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The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC)

Pride in welfare reform
August 3, 2001

Five years ago, warnings abounded that welfare reform would victimize millions of Americans. Yet today, statistics make an over-whelming case that welfare reform has elevated millions of Americans by liberating them from what had been a seemingly relentless cycle of dependency.

President Clinton, after twice vetoing welfare reform, reluctantly signed the historic bill in August 1996, even as he lamented what he called its "serious flaws."

If only all federal legislation were so flawed. The number of U.S. families on welfare declined by 50 percent from August 1996 to September 2000--the last official compilation of those declining rolls. The percentage of Americans on welfare dropped to 2.1 percent--the lowest level in nearly four decades.

Welfare reform didn't merely ride the healthy economy--it contributed to it by helping sustain historically low unemployment numbers. The Manhattan Institute, in a study released last week, concluded that welfare reform accounts for 60 percent of the increase in employment among single mothers--and that the economic boom contributed only 20 percent.

Another study, released by Child Trends Tuesday, reports that adolescents are more likely to get into trouble after their mothers are forced off welfare and into the work force. But the same study recognizes that younger children actually benefit from that change.

And though the plight of low-income single mothers on or off welfare remains difficult, perpetuating that ill-advised lifestyle via government payments is not a viable solution to the problems of persisting poverty.

Motivating those who once were on welfare to find jobs is a viable solution. So is motivating the states with the long-term financial advantages of helping people get off--and stay off--welfare.

Motivation remains welfare reform's top asset. Recipients who realize that their benefits are not permanent tend to seek jobs more diligently. States that realize the long-term fiscal rewards of lowering welfare rolls tend to provide more effective job-training and job-placement assistance to facilitate that welfare-to-work shift. South Carolina has been among the national leaders in cutting welfare rolls, earning "high performance" federal bonuses in the process.

But the most powerful welfare-reform motivation of all--for governments, taxpayers and former recipients--is the logical realization that while welfare checks tend to drain a person's pride, working for a living tends to strengthen it.

That distinction transcends statistics--and makes welfare reform's triumph a source of national pride. Hate-mongering at the U.N.

The United Nations was brought into discredit by a resolution passed by the General Assembly more than a quarter of a century ago that equated Zionism with racism. It was not until 1991 that the resolution was repealed; but the damage done to the U.N., which barred Israel from key U.N. organizations, was incalculable.

Washington must take a strong stand against any new outbreak of Israel bashing at the United Nations and also any attempt to stir up racial hatred.

The attack on Israel has been launched as the U.N. prepares to hold a long-postponed World Conference Against Racism, scheduled to begin in Durban, South Africa, on Aug. 31.

On Monday, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson called on Arab delegates to withdraw a draft document seeking to equate Zionism with racism. "The United Nations has already dealt with this issue at great length," she said, in what The Associated Press described as a departure from her prepared text at the preparatory meeting taking place in Geneva. "I believe that it is inappropriate to reopen this issue in any form here and that anyone who seeks to do so is putting the success of the Durban conference at risk."

Last week, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer warned that the United States will stay away if Zionism is described as racist in conference documents.

"The only thing that would stop the United States from going, and playing an important role in combating racism around the world, is if the planners of this hijack their own meeting into anti-Semitism," he said.

The AP reported Thursday that most Arab nations have agreed to drop references to Zionism to avoid a U.S. boycott, but State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the document is still offensive. "It's very unacceptable," he said, pointing out that it accused Israel of "crimes against humanity." He added that demands by some governments for reparations for slavery also could derail the conference.

In Washington Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned that attacks on Zionism and insistence that the conference should call for reparations from Western nations for slavery "have opened deep fissures." Speaking at the annual conference of the Urban League, he said: "We need to acknowledge the tragedies of the past, but not become captive to them. If this conference is to succeed, there is an acute need for common ground. The conference must help heal old wounds without reopening them."

According to the AP, Arab ambassadors have offered to support African delegates in their demands for compensation from the West for slavery and colonialism in exchange for African support for condemnation of Israel.

If documents are being prepared in this manner, the World Conference Against Racism seems likely to degenerate into a hate-mongering session. As Secretary of State Colin Powell remarked Thursday: "The answer is let's fix this so that the conference will serve its intended purpose." Harpootlian's heated rhetoric

The intensity of the pending gubernatorial campaign can probably be measured by the rising temperature of heated rhetoric from state Democratic Party Chairman Richard Harpootlian. He may seem hot and bothered, but his latest expression of moral outrage is unconvincing.

The latest object of Mr. Harpootlian's ire is former 1st District Rep. Mark Sanford, now a Republican gubernatorial candidate, who was the recipient of campaign donations from some of his former congressional allies at a recent fund-raiser.

Mr. Harpootlian's depiction of Mr. Sanford as a political hypocrite and a Washington insider won't resonate much among 1st District voters, who know Mr. Sanford's record for plain-speaking and fiscal responsibility and his frequently rocky relationship with members of his own party in the House of Representatives on budget matters.

Since Mr. Harpootlian's penchant for hyperbolic commentary is well known, perhaps his insupportable remarks won't be taken too seriously elsewhere in the state, either. His fellow Democrats might well advise him, however, not to unreservedly engage in political blood sport. In view of his leadership position, Mr. Harpootlian's intemperate remarks may reflect badly upon their own capacity for reasoned governance.

©2001 The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC)



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