The Big Dog Speaks

Mitt Romney’s campaign probably made a tactical error in displaying Bill Clinton’s image in its highly mendacious and deeply divisive new ad on welfare policy that suggests, among other fabrications, that the Obama administration is somehow abolishing the central “work” focus of the 1996 welfare reform act Clinton signed. As I thought might happen, the Big Dog is speaking out against the lies in a statement (per Politico‘s Maggie Haberman):

Governor Romney released an ad today alleging that the Obama administration had weakened the work requirements of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act. That is not true.

The act emerged after years of experiments at the state level, including my work as Governor of Arkansas beginning in 1980. When I became President, I granted waivers from the old law to 44 states to implement welfare to work strategies before welfare reform passed.

After the law was enacted, every state was required to design a plan to move people into the workforce, along with more funds to help pay for training, childcare and transportation. As a result, millions of people moved from welfare to work.

The recently announced waiver policy was originally requested by the Republican governors of Utah and Nevada to achieve more flexibility in designing programs more likely to work in this challenging environment. The Administration has taken important steps to ensure that the work requirement is retained and that waivers will be granted only if a state can demonstrate that more people will be moved into work under its new approach. The welfare time limits, another important feature of the 1996 act will not be waived.

The Romney ad is especially disappointing because, as governor of Massachusetts, he requested changes in the welfare reform laws that could have eliminated time limits altogether. We need a bipartisan consensus to continue to help people move from welfare to work even during these hard times, not more misleading campaign ads.

How did the Romney campaign’s response to this rather categorical rejection of the ad’s claims? It just repeated them. I swear, trying to engage these people in any sort of reasoned discourse is like looking into the eyes of a goat: nothing there but the determination to keep on keeping on, truth be damned. Team Mitt has a lot riding on this latest effort to tar (racial allusion intended) the president with the “welfare” meme, which unsubtly links repeated GOP claims that Obama is a wild-eyed socialist “redistributor of wealth” to the least popular and most racially explosive programmatic element of the New Deal/Great Society legacy. The welfare ad is going to be in heavy rotation according to Romney campaign sources, and no number of refutations of its central claims (by Clinton or by “fact-checkers” like PolitiFact, which quickly gave the ad a “Pants on Fire” designation) will stop them.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.