A liberal defense of the welfare state, and a plea for renewed compassion in an evidently heartless time.
Edelman, a former aide to Robert Kennedy, combines memoir and polemic in his repudiation of current tactics in the war on poverty. He begins by recounting Kennedy’s shifting views on how the power of the state might best be used to end economic injustice in America—a task, the author writes, that Kennedy believed would best be accomplished by creating and sustaining meaningful, community-based jobs. He then examines the Clinton administration’s checkered service in this war with some disdain; a onetime presidential adviser on welfare policy, Edelman cannot contain his disgust at Clinton’s retreat from principle in the face of the Gingrich-led Republican revolution of 1994. “The new breed of Republican,” he laments, “had no interest in constructive policies, but Clinton, as it turned out, was not much better. He might have insisted on traditional Democratic values in stark contrast to the Republicans’ scorched-earth approach. . . . He moved instead to the safest ground.” That safe ground amounted to stealing a page from the right by ending welfare programs and requiring that welfare recipients get and keep jobs—all of which, the author suggests, may look good on paper but doesn’t work out so well in reality. Edelman calls for a rethinking of welfare policy beyond the current one-size-fits-all model (which, he maintains, punishes the innocent along with the guilty). Although there’s not much here we haven’t heard before, the informed logic of Edelman’s attack on the Clinton administration is welcome, given the emotionalism that accompanies most such criticism.
A solid argument to extend the nation’s present prosperity to the lowest echelons, as Robert Kennedy urged three decades ago.