Is welfare Romney’s clincher?

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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One last chance for Mark Greenberg to cost Obama the election! I was worried the welfare issue hadn’t tested well for Mitt Romney–it disappeared from his ads for a while and he didn’t bring it up in the debates. But it now looks like he was just saving it for the endgame in Ohio, Colorado and Iowa–where Obama’s controversial welfare “waiver” policy has again been raised in a Romney TV ad. HuffPo‘s Sam Stein has the spot. He complains

there are certainly aspects with which to quibble, including the idea that Obama weakened welfare reform (a point that countless fact-checkers have disputed). Obama has offered waivers to states after governors asked for them. None have applied yet.

A couple of points:

a) Romney’s earlier welfare ad was overdone because it suggested Obama’s Health and Human Services (HHS) department had already dropped work requirements, as opposed to declaring that it had previously unknown authority to let states drop them (or parts of them). But Romney’s new ad simply says the requirement has been “gutted”–which, in legal terms, is true, since states can now be let off the hook for what they were previously required to do. The ad is more than defensible;

b) The “countless fact-checkers” have actually been pulling back from their attacks on Romney. That’s especially true when it comes to the Obama camp’s absurd claim that the new policy hasn’t even “weakened” work requirements. When Bill Clinton said this in Charlotte the Washington Post gave him two Pinocchios.

c) Don’t sophisticated Washington types like to say “personnel is policy”? Obama put paleoliberal activists–e.g. Mark Greenberg, Sharon Parrott–who have no sympathy for welfare reform’s work requirements in charge of the program. That’s Obama’s bad. Now he’s paying the price.

d) It’s not much of an argument to say, as Stein does, that states haven’t yet requested waivers.-The Wall Street Journal article he cites suggests the states don’t want to step into the middle of a presidential “firestorm”–and I doubt the Obama administration wants them to either. Once the election is over, that is likely to change. Was it legitimate to worry in late 2002 about giving Bush authority to invade Iraq, even though he hadn’t used it yet? The point was he now had the power. HHS will now have the power to create loopholes in the welfare law at will.

e) If the new waiver power won’t have a huge effect–most governors want to shrink their welfare caseloads, not grow them–then it is an extraordinary political blunder, [potentially**] losing the millions of voters who reject Greenberg’s approach without getting much paleoliberalism in return. After the election, maybe someone like Jonathan Alter will tell us how the Obama White House ever let this poisonous policy out the door.

P.S.: Video!  … Robert Rector’s pieces here and here. … My pieces here and here. …

Backfill: National Journal’ s editor-in-chief Ron Fournier sighs on Twitter upon learning of the new welfare ad. … In September, Fournier denounced Romney’s previous welfare ad as “playing the race card,” because … well, a couple of guys in Macomb County in Michigan are pissed off about blacks on welfare! Fournier says this reflects their “deep-set fears” that blacks are “pushing their way into the middle class” and “grabbing” whites share of the American Dream, but he offers approximately zero evidence for this connection. The two guys in Macomb county seem, basically, pissed off that people on welfare get something guys in Macomb county have to work for.  (“I feel like a fool for not jumping on that shit and getting some (welfare) myself. But I couldn’t sleep at night.”) It sounds like they’d be pissed off if their standard of living were rising or declining. Certainly they don’t seem upset that blacks on welfare are “pushing their way into the middle class.” More that they aren’t.

Fournier has been an especially self-righteous anti-Romney welfare fact-check-promoter, but presumably he’d be against the ads as somehow racist even if he decided they were accurate.

Fournier also said “internal GOP polling and focus groups offer convincing evidence that the welfare ad is hurting Obama.  … a senior GOP pollster said he has shared with the Romney camp surveys showing that white working-class voters who backed Obama in 2008 have moved to Romney in recent weeks ‘almost certainly because of the welfare ad. We’re talking a (percentage) point or two, but that could be significant.'” Yes, it could.

Race card or not–and Obama pollster Joel Benenson disputed Fournier on the subject— did Obama’s campaign really think the welfare issue had gone away? Why? Because they had the fact-checkers?


**–a__-covering adverb added

Mickey Kaus