Do the American People Know What They Want?
WHEN President Carter announced his proposals for reforming welfare policy last summer in Plains, reporters were quick to take note of a peculiar feature of his statement. Not once in the course of what he had to say did he use the phrase “welfare reform.” Indeed, it was necessary to pay rather close attention to his words to grasp what he was really proposing. The casual listener would have been aware, instead, of a bold presidential initiative to abolish welfare once and for all and to replace it with something completely different-a program to provide Americans with “better jobs and income.”
Had the Carter program been a typical exercise in fraudulent policy leadership, his reticence would have been understandable-though in that case, following the usage of contemporary politics, he would have declared his commitment to “welfare reform” in every third sentence. But in fact Carter’s program was a serious effort to contend with an area of public policy that is all but universally acknowledged to be overdue for reform. It was not, to be sure, a legislative initiative of the sort that fires the imagination or delights the mind. It was merely competent, which is to say, in many respects a bit disheartening, but withal something a citizen could be grateful for a President’s having undertaken. Yet Carter seemed intent on evading full personal credit for what he was proposing and on making it less than clear to the American people that under his leadership the U.S. government was doing something important that needed doing, and doing it pretty well.
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