Decades of Distortion - Page 5

The Role Of Neoconservatives

      It is important to distinguish between the rhetoric of the Human Events branch of the Right and the incipient Neoconservative movement during the 1960's.106 While each contributed to the building of contemporary welfare discourse, they did so from different perspectives. The Neoconservative movement, comprised largely of intellectuals with roots in the Democratic Party, were initially "moderately liberal" in domestic policy but hard-line anti-communist in foreign policy.107 Out of this complex ideology evolved much of the rhetoric of the breakdown of the African American family, constructing a racial pathology which obscured economic inequality.108 This portrayal contributed to the demise of AFDC, by connecting the receipt of welfare to the rise of a behaviorally deficient African American "underclass."

In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan softened the ground with his controversial "Report on the Black Family," which contributed to the credibility of the Right's racist portrayal of poverty and indolence by tying African American male unemployment to a perceived break-up of the African American family, and drawing a correlation between male African American unemployment and AFDC cases opened.109

The Public Interest, a leading Neoconservative public policy journal edited by Irving Kristol, had more balanced discussions of the welfare system in the 1960s than those of Human Events. However, some articles reinforced the erroneous impression that African Americans were the majority of current recipients of welfare. In a 1969 Public Interest article discussing how big government is not necessarily strong government, Peter Drucker connected race and welfare:

Our welfare policies were...perfectly rational--and quite effective--as measures for the temporary relief of competent people who were unemployed only because of the catastrophe of the Great Depression.... And small wonder that these programs did not work, that instead they aggravated the problem and increased the helplessness, the dependence, the despair of the Negro masses.110

In another Public Interest article published in 1969, Edwin Kuh discusses opposition to welfare plans:

Much of the white backlash, centered in the ranks of blue-collar workers, has been of this character. "Why," such workers ask, "should they (the poor Blacks) make nearly as much money as I do without working while we have to work?"111

And in a Public Interest article which ultimately gives modest support to the concept of a negative income tax, Edward Banfield cites to the Moynihan report and from that draws his own conclusion that "it is high AFDC rates that are causing the breakup of the poor and hence the Negro family."112

Adding to the complexities of the Right's various movements and the lack of a single coherent agenda, note that the negative income tax concept originated with Milton Friedman, a self-styled libertarian,113 and was the centerpiece of Richard Nixon's Family Assistance Plan which failed to pass Congress in the late 1960s and early 1970s.114 One of the justifications for a guaranteed income115 was that it would reduce government interference in the lives of the poor, and would simplify the governmental system.116

Despite the many differences between the Old Right and Neoconservatives, these sectors of the Right sometimes reinforce one another: in 1969, Human Events reported that Moynihan "was the darling of the liberals until he began speaking out for himself."117 In reviewing a book of Moynihan's, the article states:

Mr. Moynihan's book goes far beyond this [documenting waste and misuse of poverty funds], to the root error of the anti-poverty program and to results of that error with which we shall have to exist for years to come. If Mr. Moynihan's thesis is correct, then much of the violence and disorder which has marked these last years has stemmed from policies of social activism espoused by those who ran the poverty program and gave it its direction under President Johnson.118

Thus, since the 1960's, the Right has united its cultural or social populist conservatives with its free market advocates and right-wing libertarians, around an ideology that unites social conservatism with economic libertarianism.119 This unity, or "fusionism,"120 was nurtured through an attack on welfare and defense of the work ethic. 121 The Democrats were targeted as a party of affluent whites and minorities who did not care about bread and butter issues.122 As the power of old Democratic machines (often working class Catholic or Protestant Southern evangelicals) was being challenged by 1960's New Left radicals and liberal reformers,123 welfare was a pivotal symbol of Democratic Party acquiescence to African Americans at the expense of the white working class- a symbol to be constructed and manipulated by the New Right.

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