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August 10, 2005

The Virtuous Nation: Clinton's Best Legacy?

Ah, I know that's going to make a few toupees spin on some heads. Is Thecla actually suggesting that the national trend toward the virtuous, extolled here by David Brooks, is due to the presidency of Bill Clinton?

Well...yeah. Okay...yes and no. But...yeah.

I come to this conclusion by noting that the trends toward virtue that Brooks outlines in his piece all begin in the late 1980's or early 1990's. Teen pregnancies down, abortions down, family violence down, violence in general down.

Bill Clinton might have vetoed the GOP written welfare reform several times before finally, in an election year - signing the legislation. But he signed it. Amid all of the predictions of gloom and doom, the certainty of the left that the world would end should welfare-as-we-then-knew-it be updated and reformed, Clinton signed.

The world did not end. What ended was the seeming-entrenchment of a whole group of people, of all ethnic backgrounds, into a hopeless dependence upon the government which led nowhere, gave no promise, encouraged no future, thwarted dreams and individual potential, and perpetuated the whole idea of dependence, of inability, of needing a caretaker.

I think when folks were liberated from the shackles of socially-engineered government dependence, when they were able to move away from the racist neighborhood of "poor you, you can't manage your life, let us do it for you," into the relatively more progressive town of "there is help to get you there but you can do it" they grew in self-respect, self-confidence and - most importantly - in hope. The message of "you can, if you try" was a louder, clearer and more spiritually sustaining message than "you can't, so give up"

What President Bush has called "the soft racism of low-expectations" was pushed back, and the effect is not surprising. When folks - any folks, of any background -are using their own gifts and ingenuity to make their way, they have reason to hold up their heads, to defer failure and pursue their dreams and goals.

When folks feel good about what they are doing, when they feel like they have some control over the direction their lives take - they have hope. And hope is not simply a feeling. Hope says, "awake, O Sleeper, arise from death!" Hope is the builder of bridges, the tamer of winds, the harnesser of ideas and possibilities. A poor man with hope is immeasurably richer than a wealthy man without it, because he carries within him the spark that can alight a thousand tomorrows.

By the curb, toward the edge of the flagging,
A knife-grinder works at his wheel, sharpening a great knife;
Bending over, he carefully holds it to the stone—by foot and knee,
With measur’d tread, he turns rapidly—As he presses with light but firm hand,
Forth issue, then, in copious golden jets,
Sparkles from the wheel.

- Walt Whitman "Sparkles from the Wheel"

Hope sparkles from the wheel, and all possibility is contained therein. And the man who can sharpen his own knife, and teach his children that craft, will never be helpless or hungry or cast aside. He will, therefore, be at peace, and so will his house.

Clinton signed welfare reform into law. And it has been a good thing, a better thing - perhaps - than many of us even realize. I don't know how loudly he will want to crow this particular legacy, however. After all, it only proves - once again - that socialism is the robber of human spirit, that socialism does not work.

Crossposted at

Posted by Thecla at August 10, 2005 03:20 PM

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Thecla, great post, but are you sure "welfare" is "socialism"? You seemingly adopt thatposition with your closing line.

I suppose we should stop subsidizing single family home owners, corporations who engage in certain types of businesses, farmers in the breadbasket, etc. Those are forms of welfare.

I'm all for welfare reform, but don't buy the notion that the the "welfare state" is the "socialist state." I like the fact that when my dad abandoned my mom, brother and I at a very young age, my mom could get Section 8 housing and benefit from government training programs. Heck, it sure beats the streets. If that "hand out" wasn't avaialble for my mom, we may have been on the streets.

God Bless America!

Posted by: Rick at August 10, 2005 06:03 PM

Rick - You know, I kinda wondered about it when I wrote it - welfare is not, strictly speaking, socialism, and there is certainly a place in a just society for good-and-welfare programs. But thinking back to what things had come to in the 1980s and 1990s, I think the mindset of welfare was moving toward a mindset of socialism. We were heading into second-generation welfare stories that were creating a culture of enormous dependence that was - if not outright socialist - clearly modeled along those lines. Perhaps my last line should have been, "the helping hand of welfare works, but the hand-out of socialism does not" or some such. Thanks for the thoughtful feedback.

Posted by: Thecla at August 10, 2005 07:05 PM

Was it not that the majority in both Congressional houses was Republican and conservative when this happened?

It could be said that maybe Americans learned too much about the happenings in the Oval Office during President Clinton's tenancy and decided to draw closer to churches and the Lord's protection to help protect their families.

Mr. Clinton's life-long legacy will be that he taught a whole new generation that oral sex is "not really sex" while a tenant in America's White House. I feel this is a shameful achievement.

He's charming, he's brilliant, he's charismatic, all true. He's also corrupt and narcissistic. He was a terrible example for our nation because he never used his charismatic brilliance to further one portion for America's benefit except his sexual experiences!


Posted by: Sandra C. at August 11, 2005 09:12 AM