After the Heritage Foundation discovered that the Obama administration effectively gutted the work requirements that were central to the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, the Obama campaign has been on the defensive. Bill Clinton criticized Obama but then walked backed his criticism of Obama, probably because he was pressured to do so by the campaign.
But the Obama administration’s actions on welfare — which would allow states to consider things like taking dancing lessons as “work” — reflect yet another instance of Obama’s putting his radicalism above his rhetoric and campaign promises.
In an interview with the Free Press in March of 1996, Obama said a “a progressive” and “even radical program for welfare would not be simply to increase [benefits] by a dollar or two,” but would instead “merge the interests of welfare recipients with the working poor, and to say we need jobs at living wages, and adequate training and the child care and the health care that facilitate people being rewarded for work.”
Obama said those policies may cost more and expressed disappointment with Clinton, whose policies regarding welfare Obama said became “watered-down” because Clinton became “distracted” and accused the “power bearers” of the Democratic Party in Washington as being out of touch with the left.
“Now you have the situation where the Republicans have taken the initiative, the offensive, and we’re probably going to end up with a punitive and self-defeating welfare bill,” Obama said then. “That’s an example of framing the debate that right now the Democrats have failed to do. I see my role to be a catalyst and an organizer within the Democratic Party to start getting them to re-connect with grassroots folks and grassroots groups.”
In a 2008 New Yorker profile, an interview Obama gave to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which was “published a few days after Clinton said that he would sign the welfare-reform bill,” was referenced in which Obama says this about Clinton and his policies:
And Bill Clinton? Well, his campaign’s fascinating to a student of politics. It’s disturbing to someone who cares about certain issues. But politically, it seems to be working.
Clinton, when he signed the Welfare Reform Act, said, “The New Bill Restores America’s Basic Bargain Of Providing Opportunity And Demanding, In Return, Responsibility.”
But in 2008, to appeal to moderates, Obama told Pastor Rick Warren that he had now changed his mind, and he supported the welfare work requirements, as the Heritage Foundation noted:
WARREN: What’s the most significant position you held ten years ago that you no longer hold today, that you flipped on, you changed on, because you actually see it differently?
OBAMA: Because I actually changed my mind.
WARREN: You changed your mind. Exactly.
OBAMA: Well, you know, I — I’m trying to think back ten years ago. I think that a good example would be the issue of welfare reform, where I always believed that welfare had to be changed. I was much more concerned ten years ago when President Clinton initially signed the bill that this could have disastrous results. I worked in the Illinois legislature to make sure that we were providing child care and health care, other support services for the women who were going to be kicked off the roles after a certain time.
It had — it worked better than, I think, a lot of people anticipated. And, you know, one of the things that I am absolutely convinced of is that we have to work as a centerpiece of any social policy.
OBAMA: Not only because — not only because ultimately people who work are going to get more income, but the intrinsic dignity of work, the sense of purpose.
WARREN: We were made for work.
OBAMA: We were made for work, and the sense that you are part of a community, because you’re making a contribution, no matter how small to the well-being of the country as a whole. I think that is something that Democrats generally, I think, have made a significant shift on.
Now, it seems like all this was for show. And if the mainstream media had vetted Obama properly during the campaign instead of taking his words at face values, the Obama administration’s gutting of the work requirements in the welfare law may not have been so surprising.