American Dream

A <i>New York Times</i> reporter chronicles the post-Clinton welfare landscape.

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Nothing marked Bill Clinton as a new kind of Democrat more than his campaign
pledge to “end welfare as we know it.” Both blunt and
vague, the promise resonated with a view that the social safety net had become a web that ensnared
the underclass, particularly African Americans, in a gloomy pathology of dependency. Too many
of the poor, Clinton said, couldn’t even dream the American Dream.

American Dream is the melancholy title Jason DeParle of the New York Times
chose for his richly researched, beautifully written chronicle of the era that fulfilled Clinton’s
pledge. Political abstractions are juxtaposed against the personal dramas of three emblematic
unwed mothers. By the book’s end, the women have 10 children between them, and one, at age 35,
is already a grandmother. At first glance, Angie, Jewell, and Opal seem to justify all the criticisms
of the welfare system: Each new birth ensures a larger welfare check; they move from Chicago to Milwaukee
for higher benefits and cheaper rent; they take jobs without telling the welfare office. Fathers
tend to be out of the picture—two are in prison for murder.

But DeParle’s intimate reporting reveals that welfare dependence
was a symptom, not a cause, of the chaotic happenstance of their lives. On a wrenching day when Angie,
in the stirrups preparing to end an unwanted pregnancy, abruptly halts the procedure, it is clear
that the prospect of a larger check is the last thing on her mind. These women are survi- vors, scuffling
by. When Washington moves to reform welfare, they shrug it off: They’ll manage. Two do so,
marginally improving their lots. The third, with no net to catch her, finds a bleaker fate.

Welfare reform is recalled as a triumph for Clinton, whose policy benefited
from a robust economy. DeParle’s judgment: The root cause of troubles in the African American
underclass was never welfare. But nobody has figured out how to legislate fatherhood.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

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