Policies, Principles and Polls: Bill Clinton’s Third Way Welfare Politics 1992-1996
Bill Clinton in his 1992 presidential campaign promised that, if elected, he would bring about the "end of welfare as we know it." This catchy election pledge aimed to address middle class concerns about so-called welfare dependency while also arguing that the government had an important role to play in fighting poverty and unemployment. Clinton's Third Way position, at best, offered a way out of the liberal/conservative impasse on how to effectively reform America's welfare system. At worst, Clinton's position undermined the concept of welfare entitlements that the Democratic Party had established in America. As it turned out, in 1996 during the lead up to that year's presidential election, President Clinton signed into law the most significant federal welfare Act since the 1960s. However, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) that Clinton signed had largely been drafted by congressional Republicans. This article draws on interviews with three of Clinton's senior welfare advisers to examine his welfare reform proposals and politics. It concludes that the failure of Clinton's Third Way welfare agenda opened the way for more conservative reforms. This experience is illustrative of the pitfalls of Third Way politics with its mix of post-entitlement welfare policies and hard-nosed electoral positioning.
Australian Journal of Politics and History