Topics: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Welfare reform, The Democratic Primary, Elections 2016, aol_on, News, Politics News
Hillary Clinton holds the great promise of becoming the first woman elected to the presidency. Recently, many of her partisans have accused her main opponent, Bernie Sanders, of sexism. Sanders, defending his gun control record, said that “all the shouting in the world” wouldn’t stop the violence; Clinton responded that “I haven't been shouting, but sometimes when a woman speaks out, some people think it's shouting.”
In the second incident, Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver, poking fun at their underdog status, joked that Clinton would “make a great vice president.” He continued: “We're willing to give her more credit than Obama did. We're willing to consider her for vice president. We'll give her serious consideration. We'll even interview her.” In response, Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock tweeted that the comment was a “condescending insult by a team who knows better. Hillary is possibly most qualified ever to run & Americans know it.”
Those two smears don’t convince as sexist. By contrast, examine Hillary Clinton’s comments defending welfare reform, assembled by Buzzfeed, in the late 1990s and early 2000s: Clinton wrote that “too many of those on welfare had known nothing but dependency all their lives.” She suggested that women recipients were “sitting around the house doing nothing.” She described the “move from welfare to work” as “the transition from dependency to dignity.” Or a “substitute dignity for dependence.” Put more simply, she stated, “these people are no longer deadbeats -- they're actually out there being productive.”
In sum, she has frequently validated a pathologization of poor black women that has often served as a pretext for Republican assaults on the social safety net. She has not repudiated these remarks.
Indeed, Clinton has long embraced welfare reform, a policy more hostile to women than almost any other enacted recent decades. Passed by a Republican Congress, the bill was signed in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, eager to make good on his pledge to “end welfare as we know it.”
What that meant was a five-year federal limit on receiving welfare. States, which henceforth received funding as a block grant, were incentivized to set even stricter limits. States that kicked people off the rolls could spend the money elsewhere, and they have. States could also evade job participation requirements by kicking people of the rolls. Whether the gutting of welfare was a cynical political calculation (Clinton’s penchant for “triangulation”) or derived from deep-seated belief likely has made little difference to the poor women, often black women, cut off from government aid.
In 1996, the number of families receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children was 4.5 million, according to Fred Block and Frances Fox Piven. In 2009, as economic crisis set in, just 1.7 million families were accessing Temporary Aid to Needy Families, AFDC’s eviscerated replacement. That’s a cut of 62 percent. According to a recent Harper’s story by Virginia Sole-Smith, “For every hundred families with children that are living in poverty, sixty-eight were able to access cash assistance before Bill Clinton's welfare reform. By 2013, that number had fallen to twenty-six.”
TANF block grants were not set to adjust for inflation and, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the program’s buying power has declined by more than a third since 1997.
As welfare reform shredded the social safety net, other Clinton Administration policies buttressed corporate and Wall Street power. The shift from good-paying manufacturing jobs to horribly compensated cashier work in the service industry accelerated. Wall Street went on to tank the global economy. When the bottom fell out, there was little to catch poor people falling hard to the ground. As Ron Haskins, a Brookings Institution senior fellow who played a key role in welfare reform, put it, “any mom who does not have the ability to maintain her household and work at the same time is going to have trouble.”
And so they have, as Sole-Smith’s story describes in painful detail.
In the 1990s, for what it’s worth, Sanders condemned welfare reform efforts as combining “an assault on the poor, women and children, minorities, and immigrants,” and “the grand slam of scapegoating legislation” that “appeals to the frustrations and ignorance of the American people along a wide spectrum of prejudices.”
Clinton’s paternalism should not surprise. The entire enterprise of welfare reform was paternalistic, premised on the idea that poor people, especially poor black women, are poor because they don’t want to work; in reality, poor people, especially poor black women, are mostly poor because there aren’t enough jobs, too many of those that exist pay horribly, and childcare is too expensive. Rampant job discrimination and segregation in housing and education sets poor people on a path to economic marginalization. What follows is political demonization.
“Nearly half of welfare recipients were non-white, so the attack on welfare fit nicely into the larger Republican effort to discredit the Democratic Party by associating it with blacks and liberalism,” writes Block and Piven.
Welfare reform was a harsh repudiation of the notion that women’s work caring for children was just that: work. Reagan invented the idea of the welfare queen. But it was the Clintons who actually took welfare away.