit analysis. Otherwise, unrestricted welfare is as disastrous a threat to society as liberal baths of radiation would be for even the healthiest body. Thus we, the American people, stand to pay for irresponsible but well-intentioned social programs with profound social costs—crime, decadence, dependency, stagnation—in addition to the dollar amount on the price tag.
The point of welfare reform—the product of intense negotiation and compromise between the reelection-seeking Clinton administration and the new Republican Congress—was to provide an avenue for the neediest among us to become productive members of society. The work requirement—and its sincere enforcement—is more than some artificially austere limitation; it is predicated on the conviction that every American should contribute to society to the best of their ability, and it is designed to make this conviction a reality. If the government rewards bed rest, we’ll get more of it; if it rewards hard work, we’ll get more of that. As Governor Romney notes, if we attack success, we’ll see less of it.
That welfare ought to be self-undermining is more than a clever aphorism; it is the entire ontological point of the program. We are failing our neighbors, our children, and ourselves if we cannot help the poorest among us become able to provide for themselves. A society is morally bankrupt, not to mention economically unsustainable, when the average citizen can no longer be expected to work for his keep, provide for his family, and serve his community. The entitled children it raises today will become its tepid and facile leaders tomorrow. And the rest, they say, is Rome (or Greece—funny how history repeats itself).
Thus we arrive at crux of the issue: this administration’s policies will expand and maintain a class of people indentured to the government as serfs in the fiefdom of the Democratic Party.
It probably goes without saying that a disproportionate number of people so trapped will be black and Hispanic. Obama has not provided a functioning economy, as he promised, so he is committed to doing the next best thing: buying the allegiance of the poor at the “minor” cost of their economic productivity, independence, and basic dignity. That pre-reform welfare was an unmitigated horror upon families in poverty—black, white, Latino, etc.—seems not to have modified Obama’s views. Big Government knows best, after all.
But even if, as the White House claims, the 83% of Americans who support the work requirement are being hypocrites, you would be forgiven for not trusting this administration’s motives, timing, or the soundness of its legal theory. But I guess that’s the cool thing about being president: you can interpret laws however you like to get whatever you want, the American people be damned.
How’s that for Hope and Change?