Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank thinks that criticizing rollbacks in welfare reform shows a suspicious preoccupation with race—to put the most generous interpretation on his words–or, more bluntly, makes one a racist:
Events of the past few days make that happy chatter four years ago about a “post-racial” America seem especially naive. . . . On Tuesday, Mitt Romney began to attack President Obama as soft on welfare, an issue charged with race. On Wednesday, the Romney campaign hosted a conference call in which Newt Gingrich, who once leveled the racially loaded accusation that Obama was the “food-stamp president,” perpetuated the welfare accusations.
Let’s tease out the reasoning here. Romney’s criticism of the Obama Administration’s proposal regarding welfare work requirements was utterly race-neutral. And of course, more whites than blacks are on welfare. But because blacks have a higher welfare and food stamp usage rate than whites, one can’t talk about welfare policy—at least if one is calling for maintaining anything other than wide-open standards of eligibilty. To do so would stir up America’s always simmering racism and reveal one’s own hidden racial biases. Milbank would presumably also accuse Bill Clinton of racial demagoguery for his support of welfare reform. There are numerous other social problems where blacks are disproportionately represented—truancy, dropping out of school, out of wedlock childbearing, and crime, to name just a few. Are those also off the table as legitimate topics of policy debate?
I happen to think that the benefits of welfare reform, while real and impressive, have been overstated—it failed to stem the rise in illegitimacy, as hoped, nor have the racial achievement and socialization gaps been reduced. Nevertheless, welfare reform was undertaken in the sincere belief that prodding welfare mothers to take a job would be in their best interests—it would integrate them into the fundamental human experience of work, daily routine, and self-discipline, and in so doing also make them more positive role models for their children. And that belief, which applied equally to white and black recipients, was a justified one. The fact that so many welfare mothers did enter the workforce thanks to welfare reform is an unqualified good. Arguably, therefore, it is people who want to hold the line on welfare work requirements who truly care about the dependent poor, or, in Milbank’s worldview, who care about blacks.
(Of course, it’s not racially charged, in Milbank’s world-view, to advocate for easing welfare work requirements or making food stamps even more promiscuously available than they already are.)
Milbank’s knee jerk reaction to any conservative criticism of welfare policy is of course absolutely standard in the mainstream media. The reaction reveals the utter terror that liberals feel about black social breakdown. Apparently viewing such breakdown as intractable, their only solution is to draw a massive cordon sanitaire of taboo around it, demonizing any speech that can be remotely seen as bearing on black social problems.