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Where are the Republicans on welfare?

Two issues that have proven to be very successful for Republicans are welfare and affirmative action. However, Republican leaders continue to shun these issues for fear of offending blacks.


I came of age during the Reagan years, when welfare was a major wedge issue. Back then, the GOP was not always afraid to campaign on allegedly racially-tinged issues and the Gipper himself railed against “welfare queens” living large on the dole while (mostly white) taxpayers struggled to raise their own families.

Welfare was a winning issue for Republicans and was considered fair game in debates and campaigns. But now welfare has all but disappeared from political discourse. It has not been mentioned in the Republican primary debates. Whoever gets the GOP nomination will not bring up the issue against President Obama.

(And that’s better than Affirmative Action, which never made it into federal politics at all, except briefly after the great grass roots victory of California’s Proposition 209 in 1996—when its ten seconds of fame were abruptly ended by none other than then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who decreed the issue was unsuitable for the “modern” majority party he wanted to build:

“Even House Speaker Newt Gingrich, perhaps the nation’s best-known conservative, has urged caution when attacking affirmative action, calling the issue politically treacherous.” [Target SATS, By Michael Fletcher, US Black Engineer & IT Dec-Jan 1998])

(How did that work out? Affirmative Action was at least once discussed by neoconservative magazines like Commentary, but even that has now stopped—Commentary hasn’t mentioned it since 2004.)

Why Sam Francis called it the “Stupid Party,” I’ll never know.

One of the myths about welfare that was repeated almost every time it was debated in the 1980s and 1990s was that more whites than blacks were on relief. Not surprisingly, Jesse Jackson and Bill Clinton used this line. But I recall hearing alleged conservatives such as Newt Gingrich, Debra Saunders, John Leo and Cal Thomas also bringing out this whopper when talking about welfare.

Of course, it was a lie. In 1990, the black-white breakdown for Aid to Families and Dependent Children (AFDC) was 41 percent black to 38 percent white. In 1999, the gap widened to 38 percent black to 31 percent white (with Hispanics constituting 25 percent). Blacks were only 12 percent of the population over this time period—so the image of the black welfare queen used by Ronald Reagan was rooted in reality.

About two years ago, I heard Sean Hannity repeat the myth on his radio show. I meant to look up the latest racial breakdown of welfare but forgot. However, a recent blog entry on National Review Online made me think of this issue once again.