Welfare. Democrats view taxes as contributions to charity. (Seriously. You should talk to a few Democrats if you doubt it.) Consequently, when Democrats designed a welfare system that cost taxpayers trillions, they considered it a double good deed. Welfare taxes benefited the poor and forced Americans to do the right thing.† Over the years, however, it became clear that government “charity” dollars were actually producing a social disaster—driving fathers from their children, bribing teenage girls to have children out of wedlock, subsidizing drug abuse and destroying the work ethic of entire inner city communities.
To address the problem, Republicans proposed welfare reforms that would put recipients to work and get others off the rolls. Democrats said “No,” and dug in their heels. They had to defend the vast patronage system that welfare created for government bureaucrats, social workers and other beneficiaries, who could be counted on to vote for the Democrat Party.
But Democrats also knew that the romance of the victim would work in their favor. When Republicans proposed welfare reform, Democrats attacked them as mean-spirited and heartless. They said Republicans lacked compassion. They said Republicans were attacking the poor. They were Nazis
Powerful moral images like this don’t go away. They linger beyond the battle and resonate through future conflicts. In 1996, when Dick Morris persuaded Clinton to sign the Republican welfare bill “or lose the election,” the images of Republicans—anti-poor and uncharitable—stuck. Clinton won the election and presided over the Republican welfare reform, claiming it as his own. It is now part of his “legacy,” while Republicans are still seen as mean-spirited and uncaring.
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