Here is the link, I am reviewing a bad book on the Clinton administration (A Fabulous Failure, by Lichtenstein and Stern). Here is one excerpt: Clinton-era welfare reform is another area where many commentators go astray, and Lichtenstein and Stein are no exception. The Clinton pronouncement “I have a plan to end welfare as we
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Here is the link, I am reviewing a bad book on the Clinton administration (A Fabulous Failure, by Lichtenstein and Stern). Here is one excerpt:
Clinton-era welfare reform is another area where many commentators go astray, and Lichtenstein and Stein are no exception. The Clinton pronouncement “I have a plan to end welfare as we know it” has stuck in people’s minds. The reality is that, after Clinton-era welfare reforms, America spent more money on helping the poor. Welfare payments were attached to work requirements, but the states could redeploy federal money to programmes other than simple welfare payments, so funds for childcare, college scholarships, food stamps and tax credits for the poor all went up. The rate at which children fall into poverty has declined steadily. A significant Medicaid expansion followed under President Obama.
Yet the authors state that “The Era of Big Government is Over” in the section on welfare reform. If you squint you can see periodic references to the fact that Clinton-era welfare reform was not entirely radical, but nonetheless they write that this was “a drastic reform of the welfare system … that did in fact repudiate its New Deal heritage”. Calling the policy “an utterly misogynist step backward”, they note that Clinton’s “reputation as a heartless neoliberal was hereby well advanced within the ranks of progressive America”. Again, argument by adjective displaces the numbers.
And here is my summary judgment:
Too often the authors’ substantive arguments are presented in an “argument by adjective” form, relabelling events, institutions and individuals with negative adjectives or connotations, but without providing enough firm evidence. They write as if describing a policy reform as not having done enough for labour unions is per se a damning critique…
I can’t help but feel this work is largely directed at an internal Democratic Party dialogue. The basic premisses, or even the interpretations of the facts, don’t need to be argued for much. But good Democrats need to be told how to think about their own history. If strong labour unions are a sine qua non for social and economic progress, and if all good (and bad) things come together, how would the rest of history, including that of the Clinton administration, have to read? The notion that such stifling readings have become part of the problem, rather than the solution, does not appear in Nelson Lichtenstein’s and Judith Stein’s book.
I had turned down the previous invitation to review, because I didn’t think the book in question was good enough.
Books, Economics, History, Law, Uncategorized