We might not expect TV's American Idol to be out in front of most presidential candidates on issues of national importance, but that's what happened this spring. AI's producers announced that they would dedicate two evenings to raising funds and awareness for children and young people in poverty, in both America and Africa. The show's commitment stands in contrast to most of the 2008 candidates. What does American Idol know that they don't?
In 1996, welfare reform was rarely far from the headlines. across the country, states were overhauling their cash assistance programs for poor families. That summer, Congress passed and President Clinton signed a deeply controversial revamping of the federal-state system. The new law ended public assistance as a federal entitlement, in favor of a complex system of state block grants with work requirements and time limits.
In the last three months, the welfare-reform debate
been transformed in ways few people envisioned even recently. The change hasn't
been for the better. Early this year, many people believed that reauthorization
of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996
provided an opportunity to help low-income working families and the
hardest-to-employ, and to reduce poverty. Instead, the debate is now mired in the
bumper-sticker disputes of the early 1990s about who can appear tougher in
requiring more welfare recipients to work more hours more quickly.