Gingrich, Savaging Welfare, Is on a Fool’s Errand : Politics: Only by ignoring truth can he blame gory murders on the ‘welfare state.’

Robert Scheer is a Times contributing editor

There is no human misery that Newt Gingrich will not exploit for partisan purpose. The man simply has no shame. When Susan Smith drowned her two children, the Speaker blamed the tragedy on the Democrats. No matter that Smith’s problems began with a stepfather who molested her and who was also a local organizer for the Christian Coalition and the Republican party.

Not surprisingly, last week Gingrich was just as quick to capitalize on the brutal killing of a pregnant mother in Illinois. “Let’s talk about the moral decay of the world that the left is defending,” the Speaker thundered to Republican governors, “Let’s talk about what the welfare state has created.” Once again, the facts got in the way. The victim, although on welfare, was raised in a religious middle-class white suburban family. Her father expressed outrage over Gingrich’s depiction of their daughter as the product of an immoral welfare culture: “It isn’t fair for any politician to use any tragedy for their own personal political gain.”

But Gingrich isn’t just any politician. He is a master propagandist who knows that scapegoating the poor is essential if you’re going to ignore the declining status of working people while giving tax breaks to the rich. That’s why Gingrich has made the “welfare state” the instant cause of all that ails us. But if the welfare state creates moral decay, then Western Europe, which has real welfare states providing cradle-to-grave security, should be a cesspool of mayhem and violence compared to us. The opposite is true.

We do not have a welfare state in this country, no matter how much Gingrich prattles on about its existence. What we have is a crazy patchwork of programs ostensibly designed to aid the poor but which have been manipulated by politicians eager to score political advantage.


For example, the most egregious consequence of the welfare system, the absence of male figures from the home, was designed into the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program to meet conservative requirements that only the “truly needy” be served. The model came from Gov. Ronald Reagan, who sent inspectors with flashlights in surprise night-time raids to make sure that AFDC recipients were single at all times.

Gingrich is being a demagogue when he holds “the left” responsible for a welfare system that has been downsized and distorted from the War on Poverty goals enunciated by LBJ. By the left, does Gingrich intend the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference? The bishops recently called for a Presidential veto of the Republican welfare bill, which they termed “a huge step backwards.” Their parishes work with the poor every day, and they know this stark problem from the inside. Would Gingrich dare suggest that the bishops are indifferent to the sanctity of marriage? Or is the left that Gingrich has in mind represented by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), the strongest congressional critic of the GOP agenda’s effect on poor children, who termed the welfare bill “the most regressive event in social policy of the 20th Century.”

Moynihan has been the nation’s most persistent critic of the failings of the welfare system. As a Harvard professor, he warned some 30 years ago about the disintegration of the black family. As an official in the Nixon Administration, he initiated a series of reforms culminating in the Family Support Act, which Moynihan authored as a senator in 1988. This bipartisan approach, stressing personal responsibility and job placement, was signed into law by President Reagan.

Anyone serious about welfare reform would improve the 1988 legislation instead of overturning it, which is the Republican scam. The Moynihan program has already had striking results in states like Michigan, California and Wisconsin, which matched the federal jobs funding with state money. In Michigan, 30% of welfare recipients now work but they are permitted to keep a portion of their welfare income to supplement miserable wages. Hopefully their skills and wages will improve in time, but income supplements, Medicaid, child care and educational opportunities are a must for now.

Serious welfare reform requires spending more money in the short run to save it in the end. And it requires a clear federal commitment to ensure that states don’t just drive out their poor. For these reasons, the Gingrich-inspired “welfare reform” is nothing of the sort.

Behold the figures of Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Newt Gingrich, and you will learn all you need to know about the welfare debate. The Senator is seriously working to solve a problem that threatens to tear this nation apart while the Speaker is content to score political points by playing the fool.