The Welfare Lie Continues

You’d think the widespread condemnation of Mitt Romney’s ad accusing Barack Obama of “gutting” the 1996 welfare reform law and abolishing its work requirements would have shamed his campaign into some modification of the lies it boldly presents. But no: a second version of the ad began hitting the airwaves in battleground states over the weekend. And Paul Ryan is hitting the same theme in his maiden voyage as Mitt’s running-mate.

The closest thing to a response to the critics of the exceptional mendacity of this attack theme coming from Team Mitt is to constantly refer to Obama’s original misgivings about the 1996 law when it was enacted. The new ad cites a 1998 speech by then-state-legislator Obama admitting he hadn’t been a supporter.

Aside from the fact that Mitt Romney is hardly in a position to hold anyone strictly accountable for positions taken in the 1990s, when he was a proud supporter of abortion rights and gay rights, it is important to remember that virtually all supporters of a welfare reform initiative focused on private-sector employment were ambivalent about the law, for the simple reason that the final compromise reflected Republican insistence on making time limits for assistance, state “flexibility,” and above all mandatory caseload reductions, competing priorities with job placement in the new system.

The Romney campaign can’t credibly point to anything Obama has done to undermine welfare reform as senator or as president. To the extent that robust “make work pay” provisions like the Earned Income Tax Credit are critical to a successful work-focused system, he has defended genuine welfare reform against repeated conservative assaults. The supposed “abolition” of work requirements Team Mitt continues to proclaim is purely and simply a lie. So the suggestion that Obama has always harbored some animus towards requiring anything of welfare recipients is just another effort to claim without evidence that the president is a stealth socialist whose secret Alinskyite plans are the important thing to know about him, particularly if you are a non-college educated white swing voter who might be suspicious of an African-American president who seems to be interested in shoveling unconditional taxpayer dollars to his friends. It’s a continuing lie intended to promote a Big Lie.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.