I know, as everyone does by now, that the people running Mitt Romney’s campaign could not possibly, even under torture, care less about the veracity of their racially juicy attacks on Barack Obama’s welfare policies. They are deeply into a post-truth kind of epistemological universe, in which the effectiveness of attacks is all that matters, and may even, on some deep level, even “prove” their accuracy by tapping the folk wisdom of the American people.
But there are a few True Believers who for various psychological and professional reasons need to claim the attacks are not entirely a pack of lies, and the many hacks who will describe the dispute in he-said she-said terms rely on them enormously. The most notable at the moment is Mickey Kaus, who likes to think of himself as the last honest liberal reformer in America even as writes for the Daily Caller and loyally serves the GOP.
You can read Mickey’s stuff on the Romney welfare ads here and here, and see if you can make sense of it. The way I’d look at his “analysis” is that with the absolute worst will in the world (mainly because several of Mickey’s ancient enemies in the social policy fights of the 1990s now work for the Obama administration), he’s looked at the key HHS memo from every direction and concluded that if states apply for waivers and receive them a handful of welfare recipients in a handful of states might have training or “soft-skills” experience counted against the state’s “work activity” numbers, or be given a short reprieve due to the absence of work supports. So that qualifies as a “plan” to “gut” work requirements, though even Mickey can’t defend the claims in some of Romney’s ads that work requirements have already been abolished.
As someone who knows at least as much as Kaus about the “Work First” philosophy of welfare reform he claims Obama is abandoning, I find his rationalizations for offering credibility to Romney’s entirely hammer-headed attacks sadly forced and jesuitical. But let’s say for the sake of argument he’s right and Obama’s HHS was actively conspiring with the State of Nevada (the culprit in Mickey’s account) to let one or two welfare recipients go an entire six months without taking advantage of one of those incredibly abundant jobs out there. If “Obama” is “gutting” welfare reform via this conspiracy, then so, too, is Nevada Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval. What was he doing on the stage of the Republican National Convention last night? Shouldn’t he be impeached? I mean, seriously: if the “gutting” of welfare reform is the most important issue facing America (and its central position in the Romney ad budget would suggest it’s right up there), then all the co-conspirators should go down, right? Mickey Kaus suggests that what Obama has done, or maybe “planned” to do, or perhaps wanted to do, was deeply offensive to American “values.” If so, Sandoval and all those other Republican governors (including the man who has authorized the ads we are talking about) who prized “state flexibility” as against the Work First Philosophy over the years need to be driven like curs from national political life.