Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, AFDC
Bill Clinton speaking February 13, 1993 (left). Bill Clinton signs the 1996 "Welfare Reform" bill (top right). Ronald Reagan campaigning in Columbia, South Carolina on October 10, 1980 (right second row left). President Barack Obama speaks with service members January 28, 2008 (right second row right). Photo credit: The White House / Library of Congress, SSA / Wikimedia, Ronald Reagan Library / Wikimedia, and US Navy / Wikimedia

President Clinton’s Welfare Reform Is Still ‘Ensuring Poverty’

Former Congresswoman — and Welfare Mom — Lynn Woolsey Recalls the Fight


President Bill Clinton pledged to “end welfare as we know it” and left millions in poverty.

President Ronald Reagan introduced a range of myths about America’s social safety net, led by his images of “welfare queens” and the implication that most recipients of public aid were African American. President Bill Clinton pledged to “end welfare as we know it,” and over the objections of many progressives, he signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act in 1996.

Our guests in this WhoWhatWhy podcast were centrally involved in the policy debates and political battles that signaled the end of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty and reduced the Democratic Party’s focus on America’s poor. Former Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a one-time welfare mother elected to the House in 1992, shares insights and anecdotes, and laments that Clinton’s framing of the issues continues to this day with little change. While she has great affection for President Barack Obama, Woolsey says he never focused much on the poor and the social safety net.

Felicia Kornbluh has studied the issues for decades, and offers informed criticism from a feminist perspective. She reveals the collaboration between Clinton and Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose “Contract with America” allowed Republicans to take control of the House in 1994. She makes a strong case that Clinton’s vision of the “New Democrats” was driven by a desire to attract wealthy and corporate donors to fund his center/right makeover of the party.  

Woolsey, who represented a northern California district for 20 years starting in 1993, speaks candidly about raising three children as a single mom and relying on welfare for several years. Kornbluh is associate professor of History and of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at the University of Vermont — and co-author of the new book Ensuring Poverty: Welfare Reform in Feminist Perspective. Her co-author is Gwendolyn Mink, who served as an adviser to her mother, Rep. Patsy Mink, who was a forceful opponent of Clinton’s reforms.

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Peter B. Collins: Welcome to this Radio WhoWhatWhy podcast. In San Francisco I’m Peter B. Collins.
You may remember back in the 1990s Bill Clinton claimed that one of his big accomplishments was ending welfare as we knew it. In 1996 he signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, which significantly changed the safety net for Americans who live below the poverty line.
There’s a fascinating new book, just been published, called Ensuring Poverty: Welfare Reform in Feminist Perspective. It’s co-authored by Gwendolyn Mink who is a political scientist and notably the daughter of Patsy Mink, a congresswoman from Hawaii who was a central figure in battling welfare reform of a regressive nature.
Felicia Kornbluh who is the Associate Professor of History and Gender, Sexuality and Women Studies at the University of Vermont. She is previously the author of The Battle for Welfare Rights and she joins us from Burlington, Vermont today. Felicia, thank you for being with us.
Felicia Kornbluh: Thank you so much for having me.
Peter B. Collins: Also joining us is a woman who was a member of congress at the time and who can claim to be one of two females who served in congress who had been welfare recipients. Lynn Woolsey served 10 terms as my member of congress here in northern California. Congresswoman, thank you for being with us today.
Lynn Woolsey: Thank you for inviting me.
Peter B. Collins: Before we started recording you said that picking up the book and refreshing your own history on those battles when you were in congress in the 1990s, it left you a little bit depressed. Explain why.
Lynn Woolsey: Well, so little has happened since then. When we, and I knew at the time, we removed the safety net, the real safety net for welfare recipients, it has not gotten better. We removed it and it’s gone downhill from that point on. I know that because you know I was a welfare recipient.
Peter B. Collins: Uh-huh. And, Felicia Kornbluh, in the introduction to your book you note that even today over a third, 35.6% of all single mothers with children under age 18 live in poverty. The number for black single mothers is 38% plus and for Latina 40.8%, Native American 42%. The numbers are still pretty stark and we tolerate homeless people on our streets and the knowledge that many Americans continue to live in poverty.
Felicia Kornbluh: Yeah, I think it’s a little bit like we click on and we click off of this understanding. Obviously if you walk around San Francisco or even Burlington, Vermont where I am, you see homeless people in the middle of the winter and that’s something that used to be new and it used to alarm us. In a way it doesn’t anymore and now it’s become normalized, so we know that there’s extreme poverty that’s driving people out in the streets on the one hand.
On the other hand when we start talking about public policy, I think Americans are generally pretty generous minded or we like to think of ourselves as being generous minded. Most people believe that we do have something like a safety net and people use that phrase sometimes. Most people don’t know that we really have removed protection especially for low income mothers and their kids. Most people really don’t know that those numbers are still so high.
I think part of the project of the book is to remind us, not just to remind us about this history, but also about our present time. To say you know this is the reality that we’re living with and the Trump White House has a different story and people talk about alternative facts and so on. These are the real facts.
Peter B. Collins: I’d like you to take a moment to explain your feminist perspective as you define it in the book and frame these issues. This goes back to the 1990s and the Women’s Committee of 100 which is where you and Gwendolyn Mink first met. Is that correct?
Felicia Kornbluh: Yeah, that’s right. I’ve been doing research on these issues for a long time and also doing advocacy work from when I was very young. Gwendolyn Mink, my co-author, has also been doing this work for a very long time. She and I were part of a national network called the Women’s Committee of 100 that designed, that first lobbied against the welfare reform proposals of president Bill Clinton and of the Republican congress of the middle 1990s.
We went to Capitol Hill several times and focused particularly on women legislators, not representative Woolsey so much because she was with us, but others who were not sympathetic and to who we thought really should be sympathetic, especially if they call themselves feminists.
What we also did as a group after the welfare law was passed and president Clinton signed it in 1996, we prepared ourselves for what was supposed to be the first round of re-authorization of that law, which we saw as an opportunity to rewrite it and to undo some of the damage that had been done.
We created a document that we included in the book called An Immodest Proposal, which was a proposal for using public policy to really respect the caregiving work that families do. It’s not just women although it is disproportionately or commonly women who do this care giving work; for kids, for disabled family members, for our elderly, our elders. It was a very far reaching document.
Some of our ideas were incorporated into legal proposals, statutory proposals that representative Gwendolyn Mink and others introduced to congress. We got about a third of the Democratic caucus in the house of representative to agree with us on those. Then ultimately it failed and the kinds of reforms that we wanted were not implemented.
That was the initiative; first, to lobby against the stuff we didn’t like that we saw as anti-women and anti-caregiving and anti-family. Then to generate a new proposal that would speak to the particular situation of poor people, but also to speak to what we see as the challenges facing all American families and how the government can really support families.
Peter B. Collins: One white man, a guy named Bill Clinton, who had been the governor of Arkansas and scrapped his way into the presidency, he brought a whole new mindset, the New Democrat Coalition to Washington. It was aimed at shifting focus from the impoverished going back to the Johnson administration and the War on Poverty and shifting the focus of the Democratic party to the middle class.
I would submit that that was a central pivot point, where the Democrats essentially pivoted into a position where they acknowledged the claims that had started with Ronald Reagan, the welfare queen meme and these false images that there were more African Americans on welfare than there were whites. There were many bits of disinformation and flat out lies that became part of the background. I don’t want to put words in your mouth, so you please characterize Bill Clinton as the driving force behind this misguided welfare reform.
Lynn Woolsey: Well you know because I was the first woman in congress, person in congress to admit having been a welfare mother, so they called me the first welfare mother in congress. I was put on the committee as the co-chair with Richard Neal, Richie Neal from Massachusetts.
My staff would say to me as we were going to these meetings to look at all the changes that the president and his staff wanted, “You can’t go there and say what you’re saying about being against it.” I’d say, “Excuse me, I’m a member of congress. I’m one person elected by my people, I have experience and I’m going to say what I think.”
I think that was the beginning of Lynn Woolsey being Lynn Woolsey in the congress. My staff would say, “But you can’t be known as, only for being the first welfare mother in congress.” Well I said, “If I don’t who will,” because what I thought was that people had to realize that I was a white woman with three small children. I was well educated into college and I needed welfare to get me through three really difficult years even though I was working.
I would stand in front of the congress and talk as the welfare mothers against much of this new welfare plan. I would hear — you couldn’t hear a pin drop — and I would hear the Republicans say, “Yeah, but she’s different.”
That was so untrue because I represented, really at that time there were more white women, poor white women on welfare. They had two children not three and they’d been abandoned by their husbands. I was the perfect example of what and who a welfare mother was and why we needed help to get through bad times, and we needed that support.
That didn’t work to the extent I wish it did, but I never gave it up. When Barbara Lee was elected she couldn’t, she looked at me and said, “I can’t do that,” and I said, “Well you must, because if we don’t admit that the help we got, who will?”
Peter B. Collins: That’s Barbara Lee, the congresswoman, continues to serve from Oakland.
Lynn Woolsey: Congresswoman Barbara Lee from Oakland, yes. I believe Lynn Rivers from Michigan was also at one point, needed help from the government and Maxine Waters, for certain her mother raised them on welfare. I mean if they want examples of how welfare works, look at just those four women.
I had that and I also had Patsy Mink as my friend, and my colleague too, who had already thought through all the ways to make it better. That made it very fortunate for me.
Peter B. Collins: Felicia Kornbluh, what’s your characterization of Bill Clinton’s role and how his experience in Arkansas informed his desire to commit… commit… welfare reform as president?
Felicia Kornbluh: Nice Freudian slip. Well, first I just want to say — underlining what representative Woolsey illustrated — there were a lot of brave Democrats, dissenting Democrats, people who identified as progressive feminists, as liberals. People representing urban districts and that’s part of the project of this book, is to remind people that this policy was unpopular among Democrats.
Nowadays we’re having a real identity conversation, I wouldn’t call it a crisis in the Democratic party which I think is incredibly valuable. I think it’s also valuable for us to know that we’re standing on the shoulders of some of these predecessors like representative Woolsey and representative Mink who we write about in the book. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
However, it’s also true that in the middle 1990s, I guess, the majority or the mainstream of the Democratic party took a different road and that was Clinton’s road. He called it the “New Covenant” or he called it “New Democrats.” The effort I think was to reach out an olive branch to middle class or upper working class Americans, to a large degree white people.
At the same time to be able to take a lot of corporate money and money from financial services industry and from other corporate interests, and to be able to create what they thought would be a successful Democratic party that could raise the kind of money that was required to run national television ads and so on and do some positive things. They thought they were going to really transform the healthcare system, but they thought that the price for that was they had to write some people off and they were prepared to write off low income moms and kids receiving public assistance and just kind of kick them to the curb.
I see that as the original sin of the modern Democratic party. I think we are still needing a reckoning for that and we still need to find our way home.
Lynn Woolsey: I don’t… Felicia you may remember that during president’s Clinton’s State of the Union, and this had never been done before. They were just starting at that point to call out members of congress during the State of the Union and members of the community they did, but not members of congress that Bill Clinton called me out and said, even though I had voted against them, he said, “I represented blah, blah, blah this and every woman should be like Lynn Woolsey.”
Well guess what, Lynn Woolsey was a welfare recipient and I had a dead beat, mentally ill, bipolar husband who deserted us and one-, three- and five-year old children, no child support. But I had good job skills. I was healthy and I was educated and we spoke English.
You have to know that I had more energy than, I say more energy than God; that’s probably saying too much. There probably was nobody more energetic than me and I could get through it. I’d wake up, you know, welfare mom had our stuff together and working and wonder what in the world are these other women facing that don’t have the advantages I had. Those are the moms we need to talk about and I knew that.
Felicia Kornbluh: Absolutely.
Peter B. Collins: The reforms as they were called that Bill Clinton was promoting with a lot of support from Newt Gingrich who took control of congress in ’94 with the Contract with America. The central elements were placing a time limit on how long you could receive welfare including a lifetime cap, work requirements. Onerous regulatory shifts to the states, where they were given block grant money and often it didn’t even trickle down to the safety net recipients. Also, a heavy emphasis on dead beat dads, this effort.
I really credit you in the book, Felicia Kornbluh, with acknowledging the discrimination against fathers that was implicit in much of the rhetoric behind the welfare reform. Those were the four central shifts that were sought. Felicia Kornbluh, to what extent did you see collusion between the Bill Clinton White House and the Newt Gingrich Republican controlled congress?
Felicia Kornbluh: Well, this is one of the really shocking things that I discovered in the research for the book. Was that I found an oral history interview that had been done with Peter Edelman who was very high up in the department of health and human services at that point and who ultimately quit the administration over this law and wrote about it very eloquently and stuff.
What Edelman said from his point of view as a member of the administration was that essentially there was a dirty deal. That’s not his language, that’s my language, but there was a deal. That the Clinton White House decided that they really needed to have a bill. They really needed to make good on some version of the promise that they had been elected on which was the promise to “end welfare as we know it” for the very kind of loose thing a bit of rhetoric. Then basically the Republicans wrote this very dramatic and draconian welfare law and they dared the White House to sign it.
Felicia Kornbluh: The Bill Clinton White House decided that it was in their interest to have a bill and to be able to say to people before they ran for re-election, “Look, we did this thing that we promised.” It was also important for the Republicans who had just gotten elected in 1994. And remember this is the first time that the Republicans had taken both houses of congress in like two generations. It was very dramatic for them and they really wanted to retain that control, so it was also important for them to get something to Bill Clinton’s desk and to get something that he would actually sign.
They did kind of make a deal and the deal was they took a lot of stuff out of earlier drafts of the bill where they were going to do major cuts in what was then called the food stamp program and in other public assistance programs and they would just focus on this one program. They had a good indication that the White House would sign it if it was only about this one program, which was the program for moms and kids. A program that used to be called Aid to Families with Dependent Children.
I don’t know how explicit that ever was, but certainly from the perspective of Peter Edelman who was there and who was watching this stuff very closely it seemed like that was the deal. That both sides in a sense would win politically and the moms and the kids were the only ones who were going to lose.
Peter B. Collins: Lynn Woolsey, share your perspective and let me just insert that Bill Clinton did veto one version of the welfare reform in I believe January of ’96. By August he was desperate for a win before the Democratic Convention and the upcoming reelection campaign against Bob Dole.
Lynn Woolsey: Well, politics are very confusing. They get… those on top give away a lot to thinking they’re doing the right thing for themselves I think and maybe their country.
But Felicia’s book said, and it’s so important that we remember this. That can we imagine public celebration for a policy that made support for ordinary mothers, implicitly white, non-poor, conditional on working in low wage jobs with unpredictable schedules when their children very young, ill, or disabled, with no government guarantee of childcare.
I felt that was the most important part of this entire book, was showing how and Bill Clinton missed it. I mean he missed seeing, I mean no he probably knew he’s the smartest guy ever, but he didn’t want to see and nor do most elected officials. It’s too hard to see how awful this is and what it means.
This doesn’t mean, and I like the other part of your book, Felicia, is that, what we do for poor women, it spills over for every woman. Every woman needs to recognize that and every woman has a part… not every woman but woman with partners, their partners have to recognize it. It makes such a difference for our entire world.
Lynn Woolsey: Bill Clinton was a master politician, so he won that round and yes he did veto. He also didn’t support Gingrich’s idea that it was perfectly all right to have orphanages where we send poor kids. Oh my God that was awful.
Peter B. Collins: Now, Lynn Woolsey, did you ever have the opportunity to talk directly with Bill Clinton and enumerate your concerns and your objections to the bill he ultimately signed?
Lynn Woolsey: Well, he used to bring us to the White House and have big, the whole Democratic, all the Democratic caucus would go and all that. No, I mean as compared to Barack Obama later.
I know Patsy did, she knew how to get around a lot of this better than I did. Patsy made some difference, but not enough. I have a story. Do you want me to tell you a story about the first welfare reform when it passed?
Peter B. Collins: Please Lynn, go ahead.
Felicia Kornbluh: Yes, tell us.
Lynn Woolsey: Okay. I was walking down the hall, just I couldn’t believe we’d done it. I ran into representative Gene Taylor from Mississippi, Democrat, and I said, “Gene, how could you have voted for that welfare reform when it’s your constituents that are going to be affected, so right straight to them.”
He said, “Oh Lynn you don’t understand. First of all my constituents don’t know they’re poor, they don’t think they’re poor,” and I looked at him. He said, “And second of all my constituents don’t vote.” What he meant and then I went back and looked, he had a little handful of people voted in his district when 94% voted in my district for when Obama ran. I mean that’s the difference; people have to vote, they have to speak up for their rights and they don’t.
Peter B. Collins: One of the key players who does get several references in the book was patrician New York senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He struck me as so condescending on these issues as if he knew what was best for America. He really was a major player in what Clinton ultimately signed. Did you ever go toe to toe with Moynihan, Lynn Woolsey?
Lynn Woolsey: I did not and he was a senator and I was in the House.
Peter B. Collins: Sure.
Lynn Woolsey: I did not but there are, that is exactly what the young people in this country are saying right now, “We’re sick of this,” and thank heavens if they’re speaking up: “We will not, we’re not going to let older dudes and dudettes run at all.” He was coming from the wrong perspective.
Peter B. Collins: Felicia Kornbluh, in the book, I think, you correctly assessed that during the years that George W. Bush was president that the efforts as the ’96 bill came up for renewal, the efforts to enhance it if you could, to try to remove some of the onerous impacts, extend some of the time limits, make the work requirements at least reasonable. Those really didn’t get very far, because the progressive left was heavily involved in challenging George W. Bush’s misadventures in the Middle East. Lynn Woolsey was quite a potent voice in opposition to the Iraq war and the related issues.
Your book also traces through to the Obama administration. Let me quote. You say, “This one particular chapter explores patriarchalist path traveled by the Democratic party and Barack Obama in the early 21st century. We once again emphasize the centrality of gender, robust, complex, intersectional gender in the history and politics of public policy.
Our immersion in feminist ideas allows us to appreciate a central dimension of antipoverty policy that has too often been unremarked or under appreciated. In fact, the documentary evidence has led us to conclude that the mansion of failure that was the Democratic party’s response to inequality and impoverishment in the George W. Bush and Obama years stood on a foundation of gender.” Please explain this a bit.
Felicia Kornbluh: Sometimes it’s a little hard to hear one’s own prose. Maybe that sounds more complicated that it is. What we’re trying to say is that even the Democrats under what most of us would acknowledge was a pretty progressive or pretty liberal leadership under president Obama. We’re still maybe persuaded by and under the umbrella of some really misguided assumptions that I think were the overhang of this 1996 welfare law. It was sort of business as usual.
What happened in the early 2000s was that I think progressive Democrats, they fought to a standstill. For several years there was no real reauthorization of this law, they were just continuing resolutions after continuing resolutions so the law remained the same, but the funding was renewed in the early 2000s. That was actually a pretty good outcome I think given how bad it could have been. It could have been much more extreme.
Then finally under the George W. Bush administration the law was re-authorized and it was tinkered with and made even more burdensome for people who were trying to receive benefits under it and for the states that are trying to manage it. It became even more right wing family values and it’s orientation, pursuing some kind of fantasy about the roles that low income families are going to be able to perform. Like some idea that are going to be able to be like Ozzie and Harriet upper middle class 1950s fathers and mothers.
Then when Obama comes in, Obama really doesn’t change it very much and he has his own saying about deadbeat dads and this program that he calls My Brother’s Keeper; which is very long on rhetoric pointing the finger at low income guys especially men of color, but not really providing them any resources. Not really engaging in any spending so that people could get more education; so people could get meaningful job training; so they could burst into different kinds of careers; so they could have genuine alternatives.
That’s what’s problematic. That leaning towards the fantasy traditional family just continues. The idea that somehow low income moms and dads and kids could take on some earlier model of American family life. That just keeps on driving public policy and it doesn’t do us any good as public policy, especially when there’s no money attached to it. When there’s no genuine opportunity for people to get education training opportunity and so on.
I blame the Republicans and the Democrats for that. For just turning off the lights and not looking at this and not asking the hard questions about whether… first about whether our rhetoric makes sense, but then secondly whether we’re just throwing rhetoric at people and not giving them any real options.
Then I also acknowledge what you were saying that people had a lot of other stuff to focus on too in terms of what was going on internationally and a post-9/11 America and I get that.
Lynn Woolsey: Yeah.
Felicia Kornbluh: I still would say it’s about time, it’s more, it’s past time for progressives and Democrats to really look at this and rethink our assumptions.
Lynn Woolsey: We were also up to our eyeballs in healthcare reform. I mean not just the wars in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq, but don’t get me wrong. I would give my soul almost to have Barack Obama back or somebody like him as our president right now.
What did happen is this “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” attitude of this country, which doesn’t work. It has opened the way for our existing president to just stomp all over people by giving states the rights to do it. He doesn’t take responsibility for it, he gives the state the right to set work rules for people on SSI and things like that. It is just ridiculous.
Lynn Woolsey: We did that with Obama as our president, we made it possible in the long run for a president like Donald Trump to come in and do real damage.
Peter B. Collins: Well, I would cite Thomas Frank’s most recent book. He wrote the book about Republicans voting against their self-interest called What’s The Matter with Kansas and his most recent book is called Listen, Liberal. He tracks the shift in the Democratic party that began under Bill Clinton, focusing on the professional class, the Silicon Valley folks and on the middle class at the expense of those live in poverty in our country.
While, Lynn Woolsey, I share many of your views of Barack Obama, the cold hard facts are that following the Bush recession of 2008 many poor people lost their homes. They were treated as predatory borrowers, no predatory lenders went to jail. The Occupy Movement was given some lip service as it was quietly taken down and neutralized by the elements that were supposed to protect us from the next terrorist attack. On balance I have to give Barack Obama pretty low grades for dealing with the endemic poverty in this country.
Lynn Woolsey: No, I agree with you. He made it possible for the next step, which is even worse. Yes, and Barack Obama is a really fine person in himself, but his politics were very, very in the middle. I mean there’s nobody that can say he was a left winger, believe me he wasn’t or isn’t.
Peter B. Collins: Felicia what is your view of the Obama presidency vis-à-vis poverty?
Felicia Kornbluh: I think it’s a disappointing record and we say that in the book. I like that Thomas Frank book as well, I think it poses some really good challenges.
Sympathetically I would say the national Democrats do have a challenge in raising the kind of crazy money that they need in order to run effectively. I understand how they wound up at a place where they felt like, “Okay there’s some people in financial services industry and there’s some people in Silicon Valley who are socially liberal enough that they’ll support our agenda on civil rights of various kinds and even our healthcare agenda, at least a pretty good healthcare agenda if not a perfect one. That can be our financial base and then we can go out and recruit the voters that we want to have.”
It does have a constraining kind of effect to need to raise all that money and to need to raise it from those people. Poverty was not Obama’s central mission.
The thing that I wonder about is why there wasn’t more coming to terms with what had happened in the previous years. Why Obama didn’t kind of call a halt to government business for a little while the way that the Franklin Roosevelt administration did and congress did in the 1930s when they really took a look at corporate scandals and banking scandals and they drew everyone’s attention to those issues before they really did very much else.
I think that might have made a difference if people really had had to come to terms with how corrupt Wall Street is and the degree to which people were being robbed and the degree to which inequality had run amok. Then maybe we would have started on a different foundation. Strategically they chose not to do that. I’m sure they thought about it and had good reasons, but I think that set us on a difficult course.
Then these gender issues I think also it’s not Obama’s wheelhouse, it’s not his comfort zone. I think that the Obama administration could have been a lot more skills and a lot more critical on those issues. The opportunity to do that is right now.
Lynn Woolsey: Well, yes and you pointed out probably the most important reason for all of this and that is getting money out of politics. If we don’t this retired congresswoman says we’re going to not have a democracy.
You will be glad to know there is a group in this country of past elected officials from our; governors, judges, senators, members of congress and it’s bipartisan, it’s about 55-50; 55% Democrats but it’s getting closer to half and half. There’s several hundred members of us and our group is called Issue One the Reformers and the one issue is getting money out of politics and having fair elections.
If that group can be successful, we might have a democracy and a real democracy will certainly care about inequality, economic inequality and women and civil rights. It’s just got to happen. If the Democrats have to raise money from the same people the Republicans do, then we just have a one party system.
Peter B. Collins: Let me get a final comment from each of you about the long arc of welfare reform and the status of the social safety net in our country today. Let me start with you, Congresswoman Woolsey.
Lynn Woolsey: Well, I would say unless we educate the people in this country so that they will vote in their own best interest instead of against their own best interest. Unless they actually vote after being educated and that we stop, take a look at gerrymandering and all that. Then we could have, we can address poverty, because until then it’s just going to be around the edges like it’s been ever since, well 30 years now or more.
It has to be done and we have to get money out of politics, because people don’t invest, they don’t understand that doing something about welfare is addressing it, is taking care of our country actually.
Peter B. Collins: Indeed. Professor Kornbluh, your final comment.
Felicia Kornbluh: Well, in Ensuring Poverty we go through the Trump election. What we find is that among people who most likely voted for Trump, there were Tea Party voters, but the research indicates that there are also Trump voters. That those people are anti-government and when you dig behind people’s general anti-government attitude, what you find is that the old myths about welfare are still there dancing in the background and driving a lot of people’s electoral behavior and their attitudes about all of government.
I think this is incredibly dangerous and that’s why I think it’s not just the past, but it’s also the present and the future for liberals and progressives and Democrats to look at.
We have to excavate what happened in the 1990s, we have to be prepared to say the mainstream of the Democratic party made a mistake. We have to be prepared to say these are vital issues that have been sidelined for too long, and we have to be prepared to say for poor people and for everybody else we have to value the caregiving work that families do. That fathers and mothers and others do for one another; for kids, four our ill, for our elderly, for our disabled.
This is work that many, many people do everyday in America and it’s not valued in the labor market where people are underpaid and it’s not valued outside the labor market where people are paid nothing where we pretend that it’s not happening. I think that’s the critical issue.
Any political movement that can speak to that, I think will be able to cut across some of these terrible lines of division that we have in America today. If there was a credible political movement that said, “Look American families, we genuinely understand your pain and we’re genuinely going to help you out.” That’s about welfare, but it’s also about all of us.
Peter B. Collins: Felicia Kornbluh is co-author with Gwendolyn Mink of the new book Ensuring Poverty: Welfare Reform in Feminist Perspective. My thanks too to retired Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey. Thanks to both of you for joining me today.
Lynn Woolsey: Thank you, Peter.
Felicia Kornbluh: Thank you so much.
Peter B. Collins: Thanks for listening to this Radio WhoWhatWhy podcast. Send your comments to Peter at Please be as generous as you can, write a check to support the investigative journalism that you value here at WhoWhatWhy.

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