Posts Tagged ‘pedantic’

Lessons for Labour from Little Rock, Arkansas

25/01/2012, 08:33:24 AM

by Jonathan Todd

The main gallery of Bill Clinton’s presidential library in Little Rock, Arkansas, which I visited last month, contains sections on the various achievements of his presidency. The first three to greet visitors are on deficit reduction, crime and welfare. Too often, these are considered right-wing issues. But Clinton counts them amongst his proudest achievements.

His autobiography recalls that he was “always somewhat amused to hear some members of the press characterise (welfare reform) as a Republican issue, as if valuing work was something only conservatives did”. Peter Watt has recently reasserted on Uncut the value that Labour places on work, not avoiding work, which should be reflected in our approach to welfare. Those who can work should be incentivised to do so; those who can’t should receive the support they need. In other words, from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

Rather than appealing to the slogans of Karl Marx, Clinton’s autobiography justifies his concern with welfare in terms of the real life experiences of Lillie Hardin. She had moved from welfare to work under a scheme introduced by Clinton as governor of Arkansas. He invited her to give evidence on her experience to a governors’ meeting in Washington and asked if she thought able-bodied people on welfare should be forced to take jobs if they were available.

“I sure do,” she replied. “Otherwise we’ll just lay around watching the soaps all day.” Then Clinton asked Hardin what was the best thing about being off welfare. Immediately, she answered, “When my boy goes to school and they ask him, ‘What does your mama do for a living’? he can give an answer”. Which Clinton claims is the best argument he has ever heard for welfare reform.


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